In 2004, the damage from hurricane Charley left thousands in Florida in dire need of emergency supplies. While helping hurricane victims, Zachary, then 7 years old, discovered another less noticeable issue: homeless youth. Zachary says, “I thought if I was a kid and if I was homeless I would want someone to help me.”
Each night coming home from his baseball games, Will saw a man on the street holding a sign that read: “Need a Meal”. When his parents told him what it meant, he was so sad that he decided to create FROGs (Friends Reaching Our Goals) to help fight hunger in his community.
Growing up in urban India and battling obesity, Vineet’s early experiences help define his passion for medicine. Taking a leave of absence from Stanford to volunteer in a free clinic in Texas, Vineet was struck by the countless patients he saw suffering from preventable illnesses. This experience fueled his passion to help low-income, uninsured patients suffering from chronic disease in America.
Growing up in Stockton, CA, Ty-Licia never got used to the alarming amount of violence in her community. A city suffering from poverty and lack of achievement, Forbes has twice deemed Stockton the “most miserable city” in the US. In 2010, Ty-Licia co-founded the Summer Success and Leadership Academy (SSLA) as an intervention to counter the spike of violence amongst Stockton youth and to help youth realize their potential to be part of the solution for their city’s problems.
Tea’s personal experiences with bullying and discrimination, her witnessing fellow students being harassed because of their gender expression, motivated her to join with other students to pressure her school system to include gender identity and expression protection in the system’s non-discrimination policy.
Torn from his family as a victim of sex trafficking in the Honduras when he was a young teenager, Suamhirs knows how it feels to be powerless. California police found him in a flophouse in San Diego and Suamhirs was promptly placed the foster care system and cast out when he was 18. Thankfully he found THP-Plus, a program that provides transitional housing and support services to help former foster care and probation youths transition to independent living.
“As a military dependent, the outpouring of support my family received during my Dad’s deployment truly ignited my desire to volunteer,” says Peace First Prize applicant, Simone, a devoted advocate of helping young people access volunteer opportunities in her home and college communities. As a young person, Simone found it challenging to find opportunities to volunteer so she wanted to find a way to make it easier for others.
Growing up with dyslexia, Scott recalls feeling alone and different from his peers. Not wanting any other kids to feel discouraged, in 2011 Scott founded Dyslexic Kids.net, a website that offers information, support and resources for children and teens struggling with dyslexia across the globe. Through his work, Scott has helped as many as 100,000 people on a weekly basis ensure that no child with dyslexia feels alone, unsupported, or insecure about the ways in which they learn.
Sayid and his family immigrated to the United States from Kyrgyzstan so that he could become the first member of his family to graduate from high school and attend college without the fear of persecution. Unfortunately, Sayid experienced a great deal of discrimination in his new community. Instead of being discouraged, Sayid was motivated to start a non-profit organization, Youth for Peace, to cultivate respect for refugees in the United States by educating young people.
“Over five million students with disabilities attend public schools in the United States; yet, most school sports and activities are not designed to accommodate these students. Not surprisingly then, students with disabilities are left sidelined – excluded from high school sports and the critical social opportunities they offer.” This is why Sarah says she founded The Sparkle Effect, an organization giving students the resources to build and lead cheerleading squads and dance teams that are inclusive of students of all abilities in middle schools, high schools, and colleges across the country.
Spending the early part of her life in Sri Lanka and later moving to a suburb outside Richmond, Virginia, Reshini has experienced two vastly different societies. She remembers being disappointed at age eight when she realized there the prevalence of homelessness in the neighboring city of Richmond. “I learned that Richmond’s homelessness rate is the largest south of New York. And yet between my friends and my family, no one seemed to be talking about this.”
When Noel was 11 years old, two of his uncles were killed because of gang violence and drug trafficking. Because of their deaths, Noel was determined to graduate high school and continue on to college, being the first in his family to do so. Noel’s family is not unique to Merced, CA, where only 60% of students graduate high school and there are links between the high school dropout rate, the homicide rate, and the aggravated assault rate.
Nicole was troubled by the negative messages in the media that promote violence, sexualize young women, and encourage aggressiveness in young men. Knowing that relationship abuse is a serious consequence, Nicole began spreading awareness about relationship abuse by running a workshop on violence in the media for her fellow classmates.
When Nicholas was 5 he began visiting homeless shelters with his mother, where he was shocked to find that so many children lacked proper footwear. Seeing how this seemingly small problem prevented many of children from going to school, participating in sports and activities, and having positive self-esteem, Nicholas founded the Gotta Have Sole Foundation.
