11/09/2012 10:42 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

From South Central, LA, to the Summit of the Grand Teton: A Journey to Change

The Millennial generation's affinity for creating social change in a disruptive and innovative manner is one that sets them apart from others, and one that we at the Case Foundation have been exploring over the past four years through our program called Social Citizens. It is through this initiative that we identify and lift up young changemakers who are creating social change in fresh and exciting ways.

I recently had a chance to talk with one groundbreaking Millennial leader named Juan Martinez and learn from him about his views on social change, impact, and the next generation. Juan is the Director of Leadership Development and Natural Leaders Network for the Children & Nature Network.

He has dedicated his life to creating "good" in both traditional and nontraditional ways as a mentor, role model, and outdoor advocate. While he has faced many hardships in his life - it is not what defines him. Rather it is his passion for helping others in the most unexpected of ways that drives him to help others.

Q&A with Juan Martinez:

What are some of the biggest or most challenging obstacles for Millennials who want to be civically engaged, but are not?

We are fast approaching an amazing virtual world. Where Information travels across the world in minutes. We gain knowledge and friends through clicks. Yet at some level most of us seek for a place where we are validated in real time.

By traditional standards the young must pay their dues before that validation. Traditional hierarchies and structure are sometimes barriers to that innovation and creativity. That is why some of the most successful groups are the ones that empower youth with real power to shape the group core values.

In your experience, how can organizations evolve to meet the needs or passions of Millennials in the coming years?

By holding a space that encourages innovation, solutions, and out of the box thinking, organization can ensure their survival. This is one way that empowers the young. Recognize the legacy carried into this time and use those lessons to go beyond the horizon.

How have you been able to advance social change through both institutions and organizations like The North Face and nontraditional paths that you have created on your own?

I've been blessed to find mentors who encourage me to think in a way that enables change. I'm living out dreams that I never imagined possible. My desire to create positive social change is a personal one and that desire comes out in everything I do but that is also followed by planned out, supported, and critical solutions.

I know that some of my ideas are out of the ordinary, but that means I have to work harder to demonstrate success and potential.

In your video interview with The North Face, you noted that you grew up in South Central, LA -- and expressed that this was the last place anyone would expect a role model like you to come from. What were some of the challenges and opportunities you faced growing up in LA?

I grew up poor, English as my second language, drugs, and violence were present every day. Stepping out of my doorstep was always a gamble. On the flip side, I had a lot of encouragement from my family, teachers, and mentors.

All this combined made me realize some things. I knew what I did not want to be because I had examples of that all around me. There is nothing as powerful as an opportunity a d sometimes they only come once, just like life, you only have a certain amount of time here and once your gone its forever.

That view has lead me to believe that everyone has a potential not to be underestimated and all they might need is an opportunity to showcase it. That at the core of any movement, the real people to people connection must be present.

What advice would you give to other next gen social changemakers who are looking to do good, but don't know how or where to get started?

Speak from the heart. Never forget your history, or your roots. When you can't speak for yourself make sure your work can. Write your ideas down and put action items behind them. Your community starts with you. Never hesitate to ask questions and think of solutions.

More about Juan Martinez:

In 2011, Juan was named a National Geographic Emerging Explorer and currently represents The North Face as an ambassador for outdoor exploration. In 2012 he became the youngest member in history of the Sierra Club Foundation Board. Juan is now serving as Explorer In Residence at The Murie Center.