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Amit headAmit D., 15, California

At a young age, Amit’s speech impediment made him acutely aware of the harm of bullying. My Name, My Story is a movement that Amit started, through school clubs and leaders, stories of inspiration, and live events, to spread the meaning of empathy. Amit feels that the key is to have youth show other youth the support systems they have available to them. The movement’s motto is “Hope, Believe, Succeed, and Inspire” and so far, 120 stories have been shared, 20 school clubs have been created, and 200 youth have volunteered to help lead the movement. As Amit says, “In the fearing society we live in today, the lack of empathy is the root of all evil. My Name, My Story has a simple plan to inspire empathy within the community.”

Avalon Theisen headshotAvalon T., 13, Florida

Always an avid nature lover, Avalon knew at age 8 that she would go on to help other people and the environment.  In 2010 she created Conserve It Forward, a project that connects people with the environment, usually using her favorite bio-indicator: frogs!  Through information booths, public speaking engagements, events, partnership projects, and even a recent TEDx Talk, Avalon has empowered people not only with information, but also with ways that they can take action.  She has been able to combine efforts with organizations in amphibian conservation, youth leadership, and autism, which she says has “helped spread awareness about amphibian conservation, connecting with nature, and youth action in new, powerful ways!”  Avalon has directly reached 5,000 people with her programming, and about 16,000 people have been exposed through her other events and presentations.

Alexa Grabelle headshotAlexa G., 13, New Jersey

Alexa has always been an avid reader, and it troubled her that many young people across the country do not have the same access to books at home or at school as her.  So Alexa started Bag of Books (BOB), which has collected and donated over 17,000 books to children and schools in need. Through various promotions, Bag of Books also encourages students to continue reading over school breaks, an important part of retaining information that students learn during the school year. To date she has received $56,000 worth of donated goods and services, and hopes to continue to expand BOB throughout the nation.

Will headWill L., 11, Texas

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. Since it began, FROGs has provided over 100,000 meals to the hungry, packed over 10,000 backpacks for hungry kids, served 1,500 families through the Mobile Food Pantry, and inspired kids to volunteer in their communities. Some of Will’s fundraising initiatives have included FROGs at the Plate – a baseball tournament to raise money and awareness about hunger – and Hits and Kicks Against Hunger – where kids ask businesses to pledge one dollar for every hit or kick in a sports game, with proceeds donated to raising awareness about hunger. Will wants to show other kids that you can have fun while helping others. He believes that “no matter how tall or small you are, you can make a difference.”

Simone Bernstein headshotSimone B., 22, Missouri

As a young person, Simone realized it was challenging to find opportunities to volunteer so she wanted to find a way to make it easier for others. She created VolunTEEN Nation, “a website for youth to easily find volunteer opportunities throughout the nation.”  Over 8,500 youth have been able to find volunteer opportunities through the website and have contributed to projects such as Serve to Remember on 9/11, Making Music Matters, and Score for Autism. Simone does this work because she believes that “youth have the creativity, the interest, the time, the tech skills, the energy and the passion to tackle and transform global challenges to ensure a peaceful and sustainable future.”  She is determined to continue to show organizations that young people have the power and skills to make lasting contributions to their communities.

Jonas Corona headshotJonas C., 10, California

When Jonas was 6, he visited Skid Row to help distribute food and clothes, and he found himself deeply affected by the sight of children in line. He wanted to do anything he could to help. He was, however, turned away time and time again by organizations who said he was too young to volunteer. “It is very important for everyone to have the chance to help out, no matter what their age is,” and it was with this thought that he founded his own organization, Love in the Mirror, so he could help the people who needed it. Already he has helped over 30,000 people receive the basic life necessities they need and he isn’t planning on stopping anytime soon.

Jessica Collins headshotJessica C., 14, Kentucky

Jessica was inspired by the 2009 movie the Blind Side to find someone that didn’t have a bed and help them. “Have you ever spent the night at a friend’s house and slept with several on one bed or on the floor?” She asks. “As most of us have, we know that it is not very comfortable, and you are tired the next day.” She asks people to imagine sleeping like that every night, and then imagine being held to the same performance standards as kids who get the recommended 8-9 hours of sleep in their own bed. It started with just asking her school for a list of kids without beds, and now she has provided over 355 children with new beds. She’s given them something to call their own, and Jessica is pleased to see their self-esteem, attitudes, and grades all improve, and even more so to see some of the kids she’s helped go on to help others. She hopes that “this goes to show that anyone, someone from Hollywood or someone from Shelbyville, Kentucky, of any age, 9 or 109, can find their passion and act on it.”