Being legally blind at a young age, Nathan struggled with acceptance throughout his life. He was excluded from activities that he was fully capable of participating in due to ignorance and fear within his community. Nathan says, “I realized I would have to fight to be included, and to fight for that same privilege for others.”
Mohammad calls his peacemaking project “the antithesis” of hate crimes, misunderstanding, and violence in the world. His project, the annual Coexistence Dinner and Dialogue, serves as a unified response to prejudice and discrimination. Growing up as an American Muslim, Mohammad knew what it is like to be the target of discrimination.
Mary-Patricia could no longer stand by and watch gun violence ravage her city of Lithonia, Georgia. She was, “tired of attending more funerals than graduations” and “tired of kids not being able to play outside.” Using powerful images and starting statistics about gun violence, Mary-Patricia founded the Think Twice campaign to decrease urban youth gun violence and change the mindset of youth in her community.
Disheartened by the increasingly frequent problem of bullying, Marcus wrote a children’s book called “The Stop Bullying Club” in 2011 to help start conversations about bullying amongst young children. Believing that, “the best way to solve the bullying problem in my community and beyond is to reach young children as early as possible,” Marcus published the book and began distributing it to local elementary schools where he would engage K-2 students in conversations about bullying.
Levi wrote and published his book, The Good, the Bad, and the Bullies, to share his experiences being bullied in 5th grade. With the support of his family, he was able to turn his fear into inspiration to help others. Since publishing his book, Levi has led workshops to give young people coping with bullying a forum to speak up and get help.
As a tutor in high school Khalil impacted the lives of many young children struggling with math. He noticed that one of his students struggled with math but was an exceptional basketball player. With this realization, Khalil knew he could find a way to bring academics and sports together.
In 2011, Katebah’s community in Oakland, California, was ranked the third most dangerous city in the United States. Having moved from Yemen to the United States 10 years ago with her family, Katebah knew she could not waste her right as an American citizen and needed to publicly speak out against the violence.
Justin grew up aware of intolerance, but he was still surprised when at a track meet he was disqualified due to his Tourette’s syndrome. Although he was upset, he realized that the intolerance he experienced was the result of lack of education. He recalls realizing that, “if I was facing intolerance, others must be as well.” This motivated Justin to start a Tolerance Fair for his community of Solon, Ohio in 2011.
After watching a broadcast of “Feed the Children” on TV at the age of five, Joshua was moved to act. He said, “I never understood why people are hungry. Food is one of the basic necessities of life and it truly breaks my heart to know that children are hungry. I want to find ways to prevent this.” That is when he started Joshua’s Heart Foundation to help the hungry.
Jessica started the We Care Bear Project to bring stuffed animals to scared or injured children being helped by firemen and police officers. Adopted at the age of 5, Jessica says “I know I felt so safe and not scared when I got my very first bear, so I thought if it could make me not scared, it could help a lot of kids.” Jessica started the We Care Bear Project by bringing a few stuffed animals to her local fire department and the venture quickly grew.
Bryan31Martinez absolutely fantastic on the field while still managing to be a great friend who always knows what to say. Keep it up.” This is one of the many tweets from westhighbros, a Twitter account Jeremiah created to combat bullying through compliments. Jeremiah saw bullying happen from his first day on the playground and as he got older, he saw it get worse.
Jennifer is a firm believer in food justice - the notion that healthy, fresh food should be accessible to everyone. She noticed that many low-income residents of Frog Hollow, Hartford lacked access to grocery stores containing fresh produce and that these residents had higher rates of diabetes, heart disease and obesity than the rest of Connecticut’s residents. In 2010, Jennifer started Summer of Solutions, a youth leadership development and food justice summer program in Frog Hollow.
James was a victim of abuse throughout his childhood, which led to drug problems and gang involvement. By the time he was 17 James was facing a possible prison sentence of 30 years and had few advocates or allies. As James puts it, it was the action of one person that changed him forever. This individual was the founder of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition.
When Jackie was 12 years old she was performing a hip-hop dance for a group of disabled teens in Santa Barbara, California when the music unexpectedly stopped playing. Instead of being discouraged, she decided to invite the audience onstage to dance with her. She recalls, “That day revealed to me what a powerful tool dance is for building self-esteem and bringing people together.”
Ivette created the Artz-N-Action summer program in 2012 to address the negative effects of racial, economic, immigration and gender discrimination on young women in Southside Chicago. Being female, Mexican-American, and a first-generation college student was challenging for Ivette, but these factors helped her to realize that she wanted to do something to change the odds for women like herself.
Isabella started the Be a Buddy Not a Bully program at her elementary school in Alamosa, Colorado after being bullied and seeing other students being bullied while fellow classmates just stood by and watched. Isabella discovered that while the majority of students her age are not bullies, they see bullying happen but don’t do anything about it.
