Bringing Light to a Community

Roberto Castillo understands the dangers that can lurk behind dark corners, alleys and other hidden spots in his neighborhood.

About three years ago, Castillo, who lives in Maryvale, and his cousin were robbed as they were walking home after playing soccer.

“As we were walking home, these two guys were behind us. We didn’t notice because it was kind of dark,” he said. “In no time at all, they just dropped us to the ground and grabbed anything they could.”

That experience motivated him to search for ways to improve safety in his neighborhood and eventually collaborate with two like-minded students in his social entrepreneurship class at Western School of Science and Technology: A Challenge Foundation Academy, a public charter school in Maryvale. Western opened in 2014 as one of the inaugural schools in the New Schools for Phoenix program, which aims to increase the number of high quality schools in Phoenix’s urban core. The school serves grades 7-10 and will grow to serve seniors by 2018.

bright_up_the_nightThe students started a venture called “Bright Up The Knight,” where they created solar-powered lights made of recycled soda bottles, water and chlorine. When a solar powered current is run through the water and chlorine mixture, it creates a light brighter than a 50-watt lightbulb.

The class is conducted in partnership with SEED SPOT Next, a social entrepreneurship training program for high school students, and West-MEC, a career and technical education district for West Valley students.

“We feel that students can be most effective agents for transformational change not only by performing exceptionally academically, but also by launching their ventures like Bright Up The Knight, which could have a real sustained impact here in Maryvale,” said Founding School Director Peter Boyle.

The project garnered second place in the Cisco Challenge, which provided the students $2,500 in seed funding.

The students, all juniors, will pursue the project next semester for independent study and use the money to create more lights, which they’ll sell online to people in their neighborhood.

“I’ve always had a fear of going out at night, but with this product, I think it could change many lives,” said Diana Angulo, 15, who partnered with Castillo and Carlos Jimenez to design the innovative lights.

When the students enrolled in the entrepreneurship class, they shared their experiences and ideas with one another, leading to the idea for “Bright Up The Knight.”

Angulo was inspired by Jérôme Jarre, a French entrepreneur who launched a project, “Liter of Light,” that aims to bring lighting to small homes and villages in the Philippines. She learned about the project through Jarre’s Snapchat account, she said.

The next step for the students is to create a website and market the lights to people in their neighborhood who may want to install the lights in dark areas outside of their homes. They also want to create an incentive that will allow a person who buys two lights to donate one to a homeless person.

Angulo said helping her family and friends feel safe in their community is one of the main reasons she is passionate about this project.

Castillo agreed.

“I just overall want to provide safety to my whole community that I plan to live in for my whole life,” he said.