Editor’s note: This is the inaugural year for CultureMap’s Top Texans Under 30, a program that celebrates the twentysomething power players making a difference in their industries and communities across the Lone Star State — and, in some cases, the world. The full list is here. For now, read all about Andyshea Saberioon and Ricky Johnson.
When school supplies are scarce or extra money is needed for technology, teachers often have to fill in the gaps from their own pockets. All those Sharpies, packages of notebook paper, and pairs of scissors add up, so teachers need all the funding help they can get.
Enter Houstonians Andyshea Saberioon and Ricky Johnson, co-founders of PledgeCents, a unique crowdfunding site specifically aimed at helping students and their teachers. Anyone can raise funds for anything related to pre-K through 12 grade, from anywhere in the country. And unlike many other crowdfunding sites, teachers keep what they raise, even if their goal isn’t met.
Saberioon and Johnson, both 28, exemplify the direction modern philanthropy is going. Never ones to sit on the sidelines and wish things could be better, the two took action when they saw a need and are making a difference in the lives of kids across the United States. To date, PledgeCents has raised close to $600,000 and has served more than 300,000 students.
The pair chatted with us about what drives them to help kids and teachers, as well as a few little-known facts about themselves.
CultureMap: What inspires you to do what you do?
Andyshea Saberioon: I would have to say, my dad. He moved from Iran to the U.S. when he was 18 to go to college in Louisiana. He left his family behind, barely spoke English, and had no money and no friends here. He ended up being a TA in the engineering department at his university, went on to create his own business, which he ran successfully for 30 years, and provided a great life for his family.
Over the last few years, he’s taught me more than anything that you can’t give up when times get hard. You continue to put your head down and deal with all the “downs” until you get that one “up.”
Ricky Johnson: I’m inspired by the work that our teachers in the classroom do every day. They are the real heroes and don’t get the recognition they deserve. If I can wake up every day and do something to make their job a little easier and help ensure that every student has the opportunities like the ones I’ve been blessed to have, that’s the only inspiration I need.
CM: What’s one piece of advice you’d give to other Texans trying to make a difference?
AS: Do it. Don’t just sit there and wish the world would be different or your community would be different. If you have an idea of how it could be better, do something about it. It’s not easy, but if you stick to it, the rewards are everlasting.
RJ: We need more difference makers in this world. If you have an idea, go for it! Find a mentor or a friend who has done it and learn from them. Whether it’s something you do part time or full time, the experiences you’ll have will teach you an immeasurable amount of lessons. It’ll be something you’ll never regret doing, but you might regret not trying.
CM: Sum up Texas in three words:
AS: Rockets! Steak. Hot.
RJ: Prideful. Bigger. Longhorns.
CM: What’s one thing that people might not know about you?
AS: When I was in high school, I would eat Whataburger about three to four times a week after dinner with my family or at basketball games. I’m the biggest Whataburger fan and hope they name a burger — or some kind of order — after me. That would be a life win.
RJ: I can never be president of the United States even though I was born a U.S. citizen, because I was born in Puerto Rico. So, there won’t be a “Johnson 2020” in my future.
CM: Finish this sentence: “It’s a good day when … ”
AS: I wake up healthy, breathing, and blessed to see and take on another day. Or, if I have a #2, plain and dry with cheese, Whata-sized with a lemonade and two taquitos — potato, egg, and cheese — with picante sauce.
RJ: I wake up with family, friends, and my dog around me; a home-cooked meal in front of me; and I get to keep being amazed by this wonderful world.