The Pitch: Courtney Macavinta sells us on a way to keep our youth out of prison

Did Courtney Macavinta convince you in her 60 seconds? The school-to-prison pipeline is real and something she witnessed firsthand in her own family. The Respect Institute puts tools in the hands of schools, youth groups and more to ensure our kids stay in school and out of prison.

Name: Courtney Macavinta

What you’re pitching:The organization I co-founded, The Respect Institute. As the daughter of a Latino and sister of two men who all went to prison under age 25 — instead of completing high school or college — I’m devoted to ending the school-to-prison pipeline. In the U.S., 1 in 7 U.S. youth (7 million) were suspended in 2011-2012. And these kids are three times more likely to have contact with the justice system. Since 2010, we’ve been helping cut off this pipeline by fortifying the quality of mentorship happening (formally and informally) in schools. Mentors learn to use our trauma-informed coaching tools, create caring connections and mentor more effectively using our Respect 360 toolkit. Trained mentors integrate Respect 360 into their youth development frameworks, whether it be a school, jail, group home or after-school program. Through our eTraining, we aim to increase the effectiveness of 1 million mentors, reaching 10 million youth, by 2020. We are seeking a $1 million investment to make it happen. In other words, it would cost less than 14 cents each to reach those 7 million youth suspended, compared to the estimated $80,000 per year it would cost to incarcerate them. My dad told me on his deathbed: “If just one adult had taken an interest in me, my life would have been different.” That’s what we’re committed to: blanketing this country with those fortified mentors who are the true gatekeepers to better futures.

Position: Co-founder and CEO

Hails from: San Jose, California

Birthday: Dec. 16 (shared with Margaret Mead, Jane Austen and Beethoven!)

Personal life: Daily laughs and education provided by my son, Tru (5). Daily support and love while riding the waves of life from cutie pie, tough-guy husband, Jeremy.

Priors: Well, my juvenile record is sealed but informs the work today. Before that: award-winning journalist and editor (CBS, Chicklick, The Washington Post); best-selling book for teen girls, Respect; coach and speaker at RespectRx (the institute’s precursor). Our work has been featured by CNN, ABC, National Public Radio, USA Today, Teen Vogue, Ashoka and others, and I’ve [been] tapped as a resource by the White House and the Clinton Global Initiative (long way from my roots!). Honored as a top five national finalist for the American Express NGen Leadership Award, one of the “42 leading women in education” by the University of Southern California and was a Local Hero Award winner by Cosmopolitan for Latinas. Most excited about: In 2015, I was appointed to the Juvenile Justice Commission for Santa Clara County, California.

Pitch inspired by: My family’s incarceration rate, which mirrors the negative trends in the U.S. (see above). And also by the effectiveness of mentors who nurture self-respect and resiliency in vulnerable youth. As a teen, I crossed paths with a caring probation officer on my second offense. He encouraged me to be of service and sent me to volunteer for the local Girl Scouts. More than 15 years later, I would develop a national program for Girl Scouts USA and go on to found The Respect Institute. I had very different outcomes from the men in my family and other Latinas in the Silicon Valley because of one positive interaction with a youth influencer that showed me, “You are a unique contributor to the greater whole.” And this is how we at The Respect Institute define self-respect. After I learned to respect myself, I connected to post-secondary education and meaningful, upward mobile work. This is the impact we aim to amplify for youth who would otherwise be stuck in the school-to-prison pipeline.

Mentor(s)/people who inspire: Family and teachers like Mrs. Miller and Mr. Goltzer, who practiced The Respect Basics before that’s what we called them.

Words to live by:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” — Margaret Mead

“Anything or anyone that does not bring you alive is too small for you.” — David Whyte

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” — Reinhold Niebuhr

Last read/watched/listened: The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk, M.D.?; Kevin Hart comedy special; Marc Maron podcast interview with President Obama

Social: @therespectinst, LinkedIn, Facebook, TEDx talk

Guilty pleasure: Me + my bed + Hulu Showtime feed or swimming at the Elk’s Club with my kid

How I recharge: Recovery community, working with other women

Top of travel wish list: U.S. national parks and Presidential Library tour with the boys. (Yes, I’m a book nerd who likes trees — that about sums it up.)

What does it take to change someone’s mind? To convince them to buy a product, modify their daily routine or completely make over their lives? Could you sell someone on an idea in under 60 seconds? We invite you to try. But remember — the clock is ticking. To participate in The Pitch or recommend someone you know, contact us at

The Pitch


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