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Teenagers Create Solutions To Improve Others' Lives Through Design The Future

OAKLAND (KPIX 5) When he was just 8 years old, Durell Coleman told his mother he was going to be an inventor who would head up his own company. Today, the Oakland man has not only achieved his goal, he is now teaching teenagers how to create their own products to make others' lives better.

It is now the fourth year of Coleman's Design the Future program. The program matches teams of students with someone living with a physical challenge. Together they create a tool that improves that person's quality of life. For example, one team developed a cell phone carrier for someone whose phone kept slipping out of his hand. All in all, dozens of high school students are learning how to solve real world problems, under Coleman's guidance.

"This is not a class assignment, explained Coleman. "This is something where you have the opportunity to make an impact on someone else's life."

Coleman hosts the week-long project at the Institute of Design at Stanford University, his alma mater. He also runs the program for a week at UC Berkeley. In all, 85 students are building tools this summer for 17 people with disabilities.

Sean Simonson is getting a new knee brace for swimming.

"As a quadriplegic, your legs don't want to straight out," explained Simonson. "And it robs you of speed, horsepower, and what-not."

Alexa Van Dusen helped create Simonson's knee brace. She says Coleman's program has taught her lifelong lessons in empathy and problem solving.

"He's taught me to be very open, confident in myself,' explained Van Dusen. "Really just believe in my ideas and follow through with them."

Coleman runs Design the Future under DC Design, his Oakland-based social impact business that re-designs products and processes to work better. Students of the program pay $2100 to take part in Design the Future, but scholarships are offered. Coleman says he actively recruits teens from underrepresented ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds, young women, and those who are physically challenged. Simonson says he is impressed by Coleman and his efforts.

"He's got a very unique skill set and thought process," said Simonson. "Very selfless and welcoming."

Next up, Coleman says he plans on offering Design the Future as an on-line course.

"A life where I am helping other people be their best self," explained Coleman. "Is one that is ultimately meaningful to me."

So for empowering young people to change the world by improving the lives of others, this week's Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Durell Coleman.

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