Doug McNeil was searching for an Earth Day humanitarian project to teach youth the Rotary motto “Service Above Self” as an initiative within the Los Gatos Morning Rotary Club. Doug joined Rotary as an engineering and manufacturing executive interested in mentoring and inspiring the next generation of STEM students. Doug began as an intern at NASA Ames and over the years has enjoyed a career developing a wide range of transformational commercial consumer products in Fortune 500 companies as well as several Silicon Valley start-ups. Doug serves on several high school and college advisory boards to promote applied science, math and engineering curriculum mentoring local youth.
For many years Jesse Salem, an active member of the Los Gatos United Methodist Church (LGUMC), has volunteered to serve in Colonet, Mexico, building homes as part of the United Methodist Volunteers In Mission (UMVIM) program. Jesse is a retired engineer who spent his career as a materials scientist helping IBM develop a wide range of high performance materials for high temperature superconductivity, nanotechnology, organic light emitting diodes and thin film technologies. Once retired, Jesse started working with the Exploratorium in San Francisco developing exhibits to inspire and engage the next generation. On one of his Colonet trips he decided that he needed to develop a way to bring a sustainable lighting system into these off-grid homes which they were building. He began exploring a practical way to use a simple charge controller circuit, standard 12-volt battery, low-cost solar panel, and high-efficiency LED strip to create an off-grid solution.
Bryan Mekechuk, a family friend of Doug, is also a member of the LGUMC and has built homes on Colonet VIM trips multiple times. He knew about Doug’s quest for an Earth Day project, as well as his desire to create access to solar technology for the underserved areas of the world. When Bryan heard Jesse’s Colonet idea, he knew he had to get these two engineers together. Bryan arranged their introduction at a local coffee shop and the rest, as they say, is history!
Thus began a partnership between two engineers who are passionate about mentoring youth interested in STEM. They both dream of inspiring the next generation of innovators, technologists, humanitarians, and philanthropists to help brighten the futures of youth.
Building Global Partnerships
With this partnership, a bond also formed between Rotary and the LGUMC. From this humble beginning, they took a leap of faith and fabricated a working prototype breadboard. Their first pilot became a success in Colonet, Mexico just 60 days later and was followed by a celebration of Lighting for Literacy at the Rotary Earth Day in 2012. One year later the project was honored at the White House Rotary Champions of Change ceremony as an example of how to inspire youth through STEM to build a better future for others.
Together Doug and Jesse helped create partnerships with several influential organizations, local talent and philanthropists, allowing LFL to reach four major continents, eight countries and 1,200 youth in the first two and a half years. These partnerships have resulted in a transformational, youth-based engineering project where students as young as eleven years old learn principles of science, sustainability and service above self to help underserved youth world-wide living in darkness. This process involves fabricating a pico-power, compact renewable lighting systems to provide three to four hours of light and cellphone charging to homes, classrooms, study halls, orphanages and medical clinics around the world thereby promoting literacy to champion the futures of youth in our country and across the globe.
This is an inspiring story of people focused on working together to create a better world through the organizations created by Rotary founder Paul Harris and Methodist Minister, John Wesley. In their footsteps, two modern-day engineers are continuing this legacy by promoting a vision to serve the futures of youth.
To see the incredible opportunity to teach young people, and to provide lighting to people who desperately need it ... it's such a beneficial community relationship, on so many levels.
--LGUMC Pastor Jennifer Murdock