I truly believe that every person has a story worth telling. My expertise is finding those stories and showing why they matter.
On a cold December morning in 2007, Michael Clemons, an American from California, donned a white beard, red suit, and black boots, then went to an orphanage in Tokyo to hand out Christmas gifts.
His Santa suit is long gone, but the joy he felt handing out presents and the sincere gratitude he received from the kids inspired him to learn more about the more than 40,000 children living in Japan’s institutional homes. It sparked an interest in volunteering that eventually led Clemons to found YouMeWe, a non-profit organization that prepares orphans for success and independence.
“Prior to that visit, I’d never thought about orphans,” Clemons explained. “But I couldn’t help but notice that most of the kids were of mixed heritage. I hoped that was not the reason they were in the home.”
He learned that many children are victims of abuse or neglect, and while some are true orphans whose extended family can’t or won’t take them in, many more have been abandoned due to poverty, special needs, or health issues. With that knowledge, came a longing to help. Clemons spent ten years volunteering through the Corporate Social Responsibility activities at Barclay’s, the investment bank where he worked, and with various NPOs.
His respect for the children he works with is reflected in how Clemons speaks of them. Many institutionalized children are abandoned, and they’ve been called “throw aways”, but Clemons sees them as hidden assets and ambassadors. And while it is a natural reaction to pity the children for the trauma they’ve experienced, Clemons insists they should not be pitied.
“They are getting on with their lives and don’t feel sorry for themselves,” he said, “so while they are in that safe environment, we have a chance to teach them things that empower them.”
To Clemons, empowerment begins with technology. The modern world revolves around computers but few children in homes have regular access to them. Through YouMeWe, the NPO he founded in 2018, Clemons partners with banks, businesses, and software firms to not only supply computers to the homes but also programs that will help the children become responsible global citizens, thus preparing them for life in the 21st century. And that starts with the youngest children. YouMeWe partners with the Japanese distributors of the robot toy Cubetto to teach computer basics. The online program Night Zookeeper helps the English-speaking children maintain their first language while improving their overall writing and critical thinking skills.
As the children age, YouMeWe’s coaching adapts, focusing not only more intensely on coding and business skills, but also finding ways to prepare the children for an independent life when they age out of the system at eighteen. They use “Money Connection,” a financial literacy program designed by Shinsei Bank, to teach budgeting and money management, and Benesse career assessment to explore professions best suited to each child’s skills and interests.
“You can hear it right away in their voices,” Clemons said, “ ‘I can be a teacher! I can be a banker!’ It’s really opening their eyes for the first time to their possibilities.”
Links to recent publications
"English Rakuto Takes the Stage in Yokohama," Metropolis Magazine, 2016
"Making an Imprint," Metropolis Magazine, 2017
"Tis the Season for Giving," Metropolis Magazine, 2017
"The Fashion industry needs a #MeToo movement", Shingetsu News, 2018
"Humanity on Full View at Scholarship Luncheon," Shingetsu News, 2018
"Untapping the Power Between Fashion and Costume." The Japan Times, 2019
"Bespoke Tailor Cassandra Harada Spins a Business and Community Out of a Passion for Wool," The Japan Times, 2022
"Teaching Neglected Children the Skills They Need for Life at YouMeWe," The Japan Times, 2022
"Should I Stay or Should I Go, Now?" The Japan Times, 2022
List of other published articles
WOW U, 2019
"From Lump of clay to Divine Art"
"Adapting Tradition for the Modern Consumer"
"Sake is Served"
"A Taste For Ramen"
"A Yen For Banking," Asahi Shimbun, 2003
"As Usual, No One Stopped," The Big Issue, 2003
"Japan Pioneers Clean Waste Disposal," Yes! Magazine, 2006