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Champion for Good: Mike Durham

Peachjar is a platform that is revolutionizing the way students access community resources and important initiatives. Through their partnership with the Ad Council, Peachjar has extended the reach and impact of campaigns, providing parents and students with valuable information on a variety of topics. We had the opportunity to chat with Peachjar’s CEO and Founder Mike Durham to learn about the importance of accessible student resources, his focus on students’ mental health and emotional-wellbeing, and insights on how to beat a chess master.

Alanna Young: What drew you to work with the Ad Council, and what campaigns have you supported?

Mike Durham: The Ad Council's mission of creating a society where every person can thrive is exactly what we are focused on at Peachjar. We provide one platform where every parent and guardian can easily find resources within the community to help their child thrive. Currently, 25% of all parents and guardians in the U.S. are on the Peachjar platform—which is adopted by school districts. We’ve seen so many amazing resources distributed using the Peachjar platform—mental health services, suicide prevention, drug awareness, finding a college tutor or a pathway for a career. The first of many campaigns we worked on with the Ad Council last year was on mental health awareness, specifically the Sound It Out campaign.

AY: Can you explain what EdTech is and what led you to create Peachjar?

MD: “Edtech” is short for education technology, which is the use of technology (software and hardware) to facilitate teaching and learning.

What led me to create Peachjar was a desire to create a better future for all humans and I believe this starts with giving children the best opportunities to thrive and grow to their maximum potential.

The big question is how do we get there? If we truly want to improve society, we must address the root cause of what holds us back. Humans have created most of the problems we are now trying to solve—and they didn’t do it overnight. To have a better future one year or 3,000 years from now, we need to maximize human potential, and this occurs in micro-movements over many generations.

Schools do an amazing job of educating our children. But a child is awake over 6,000 hours per year and school is only 1,000 hours. What about the other 5,000 hours? This responsibility sits with parents and guardians. Even after learning, playing and spending time with friends and family, there’s a lot of time remaining. As a parent, I faced these questions about how to use this time to make sure that my children grew up to be confident and prepared for the world.

My approach was to create a platform that connects parents and guardians with the resources to help maximize their child's potential. This is only the foundation of a larger endeavor that will take many generations beyond my lifetime.

AY: How does Peachjar integrate social good and promote community engagement in its work? The Ad Council places a huge emphasis on mental health awareness. How can EdTech support students’ mental health and emotional well-being?

MD: Mental health issues might manifest as a teenager or even later, but the onset is likely much younger. We cannot expect a fifth grader to seek help. We must rely on the adults in that child's life to know what signs to look for.

For example, let’s say there’s an eight-year-old child who feels slightly isolated because their social skills are not aligned with those of their peers. Maybe this isolation evolves, and the child then feels depressed and lonely, and might not want to go to school one day. It is conceivable that this child is then bullied when they are 10 and could turn to drugs at 13 to cope—potentially developing a more severe mental health issue in high school, resulting in suicide in college. Could we have spotted those early signs? How is a parent supposed to understand this potential progression without training and resources?

Again, our world has an amazing array of resources available to help. Parents and guardians need a way to help them easily access this information. This was the inspiration to create Peachjar.

What we know is that students who stay engaged and are introduced to new experiences—whether that's bonding with new friends in sports, clubs or camps, or requiring more serious mental health services or drug addiction support—fare better in their social and emotional well-being, as well as improved academics. Children are provided a safe space where they can learn valuable life skills, make friends and build confidence. That's where Peachjar comes in: by offering resources directly from community program providers and services. Some of these programs aren't offered at the school so by reaching families through Peachjar, parents and guardians have an opportunity to get their child involved in a new or special interest. Ultimately, it increases the options, which increases the ability for that child to thrive.

AY: What value(s) of your organization are you most proud of?

MD: The people at Peachjar are what I am most proud of because these people could work anywhere but they chose to help change the world toward a positive outcome, and they are the people that will carry on this mission well after I am gone. This mission will take hundreds of years and our people need to carry that torch.

AY: What can we look forward to from your organization this year?

MD: We are launching an entirely new parent experience. Over the last several years, we took a ton of resources to create the building blocks to be able to get to this point. We are also very excited to be rolling out some amazing AI capabilities.

AY: What was the greatest piece of advice someone gave you, and how did it end up helping you?

MD: “I can beat a chess master as long as you give me two moves to his one.” I cannot remember who or how I heard this, but I’d like to give them credit if I could! It’s really about remembering that, given the right opportunities, we can all win.  

AY: What age would you want to meet up with your former self, and what advice would you give to that younger you?

MD: I’d tell the 15 year old Mike to pull your head out of your you-know-what and go do something positive for the world!


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