by Sue Ann Rybak
Mt. Airy native Jason Huber, 45, took over the reins Nov. 1 from Chestnut Hill resident Arianna Neromiliotis as director of Teenagers Inc., a nonprofit teen organization based in Chestnut Hill.
Neromiliotis, who occupied the position for two years, said the decision to leave Teenagers Inc. was a difficult one – especially since she said the organization “has played an instrumental role” in shaping the person she is today.
The alumna of Teenagers Inc. said her service roots started there. She was just 15 years old when the organization began.
“I knew what service was, but I didn’t know how to apply it until I was mentored to do so,” said Neromiliotis, whose grandfather was involved in establishing Weavers Way Co-op. “When I realized it was time for me to pass the torch on to someone, I automatically thought of Jason.”
Huber is the founder of the Global Classroom Project, a curriculum designed to empower youth to earn and participate in an international service and immersion experience while making a difference all along the way.
“Teenagers Inc., is this amazing synergistic organization and opportunity,” Huber said. “I think both Teenagers Inc. and the Global Classroom Project will benefit from this synergistic relationship. I am super excited to be a part of this organization.”
He said he recently sent a questionnaire to alumni and board members of Teenagers Inc., and the theme that kept coming up was “service and fun.”
“It’s kind of, oddly, exactly what I want to do,” he added, referring to being director of Teenagers Inc.
The former owner of InFusion Coffee and Tea, 7133 Germantown Ave. in Mt. Airy, has worked for young people for most of his professional career. Prior to opening InFusion in 2002, he worked as an overnight counselor at a shelter for homeless and runaway teens, a director of a day camp, and a fourth- and fifth-grade teacher in Denver.
“My understanding of my impact on the world came from travel,” he said.
Before moving back to Philadelphia from Denver, a month before Sept. 11, 2001, Huber and his wife decided to go on a six-month trip through Southeast Asia.
“My whole perspective switched, especially considering we were in Indonesia during the attacks,” he said in an earlier interview with the Local.
The decision to open InFusion Coffee and Tea, a business that would serve free-trade coffees and teas, was conceived while traveling in Southeast Asia.
He said although he and his wife loved being small business owners, his real passion is working to transform today’s youth into tomorrow’s leaders.
“Some of my most powerful learning and hands-on learning came from the traveling I’ve done and I wanted to make sure kids had similar opportunities.”
In 2009, while sitting on Roatan beach in Honduras with his then 3-year-old daughter, he realized he wanted to design a program that provided children with opportunities to do service in other countries while emerging them in a different culture. It was there that the idea for Global Classrooms Projects was conceived.
“The Costa Rica idea came up after my visit to Honduras,” he said. “I knew I needed to take kids on these amazing experiences. Other schools had programs, and I wanted our program to be immersion and giving back,” said Huber, who was teaching at Project Learn School in Mt. Airy at the time.
He said the Global Class Project prompts students to be innovative about funding their trip to Costa Rica, pointing out that students become grant writers, spearhead service projects, sell their art, run markets and host events that build community.
“If we want students to begin to ‘think globally, act locally,’ then we need to provide opportunities for global perspective,” he said. “Varied perspectives develop and nurture empathy. Creativity and critical thinking are built on experiences, making connections and problem solving. Tomorrow’s problems will be solved through empathetic problem solving. With the job market going global and many of the future’s jobs not even in existence yet, students can only think globally, with global experiences. Solve the big challenges with perspective.”
Neromiliotis said she knows she is handing the reins over to someone she trusts and respects.
“Jason is a great fit because of his energy, his experience and his love of creating a way for young people to be successful,” he said. “I think Teenagers Inc. is at a great place. We have grown exponentially in two years. Teenagers Inc. has approximately 50-75 memberships, but serves over 100 kids every year, through various service projects and community engagement projects.
“People are beginning to see that we are a great organization. It has a solid foundation and long history of service thanks to Mary Anne Dwyer. This organization wouldn’t be what it is today with her.”
She said this year marks the 20th anniversary of Teenagers Inc.
“We are excited to be turning 20,” Neromiliotis said. “Teenagers Inc. is really unmatched to any kid organization out there. And we definitely have always been about service and fun. I think what Jason said earlier today is true: ‘It takes a village to raise a child, but we are both the child and the village.’ I am an example of both. We have to contribute to the greater good and be OK with accepting the help of others as well.
“I do hope to be involved with Teenagers Inc. in the future. I’m a lifelong advocate for young people, and it would be quite the honor to work with Jason.”
She added she has no doubt that the organization will continue to make a difference, not just in Chestnut Hill but in the world.
On Nov. 22, Teenagers Inc. will celebrate its 20th anniversary from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, 500 W. Willow Grove Ave. in Chestnut Hill. Tickets are $50 in advance, $60 at the door and $10 for children under 12 years old. Entrees are provided by Roller’s Flying Fish and appetizers are donated by several local restaurants. There will also be a silent auction. All proceeds benefit Teenagers Inc.
For more information go to www.teensincphilly.org.