IAPW Founder's Story


Manuela Testolini in Haiti

It began with a question. Manuela Testolini asked a young boy in a shelter in Minneapolis,  “What do you want, in a perfect world?”

“A blue crayon”, he replied.

I asked him again and he gave me the same answer. I soon found out that he and his mother had left a domestic violence situation in the middle of the night. She grabbed his favorite things… his Tonka truck, his teddy bear, his box of crayons. But, she left behind… his favorite blue crayon.

At that moment, I knew that a child’s perfect world may not be so out of reach. I also realized that we don’t ask this simple, but profound question often enough. So I started to ask kids in shelters, abuse treatment facilities, in foster care and classrooms.

Using the arts to help kids find their voice, we made “change the world banners” and “wish boxes”, we drew what our perfect world may look like, we wrote poetry and sang songs.  It was arts empowerment in disguise. I found that kids had a lot to say, not only about what they envisioned in a perfect world, but how they could be part of that change. How instead of being passive beneficiaries, they could use their empathy, creativity and aspirations to make a difference. 

Like Jaylin in the family shelter who told me that he wanted to build houses for everyone else that didn’t have a house. Or Sophia who wanted to organize a clean up of the community park so families could safely have picnics there. 

As I asked this magical question, I  watched waves of possibility wash over the kids. It became clear to me that, despite their circumstances, kids had unlimited potential. They could change the world if given the opportunities, skills, and support to do just that. And so, in 2005, In a Perfect World was born.

Over the next several years, our arts empowerment festivals for at-risk youth evolved to youth programs inspiring and empowering kids to have a voice, develop their leadership skills and guide them towards social impact in their communities. Equipped with a sense of purpose, we’ve watched kids reach their full potential and create lasting change.

We’ve now impacted over 48,000 people worldwide.

Since our inception, we have learned a lot. We’ve discovered that youth empowerment is a dynamic and on-going journey. We’ve also learned that cultivating the next generation of changemakers requires us to look at the whole child, developing not only their leadership skills, but their identity, relationships, emotional skills and well-being. 

 In our  perfect world, every child has the tools, support and opportunity to thrive and build a common vision for the future.  Join us as we unlock the unlimited potential of young people to change the world.

Manuela Testolini

What is Your Perfect World?

Get in Touch

Questions for us? Want to know more about our work or how you can get involved? We’d love to hear from you!

Phone: 833-444-4279