Kea Yengst is a 17-year-old junior at Carmel High School and an entrepreneur who started a nonprofit, KEACares, two years ago. It provides free SAT test prep for low-income students in Monterey County and beyond. She’s part of the Spero Challenge, a student-led community service movement, where students find unmet needs then launch businesses or nonprofits offering solutions.
Her entrepreneurship started when she was in fourth grade after ruining her mom’s favorite cherry wood table while she was painting her nails. She used acetone to get rid of the nail polish, damaging the wood. Restoration of the table was beyond her budget so she sold clothing and other belongings on eBay to get the $750 needed to fix it.
Yengst got inspired to start the nonprofit after reading an article about disparities in SAT test scores, making it harder for low-income students to get accepted to college. So far, KEACares helped 24 students from California and one student from Coppell, Texas, who found it through social media.
Like many students, Yengst is staring at a screen for hours these days – and also studying for the SAT herself, using the same materials she provides through KEACares.
Yengst had been saving up her eBay earnings to buy a car, but instead used the money to start the organization. To date, she doesn’t own a car, but she is the CEO of a growing nonprofit.
Weekly: Why is it important all students have access to standardized test preparations?
Yengst: It is very important for students to just have the right materials to study for such an important test, especially if they are interested in going to college within the next few years.
There is criticism that standardized testing shouldn’t be used at all. What do you think of using such tests to measure achievement?
I think it’s a good idea, especially since the UCs are a very popular option for a lot of California students. Having a test that specializes directly in the curriculum of the UC system is helpful, especially if a student is transitioning from their senior year of high school to the UC campus.
Due to Covid-19, many schools won’t require SAT/ACT tests. How is your nonprofit adapting to this change?
If they do decide to completely eliminate the SAT and ACT, there are still going to be other tests. One goal I have for KEACares in the near future is that I would really like to provide graduate school testing materials to low-income students who come from first-generation families or first-generation college student families. But I have confidence that we’ll be able to maintain our reputation as a high-school-centered nonprofit.
How are you preparing for your own SAT test?
I just practice, three to five times a week. Unfortunately, as of this morning, my SAT date got canceled. That was fun and dandy. I’m not really sure if I’m going to take the SAT anytime soon; I really hope I can take it this year.
Have you ever struggled academically, and how did you handle that?
AP World History was definitely a struggle for me at the beginning. That was my most challenging class. I reflected on what I did wrong and worked my way up from that.
Where do you see the organization, and yourself, in five years?
I see us becoming a national nonprofit, helping students all over the country. I also see us helping out school districts that are currently in the Title I phase [federal funds that are used at school to improve students’ academic achievement]. I don’t really know where I want to go to college.
Did you ever think you’d be running a nonprofit?
If you were to tell myself from five years ago that I would be running an organization that has helped numerous students from all across California and even out of state, I would probably call you crazy because I was not able to see myself doing this. I was in what, seventh grade? But I always wanted to run a business of my own ever since I was young, and I think this is a good start.
You’re 17 and run a nonprofit. What would you say to others who have doubts about starting big projects?
I would just say give it your best shot. Do your best and if you ever have a bump in the road, don’t be afraid to reach out for help.