Eleanor Ann Schoenbrun headshotEleanor Ann S., 10, Texas

In 2011, when Eleanor Ann was only eight years old, she found herself disturbed at the statistic that over 19,000 homeless animals were being killed in her town alone. She felt as if she had to do something, and she did--she spent eight hours in the hot sun beside a Starbucks drive-through collecting money for her local Animal Rescue League. At the end of the day she had raised $2,700, and now, in 2014, after recruiting helpers and organizing people through her Pennies FUR Pets program, she’s donated over $20,100 dollars to the ARL. “This has made a change in my community because every $5 saves a dog off death row,” she says. “Can you imagine how many pets Pennies FUR Pets has saved?” Eleanor Ann is going to continue her work, committed to being the voice for those animals that can’t speak for themselves.

Donya Nasser headshotDonya N., 21, Florida

When Donya was working, she would often think to herself that something was off--that something was missing. Taking a look around, it finally dawned on her what it was; the majority of the women she was working with were Caucasian. It was this realization that lead her to found Watch.Her.Lead., a project that works towards raising awareness about the race gap between women in politics and encouraging young women of color to pursue political careers. Her name, Donya, means “the world” in Farsi, and she says, “Before I was born, my mother knew I was destined for greatness. I was meant to change the world.” She hopes to find institutional support for her cause in the future, as well as program new presentations and facilitate workshops.

Daquan Oliver headshotDaquan O., 21, New York

Recesspreneurs aims to help underprivileged adolescents realize their full potential, and it’s a cause that is very personal for Daquan. He says, “It derives from a promise I made at the age of 14, that despite all obstacles I would become successful and help children such as myself become successful as well.” The organization has gained recognition not only from the community but from the President of Babson College for its impact on these at-risk youth, and one recesspreneur was even named YEC's Student Entrepreneur of the Month (January). Now Recesspreneurs is preparing to launch in three different colleges in the fall of 2014.

Tharon Trujillo headshotTharon T., 17, California

Tharon was bullied as a child for his speech impediment. But once he decided to ignore the bullies and focus on his passion in life—inventing—he realized how much happier he was. Now he goes to schools to share his own experience with being bullied, as well as the story of his friend who committed suicide. Tharon hopes to “inspire the youth to be the upstander and not the bystander” through his organization, TruKidz. He tells youth to “just do you,” and shares how focusing on his inventing, instead of the bully, was the key to making a positive change in his life. His message has reached 130,000 kids over the past year, and he’s heard how well his message has empowered the youths at schools to make a change from their principals.

Jaylen Arnold headshotJaylen A., 13, Florida

Jaylen knows what it’s like to be bullied. In fact, he was bullied so badly that he had to be in the hospital for a while. And the fact that some kids are bullied to the point that they’d take their own life is incomprehensible to him, so he’s determined to make it stop. “We all deserve to grow up not afraid and in a peaceful environment. THESE are our childhood memories...our school years! We are worth it!” His project is No Bullies in School - Bullying No Way!, which works towards ending bullying by means of awareness-raising presentations and a free bullying prevention curriculum they provide to schools. He has spoken to over 100,000 people, and the waiting list for their curriculum is over 200 schools long. Jaylen’s goal is to get the curriculum to as many schools on his waiting list as possible.

Christian Bucks headshot smallerChristian B., 8, Pennsylvania

Christian loves playing with his friends at recess. Making friends has always been easy for him, but he was quick to realize that it’s not so easy for everyone; he saw kids who were lonely, kids that didn’t have anything to do. He decided to approach his principal about bringing a Buddy Bench to his school. If kids felt lonely or like they had nothing to do, all they would have to do is sit on the bench. Then any kid that was playing would go over and invite them to play or talk. Many kids have thanked him for the Buddy Bench and told them how it’s changed their lives—not only at his school, but at other schools as well. Christian’s hope is that all kids will someday feel included. “I think it is important to develop kindness, compassion, empathy, and inclusion at a young age.  If we teach kids to think this way, our schools will be much more peaceful places now and in the future.”

