Heads up: if you happen to meet John Werner at one of his Ironman races, on one of his photography outings, at the TEDxBoston seminar that he co-curates, or at a potluck dinner that he's throwing for the nonprofit that he started, he will write down your email address, your cell-phone number, and notes about your life. Then, he will call you and write you and ask you questions. He will squeeze you for all you are worth.
There. You've been warned.
You should also be flattered. If John Werner aims to recruit you for his mision, you are very worthy. John is out to change the world. Or at least start a movement. What began as everyone-else-in-my-family-is-a-lawyer-and-I-don't-want-to-be evolved into a lifetime devoted to transforming how kids are educated in this country. This might be a little surprising, given that this New York City native says he could never even win an argument in his household growing up. Well, how could he? His father was the chief clerk of the Supreme Court in New York County, his mother was the assistant attorney general in New York State, and his brother and sister both aspired to be lawyers, which they became. But John? He had no interest in entering the family profession. And he had trouble reading in elementary school. (Looking back, he says he probably was an undiagnosed dyslexic.) He plugged on through though, graduating from Hamilton College and winning a fellowship at Harvard, as well as some awards here and there. But he never forgot his early struggles: ever since his own tween years, he vowed to find ways to make learning easier for middle-school students.
After stints heading up a school for emotionally disturbed children, teaching at Boston Public Schools, and even running a gubernatorial campaign, he met Eric Schwartz, who was knee-deep in creating a first-of-its-kind after-school and mentorship program called Citizen Schools. John immediately knew he had found not just his soul mate, but his soul school. Today John is the chief mobilizing officer of a program that re-imagines the school day through after-school programs, 10-week internships with mentors, and a special focus on national service as well as developing science and math skills, among other activities. Now in its 17th year, Citizen Schools has rolled out in 18 cities, with 4,200 volunteers serving 4,500 middle-school kids in low-income areas. But John wants you. He wants your help, energy, and expertise. Whether you're a jewelry designer, an engineer, or — yup — a lawyer, you have life skills and experiences that can help a child learn and, ideally, thrive. Just do yourself a favor: find John before he finds you.