Abundance + Vegas

January 23, 2019

Maya Smith is Executive Director of Born This Way Foundation

I am a glass half full type of person, I’ve always been. I thought I was more popular than I was, I thought the yellow plaid pants I got on a family trip to Italy were trend-setting and catwalk worthy and even in the face of naysayers and pessimists, and I believe wholeheartedly in the power young people have to change the world.

For the next two years, I get to run around Las Vegas armed with those beliefs and my glass half full personality. As we prepared for last week’s launch of our programming in Las Vegas, I’ve been talking to young people, about young people, and with young people and I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of abundance and how we view it and leverage it differently.

Last week, Team Born This Way Foundation had the opportunity to connect with local organizations, host a strategy breakfast to introduce our work and also tour the homes of some high impact non-profits making a different in the lives of young people. In a couple of those inter-generational meetings, comments have come up that made me laugh – and think. The story of a young woman, eager to move up the ladder in her corporate job asking the boss how to get her job and when. The boss telling me this heard a story about a young woman’s sense of entitlement, but I heard a story about an abundance of confidence. An education leader cautioning us about the use of technology for young people and the inevitable erosion of the face-to-face social fabric that connects us. I assured him that my generation would manage to leverage technology to build social ties and go to the movies with our classmates – we have an abundance of ways to connect and communicate.

When I gave the closing remarks of a non-profit convening, in the beautiful private dining room of the Park MGM, and saw an abundance of delicious food (shout out to the avocado toast #Millennials) I asked for to go containers so that these non-profit leaders could take this delicious food back to the young people they serve, some of whom would eat their first and only meal of the day from those containers. That morning, we had an abundance of food. I know that my vantage point is one steeped in privilege and in the true comfort of having never known scarcity in any form. But it is because I’ve never experienced what so many of the young people that I work with experience, that I am constantly and obsessively searching for abundance in all of its forms and ways to share and defend it.

I’m just following my boss’ lead. At the end of her fabulous Enigma show, Lady Gaga told the crowd: “Don’t leave here loving me more, leave here loving yourself more.” She wanted to share the abundance of love and support she felt from the audience that night, not hoard it for herself, serving her own ego.

“Don’t leave here loving me more, leave here loving yourself more.”

– Lady Gaga

Abundance even got me in trouble, as I sat around a table with the young people from Project 150 and listened to the long list of urgent needs that they had. Their founder said the young people need toiletries and I thought of my hotel room, the hotel rooms of the people sitting around the table with me, and the hotel rooms of all the people that would fill the Park MGM Theater for Enigma. So I told our team (and the Internet) to bring toiletries to the show. As it turns out, that’s a hard and very complicated thing to execute for security and for our friends at MGM so thank you to the patient, kind team that instead of telling me “no,” smiled and said, “of course.” I want to promise you that I won’t do it again but I can’t, because I will. We all will. This is what the Born This Way Foundation team came to Las Vegas to do.

Las Vegas is a city of abundance; an abundance of bright lights, an abundance of delicious restaurants that I am committed to trying, an abundance of discretionary money won and devastating money lost, and an abundance of talent and entertainment and noise. It is also a city with an abundance of passionate community members and energized non-profit and civic leaders. In the short time we’ve been in Las Vegas so far, I am happy to report that the most abundant resource in Las Vegas – by far – is the passion, energy, and vision of the young people that call this city home.

Here are a few of the organizations we had the pleasure to meet with:
Top: Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth
Center: Josh’s Youth Ambassadors program at Western High School
Bottom: Project 150