Haile Thomas headshot smallerHaile T., 13, Arizona

When Haile heard an expert predict that her generation would probably live shorter lives than their parents, it had a huge impact on her. She recalled her father, who had been diagnosed with type-2 diabetes, and how changing his eating habits and exercising had completely gotten rid of the disease. “I've seen firsthand the benefits of making healthy lifestyle changes and I feel that is a great message to share.” Through the HAPPY (Healthy Active Positive Purposeful Youth) Organization, Haile hosts a myriad of events that expose kids to healthy cooking, proper nutrition education, and fun physical activities. In the future, Haile to plans of run a cooking class for 3rd-5th graders at a local elementary school. “I know that if not all, some will hear my message and be inspired and motivated to make better choices in order to have a healthier life.”

Carolina Gonzalez headshotCarolina G., 17, Florida

Carolina’s family is a family of immigrants living in a community of immigrants; and so immigration and its policies affect the lives of her and her neighbors every day. Carolina wanted to do something to help her community and give them hope for a better, brighter tomorrow. To do this, she started D.A.D (Deferred Action for Dreamers), an organization that helps undocumented immigrants apply for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). She does this by holding events for applicants where they can get guidance and advice from professional lawyers, as well as providing a ‘Mini-Grant’ to those without enough money to pay their application fees. Her organization has helped over 500 applicants from the ages of 16 to 25. “Their hope and determination has kept me motivated to continue my work in this field, knowing I'm making a change in the lives of the people in my community.”

Braeden Mannering headshotBraeden M., 10, Delaware

Braeden couldn’t ignore a woman on the side of the road asking for help, even if person after person before him could. “When you go out and you see people just like you, but then you find out they don't know where they will get their next meal it really makes you think.” He was able to meet Michelle Obama after he won the 2013 Healthy Lunchtime Challenge, and she inspired him to try and make a difference. Braeden came up with 3B Brae’s Brown Bags, a program that gives out bags filled with necessities to kids, shelters, and individually to people in need on the streets. Each bag is different and contains a personalized message. The bags for kids have books in them, the ‘workforce’ bags contain lists of helpful services, and the ‘winter’ bags have scarves and gloves in them. In the future, Braeden hopes to be able to provide his bags to a larger population of people--specifically those who live in Baltimore and Philadelphia, as he’s heard how bad the situation is in those places.

Matthew Kaplan headshotMatthew K., 17, Arizona

After seeing his brother bullied in fifth grade, Matthew saw his brother’s confidence dwindle as he withdrew himself. Matthew wanted to help his brothers and others who were being bullied. To him, it seemed that bullies are created in middle school; they were decent kids who were not aware of the harm they are causing. Matthew saw this as an opportunity to reserve the connotation of peer pressure; as he says, “I began thinking that this peer pressure could be reversed, so that students would challenge each other to support rather than discourage one another, if only they could understand each other's experience.” He created the Be “Open to New Experiences” Project (ONE)—a community- building, bullying prevention program for middle school students to harness the power of positive peer pressure. The Be ONE Project is a four-hour session that consists of interactive activities and guided discussion amongst peers that aims to foster community and empathy. Throughout each session, a sense of community and respect is created for each other. Now, with the help from his community, Be ONE project has been able to expand itself and travel to various places to promote its cause.

Ashley Garcia-Rivera headshotAshley G., 17, Massachusetts

After enduring thirteen years of abuse, Ashley worked up the courage to call the police and get out of her horrible situation. When DCF came to get her they had to pack her belongings into trash bags, as DCF does not have the funding to buy suitcases for the foster children. Ashley found that watching her belongings being put into trash bags after enduring all that abuse made her feel as if she were trash. “No child should ever feel like they are worthless because we are not! We are survivors.” After being adopted by a mother whom she loves, she started work on her project so that she could make a change. Ashley’s project, a Bag of Hope, donates suitcases and duffel bags to the DCR around three times a year. The bags contain a stuffed animal, personal care items, a novel, and an inspirational letter from Ashley. She is currently working on her website, and she plans to file for nonprofit status with the IRS in the next school year.

