The LightU Project Team
Bayne Shaifer, Co-Founder
Along with Elizabeth Dankoski, I am the co-founder of The LightU Project. I am also currently enrolled at Stetson University, majoring in Entrepreneurship as a Prince Scholar in its Leadership Program.
As a high school student, I was accepted into my school’s renowned criminal justice program. Then as a junior, I went on to become a sergeant in the program where I took on a leadership role within the Academy, organizing fundraising and jumping into an active role in community service projects.
When I was a sophomore, I pitched my nonprofit to 540 Wharton students at the University of Pennsylvania and am proud to say that I was the only high school student out of 72 organizations that the Wharton teams chose to work with.
Since that time, I have devoted all of my attention to building my nonprofit into a powerful foundation. My greatest desire is to give every child in America the same life-changing opportunity I had when I went through Elizabeth Dankoski’s mentoring program.
So I am partnering with Elizabeth to bring her mentoring curriculum into inner city schools all around the country, inspiring students to identify a problem in their community and to go out and solve it.
In addition, I am also raising money for scholarships to support the LightU Project students. I am partnering with the Stetson University Entrepreneurship Program, The University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School and Elizabeth Dankoski's Dream School Project to make all of this come true. My goal is ultimately to reach the lives of thousands, even millions, of students.
Elizabeth Dankoski, Co-Founder
Founder and CEO of The Dream School Project
Along with Bayne Shaifer, I am the co-founder of The LightU Project. I am also the founder and CEO of The Dream School Project, a mentoring program for high school students in the private sector.
For nearly two decades, I have helped hundreds of high achieving students get into the nation's top schools, including Harvard, MIT, Columbia, Cornell, Yale, UPenn, among many others. During that time, I have served as a college consultant, mentor, Huffington Post blogger, and TEDx speaker.
My unusual approach comes from an unusual background: I grew up in a small Christian community on Cape Cod and was sent to a convent in the middle of my senior year of high school. After four years of trying unsuccessfully to make it as a nun, I finally left and went on to put myself through college where I discovered my true passion: helping students tell their stories. Since then, I have been helping students discover what lights them up and how they can make an impact on their communities. This approach not only significantly boosts my students’ acceptance rates but, more important, also allows them to thrive in college and beyond.
Despite the amazing success with my students in the private sector, my true passion is to reach as many high school students in the public school system, regardless of whether or not they intend to pursue a college degree.
Helping students create a project that lights them up and showcases their unique interests will ultimately transform the individual students. But it will also transform the current environment in which we prepare students to go out into the world as empowered change makers.
To learn even more about my approach, visit www.dreamschoolproject.com.
Steve Shaifer, Acting Executive Director
I have always been passionate about education because it is the best way to improve every day and to acquire the skills necessary to solve problems. But it wasn’t until I saw the way my daughter's life changed so profoundly from a mentoring curriculum that I saw exactly where I could channel my interests.
This mentoring program created great purpose, value, and passion in my daughter's life and she asked me to help figure out how to help offer other children this life-changing experience. I signed up immediately.
I was raised in Philadelphia, PA and attended:
1. The William Penn Charter High School,
2. Wrestled at division 1, William & Mary
3. Earned an MBA from The University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School where I was on the Dean's Advisory Committee and was selected to work on the Wharton Consulting Team.
I have volunteered, or served on the Board of Directors, for eight nonprofits, including The Woodlynde School that educates special needs children in suburban Philadelphia. My service includes:
- Being a Mentorship Director & big brother for Big Brothers Sisters of America,
- Served as a volunteer for several nonprofits like Horses and the Handicapped.
- Launched the West Philadelphia Child Care Initiative and wrote a business plan to start the child care facility at The University of Pennsylvania.
- Advised Senior Care Centers of America.
- Collected and sold used suits from Wall Street executives to benefit the homeless in Philadelphia and gave dress suits to low-income men looking for a job.
- Mentored and tutored adult students to pass their GED
These experiences taught me that underserved communities and at-risk students specifically could make giant strides in life and productive members of society given the opportunity. I have seen first hand the power of mentorship. This is now we prepare the next generation of problem-solvers.
My business career spanning over 30 years in Philadelphia, South Florida and New York City has prepared me to serve The LightU Project and apply the concepts of mentoring, teamwork, training and development, to our nonprofit organization. As a managing partner for hedge funds focusing on the small business funding, I've secured millions of dollars for a variety of entrepreneurial ventures. Some of my clients include South African golf legend Gary Player's Foundation and Golf Equipment company; NASCAR and the France family; TV industry mogul, John Kluge; former General Electric CEO, Bob Wright and the philanthropist, Dina Merrill.
John Shaifer, Founder, Director- Mentoring Program Director, Director KIPP Charter School Partnership
About five years ago, a young man in one of my 8th grade classes took my breath away. I had asked the class what it meant when, as someone was talking, you looked them in the eye. I’ll admit that I had an answer in mind, I wanted the students to say, “When you look someone in the eye when they talk, you are showing them respect.” Isaiah’s response was startling. He said, “It means you respect what they have to say.” Now, to many of you this might not seem profound, but because I have spent so much time with students who don’t believe they have anything worthy to say, who have failed or nearly failed their whole academic careers, I know that respect for the intellect of such a person, or any person for that matter, is priceless.
In her article, Your Sense of Agency: Are You in Control of Your Life? Mary Lamia, Ph.D. opens this way:
"Your ability to take action, be effective, influence your own life, and assume responsibility for your behavior are important elements in what you bring to a relationship (any relationship). This sense of agency is essential for you to feel in control of your life: to believe in your capacity to influence your own thoughts and behavior, and have faith in your ability to handle a wide range of tasks or situations. Having a sense of agency influences your stability as a separate person; it is your capacity to be psychologically stable, yet resilient or flexible, in the face of conflict or change (Mary Lamia)."
As a school Principal of a KIPP charter school, I have come to believe this concept of personal agency separates highly successful people from those who are not. It separates truly effective leaders from those who are not, or who are content to be followers. It defines the course of our lives. Some just have it. Whether they know it or not, everyone wants it.
This is the reason why I am so excited by the LightU Project. Agency can be taught, but it so rarely is. I’ve worked in education for over 30 years, I have a masters in education and my efforts with young people have always been directed at helping them to take control of their lives. It saddens me when I ask a young person about themselves, what they believe or what interests them, and all they can do is shrug. LightU offers an antidote to the shrug. It pushes kids past the shrug and awakens a sense of possibility. I’ve been doing this for young people on a small scale for my entire career. Simply put, I am thrilled to be part of a team that will offer a curriculum that is intentional, anticipates and overcomes obstacles, and helps young people to discover that they can face the world with confidence and conviction.
More than 20 years ago, I learned from a different student. Jennifer was a 7th grader at the time, and she concluded after a Civil Rights discussion in my Civics class, that real attitudinal change takes generations. We can see that she was right. I am very confident that LightU has the potential to defy the odds and change lives, and through those lives to change the world.
Click here to view a little speech I presented during my KIPP school days.