President Barack Obama praised a Fremont high school student Wednesday for his work providing microloans for low-income students to start their own businesses.
"He's creative, he took initiative and now he's helping other young people be able to afford the schooling that they need," Obama said of Will Kim, a 17-year-old Mission San Jose High School student who founded the nonprofit Happy Day Microfunds.
Kim said he was shocked when a White House official called the school and then his father Tuesday to talk about mentioning him in the president's back-to-school speech.
"It's all a dream," Kim said. "I didn't see this happening ever. It's beyond my wildest dreams."
Obama, speaking at Benjamin Banneker Academic High School in Washington, D.C, urged students to pursue learning after high school and to follow the example of students like Kim who are "making a difference now."
"With all the challenges that our country's facing right now, we don't just need you for the future, we actually need you now," Obama said. "America needs young people's passion and their ideas -- we need your energy right now."
He pointed to Kim's nonprofit, which is part of the microcredit movement that aims to spur entrepreneurship by extending small loans to those who lack collateral, steady employment or credit history.
"I was just beaming with pride as I listened to the president today," Fremont schools Superintendent Jim Morris said. "Such an honor and such a wonderful young man."
"I could not have been more proud of what Will exemplifies. We have had a lot of attention for a lot of our students just for that spirit of giving back to the community. These kids are just so altruistic."
Kim raises money for the microloans through youth-run events such as dodge ball tournaments and capture-the-flag games. He has garnered about $10,000 so far, which will be distributed in loans ranging from $100 to $1,000.
Happy Day has funded two entrepreneurs, is working on a third project and is seeking more applications from Bay Area students. It selects its budding business owners from entrepreneurship classes taught by Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship educators, who are trained to merge their class curriculum with entrepreneurial skills such as marketing and cost calculation.
The loans are trust-based, with no interest and no collateral.
"I know you're up to it, because I've seen it," Obama told the assembled students at Benjamin Banneker High. "Nothing inspires me more than knowing that young people all across the country are already making their marks. They're not waiting, they're making a difference now."
Contact Rob Dennis at 510-353-7010.