Amanda Matos headshotAmanda M., 22, New York

After noticing the stigma attached to her identity as a woman of color from the Bronx, Amanda felt as if she needed to do something to educate people on the issues that women of color face. She started the WomanHOOD Project in 2012. Together with a staff of primarily women of color, Amanda writes “innovative curricula on Women of Color Feminism through a media literacy lens.” Through workshops, The WomanHOOD Project aims to educate women on racial and gender justice issues, as well as develop their leadership skills and empower them with the confidence needed to make real change. Amanda has big plans for the future of her organization. For instance, the WomanHOOD Project will soon be facilitating school-wide workshops on self-love and confidence for girls in the 9th, 10th, and 11th grades. Amanda also hopes to help other young women start up similar projects in their community. “I recognize that these issues are not only relevant to women in the Bronx.  They're impacting communities throughout this country, and it's important and necessary to me that leaders from each community are leading this change in solidarity.”

Max Wallack HeadshotMax W., 17, Massachusetts

Max is a 17-year-old college junior who spent his youth as one of his great grandmother’s primary caregivers, helping her as she dealt with Alzheimer’s disease. He noticed the effect puzzles had on Alzheimer’s patients, saying that they “seemed calmer, happier, and more peaceful when engaged in this activity,” and so he founded PuzzlesToRemember when he was only 12. “Those with dementia frequently exhibit agitated behaviors; providing these patients with mental exercise and an often elusive feeling of accomplishment seems to quiet these behaviors.” He worked with a publisher to design puzzles with small piece counts, large pieces, and bright colors, and he also collected ‘gently used’ puzzles to be donated to care facilities. Max recognizes the impact Alzheimer’s has not only on each patient but on their caregivers, their children and grandchildren, and even the country as a whole. In the future, is planning on becoming a geriatric psychiatrist that will work with both Alzheimer’s patients and their families.

Kylie Kuhns headshotKylie K., 16, Pennsylvania

At the age of six, Kylie was already a bone marrow donor. Her older sister, Kelsey, had been diagnosed with leukemia when she was just shy of five years old. After two and a half years of remission, her cancer unfortunately came back, and after another two years of fighting, the disease took Kelsey’s life. It was this experience that compelled Kylie to try and brighten the lives of the children battling cancer. “I saw a need to embody my sister’s strength and show my community that love can overcome hate in terrible situations.” She founded Kelsey’s Dream, with the organization’s main initiative being Hopper the Cancer Crusher, a soft, fluffy green frog that comes equipped with a chemotherapy port. Kylie worked with a toy manufacturer to design the toy, and it’s meant to take some of the fear away when doctors are demonstrating how chemotherapy works to their patients. It also provides the children with a cute friend to occupy them during treatment. With the development of Hopper, Kylie hopes a national community will join her in her mission to brighten the lives of these brave kids.

Kylee McCumber headshot smallerKylee M., 12, Massachusetts

Kylee was in shock when she found out how many kids—kids just like her—were struggling just to get food every day, and she decided then that she couldn’t allow it to continue. “The thought that someone my age could be going to bed hungry really saddened me.” To combat this issue, she founded Kylee’s Kare Kits for Kidz, Inc., which provides the children in her community food every Friday that can get them through the weekend, when they’re not being fed in school. She worked with her administration and the guidance counselors to identify the kids in need, and in order to fund the kits she organized fundraisers and accepted donations, finding that most people in her community were very supportive of her cause. “There will always be people who don't agree with what you are doing but if in your heart you feel you should be doing it then just do it!” Kylee’s Kare Kits for Kidz, Inc. has even been able to help these kids over holidays and vacations. As of right now she aids over 150 children every week, but Kylee hopes to keep expanding this number, her goal being to help as many kids as she possible can.

