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Microsoft Philanthropies

On April 20, 2016, 11-year-old Mikaila Ulmer walked onto the stage at WE Day, a star-studded event celebrating youth who are sparking change in their communities and the world.

Dressed in a white shirt, white pants, and a sparkly belt, with a bright yellow flower in her hair, the sixth-grader stood in front of 15,000 cheering people and confidently told the story of her journey to become a successful social entrepreneur who in 2014 closed a national deal with Whole Foods Market.

How does a little girl — who sells lemonade — end up here?


All photos from Microsoft and WE Day, used with permission.

It all started with a bee.

When Mikaila was 4 years old, she was stung by a bee. Just days later, she was stung again.

Two bee stings in one week would be enough to make any little girl terrified of bees, and Mikaila was no different. She wanted nothing to do with the insect ever again.

But her mother, in a stroke of genius, encouraged her to learn more about bees instead of being afraid of them. Through her learning, Mikaila discovered just how valuable honeybees are. She learned they are the main pollinators of many major fruit and nut crops as well as makers of honey.

But it wasn't all good news. She also learned that, thanks to a variety of factors including commonly used pesticides that may be lethal to bees, they had been dying off at an unprecedented rate for over a decade.

The important honey-making insects that she was now in love with were in serious danger of becoming extinct.

And with that, her fear was transformed into a passion and desire to help save the bees.

Around the same time, her great-grandmother, Helen, sent Mikaila's family an old 1940s cookbook. In it was her grandmother's special recipe for flaxseed lemonade.

Mikaila, who was planning on entering a local children's business competition, suddenly had a bright idea.

What if she could make lemonade using her great-grandmother's recipe and help the bees at the same time?

Mikaila decided to use honey in addition to sugar and entered her concoction into the competition with the goal of spreading the word about the importance of bees — and donating money to help save them.

That's how Me & The Bees Lemonade was born.

In the years since, Mikaila has grown her Me & The Bees Lemonade (formerly Bee Sweet Lemonade) into a thriving business and used a percentage of the profits from every sale to support international organizations working to save bees from extinction.

Her passion to make a difference and turn Me & The Bees Lemonade into a successful social enterprise has garnered the young business owner quite a bit of attention and success.

She secured a $60,000 investment on the popular ABC show "Shark Tank" from investor Daymond John.

In 2014, her hard work paid off when Me & The Bees Lemonade secured a deal with Whole Foods. Her lemonade is now distributed in 55 stores.

She was one of a select few children invited to the White House Kids’ State Dinner.

And, she was chosen as one of tech coalition MVMT50’s top 10 innovators of 2015.

Mikaila's just getting started.

She's excited about coding and is learning Java and is working with Microsoft to continue to scale her business. She’s even building her own computer and has aspirations to create apps so she can share her business acumen with others. She inspires kids at conferences like WE Day all around the country but is also focused locally, helping her classmates and friends with their own business ideas.

What does she tell them? According to the Austin Chronicle, she gives one of her favorite pieces of advice: "Don't be discouraged by life's little stings. You can be sweet and be profitable." She's the living proof.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

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Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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