After struggling with reading due to vision impairment, Imani grew to appreciate reading at a young age. She was dismayed to discover that many children, especially in inner city and poor communities, do not have access to books and could not enjoy reading as much as she does. With help from her mother, Imani wrote a grant and was awarded financial backing from Macy’s and Reading is Fundamental to start the organization, 100 Men Reading.
As victim of bullying, Gerry was resolved to never “see another child get hurt the way I did.” Gerry Orz produced a film entitled “Day of Silence” followed by a sequel, “Born to Bully” to address the issue of bullying in schools. After releasing his films, he founded a nonprofit organization called Kids Resource to educate young children and create a better support system in dealing with issues of bullying through visual materials that were kid-friendly.
Fletcher was tired of seeing and hearing about youth violence in three neighboring high schools in his area. After two students were murdered in the same year, he knew he had to take action. Fletcher helped launch the Be Fight Free campaign to change students’ mindsets about violence as the only way to solve problems in his community in Suffolk, Virginia.
As a victim of severe bullying, Emily-Anne was compelled to start WeStopHate.org, a nonprofit changing the way teens view themselves through the power of online videos and social media. Emily-Anne’s project focuses on teen-esteem because she believes that when self-esteem increases, bullying will decline, as people who are happy with themselves do not put others down.
When Emily was nine years old, she visited a nonprofit vocational rehabilitation center in Concord, Massachusetts called the Restoration Project. Emily began to volunteer at the Restoration Project nine years prior and always wanted to do more. She came up with the idea to found the Rocking Chair Project as a philanthropic offshoot of the Restoration Project.
Inspired by an article in the El Paso Times about homeless animals, Eleanor Ann founded Pennies FUR Pets to help animals “find FURever homes”. She started collecting pennies and spare change at local events and businesses and in one month raised $2,600. Eleanor Ann was able to secure a grant $10,000 grant from Newman’s Own, a foundation started by actor Paul Newman, which she donated to the Animal Rescue League.
DeAnna founded the Neenah Kind Project as a way to unify, create acceptance, and promote compassion among her high school peers. DeAnna started this project because she wants high school for her sister to be a more inclusive and kind place. DeAnna’s project centers on the idea of encouraging kindness through positive peer pressure as a way to decrease bullying.
Three years ago, David started Project CALL, the first immersive service, dialogue and leadership program for young people in America to engage across lines of difference relating to religion and politics. Project CALL brings together diverse college students, evangelical ministries, and community organizations for weeklong service-learning programs in Harlan, Kentucky, a central Appalachian coalfield county.
As a sophomore in college, Danielle and a peer created a club called Students for the Advancement of People with DIFFERbilities (SAPD) to educate students on campus about how to treat and interact with people with intellectual and physical disabilities. As an infant, Danielle was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy, a physical and intellectual disability.
Dallin volunteered at the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma when he was 11 years old and it was there that he first encountered the issue of food insecurity. Dallin noticed that the food bank seldom seemed to stock fresh fruits and vegetables for distribution. He had the idea to plant a fruit tree orchard and distribute the fruits to those in need.
Carolina founded Deferred Action for Dreamers, a non-profit organization that provides assistance to young people who are immigrants to the U.S. applying for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). DACA is a government program allowing qualified immigrants to stay in the U.S. for two years without deportation and carry a license to be employed.
Brooklyn Wright was upset by all of the litter she saw around her on the streets, sidewalks, and playground. She conducted research to find out about the harmful effects of litter and was shocked to discover that litter causes accidents, pollutes our water, kills animals, and costs millions of dollars to clean up. Brooklyn was just 7, when she came up with the idea of being Earth Saver Girl.
Growing up in Baltimore, Maryland, Babatunde couldn’t help but notice the serious rift between young people and police. Most police officers did not trust or respect young people; leaving youth feeling alienated and defeated which catalyzed more violence and crime.
Andrew started teaching underserved children in high school because he realized that students needed and deserved personalized support to succeed, but didn’t always receive it. In later years, when he attended Columbia University, Andrew saw the same need for mentoring in New York City, which inspired him to start Project Rousseau.
At a young age, Amit’s speech impediment made him acutely aware of the harmful effects of bullying. Because of these early experiences, Amit was inspired to start My Name My Story at his high school. The organization’s mission is to inspire unity, tolerance, and empathy among youth, while developing their leadership.
Growing up in a Puerto Rican family in the Bronx, Amanda Matos became aware of the injustices that women of color face in the United States. Early on in life, she witnessed the racism and sexism her own family experienced which motivated her to take action.