Karim Abouelnaga headshotKarim A., 21, New York

Karim knows firsthand how hard it is to succeed in under-resourced inner-city public schools. He was lucky enough to benefit from nonprofits that provided him with great mentors, and he decided that he wanted to give the benefits he received to other kids in his situation. With this in mind, he organized a group of friends and founded Practice Makes Perfect, a nonprofit organization that provides “poor and struggling youth with mentorship and academic resources that are beyond the reach of their inner-city public schools.” Struggling elementary and middle school students are paired with high-achieving middle and high school students for an intensive academic program during the summer, all whilst being supervised by college interns. The unique inter-generational approach has made strides in improving these students’ performance in math and reading, and it’s eliminated their summer learning loss. In the past three years, Practice Makes Perfect has aided over 300 students in the New York City area. Their goal is to help over 900 students in the New York City and Washington DC areas this summer. Karim says, “Having gone through some of the most academically struggling public schools and being blessed with the opportunity to attend an elite college makes it clear to me that growing Practice Makes Perfect is nothing short of my purpose.”

Jeremiah Anthony headshotJeremiah A., 18, Iowa

Suicide is the third leading cause of death among teenagers. The first two—homicide and car crashes—are almost uncontrollable, but Jeremiah decided that he could make a big difference when it came to the third. He wants people to realize that one in ten teenage deaths is self-inflicted. He wants suicide to be talked about; and he wants those dealing with suicidal thoughts to feel like they have people and places to turn to. Jeremiah started Westhighbros, which looks to end suicide and bullying by paying people compliments, providing counseling to troubled youth, and empowering youths to be activists and to share their personal stories of struggle to spread awareness of the issue. They also are available online via e-mail, Twitter, and Facebook to anyone who might want to talk. “I am not a peacemaker because I solve disputes between people, I am a peacemaker because I solve disputes within people.” His project has reached six continents, thirty countries, and is in every state in the U.S. Jeremiah’s hope is that in the future bullying can be a mainstream issue, so more attention and work will be dedicated to stopping it.

Ido Kedar headshotIdo K., 17, California

For seven years of his life, Ido felt like he was a prisoner in his own body. As someone with severe autism, Ido couldn’t speak due to a disconnect between his mind and his motor abilities. It wasn’t until he was able to communicate by typing that he could prove that he had always understood what was going on around him. He found himself frustrated at the experts who were promoting theories he knew to be incorrect, and he decided he needed to raise awareness about autism and advocate for his peers that were still trapped with no way to communicate. Ido speaks about autism candidly on his blog, in his book, “Ido in Autismland: Climbing Out of Autism's Silent Prison,” and in-person at conferences and universities. He hopes that his efforts will educate those who don’t understand what autism really is, and also give hope to those who are still suffering in silence. Ido says, “Each parent who changes, each teacher who teaches differently, and each free person with autism joins my mission.” He plans on finishing high school and going on to college, so that he can be as well-equipped as possible to continue his public education efforts.

Brittany Amano headshotBrittany A., 16, Hawaii

Brittany watched the women in her life suffer and struggle from a young age. Her grandmother became homeless when she was only eight years old, and her mother was a victim of domestic abuse. These experiences inspired Brittany into action. “I felt that volunteering is important because every small act helped to make a huge difference in someone's life.” It was this thought process that lead her to start Hawaii's Future Isn't Hungry, a nonprofit dedicated to feeding and helping the hungry, and Teens Stopping Domestic Violence, another nonprofit that educates people on how to prevent, identify, and stop ongoing domestic abuse. She also works to promote literacy and empower others to make their own difference in the world. She plans to continue leading her projects in the future—first through college, but hopefully for the rest of her life.

Sam Gilman headshotSam G., 21, Rhode Island

Growing up, Sam often heard his grandfather’s story of overcoming financial and institutional obstacles to achieve the ‘American Dream.’ But now he doesn’t believe his grandfather’s story could be replicated today because of the current political landscape. So he founded Common Sense Action, a bipartisan movement with the goal of repairing politics with a Millennial voice through leadership mentoring and advocating for bipartisan policy solutions. CSA has already spread to 25 chapters in 16 states and finalized an official bipartisan agenda that has been endorsed by over 2,100 Millennials. Sam believes that his generation “can secure the American promise, advance opportunity for Millennials, and repair our political system.”

Eli Erlick headshot smallerEli E., 19, California

As a transgender girl, Eli faced isolation and harassment from her peers all throughout her youth. The worst of it was that even her administration proved unsupportive; though she made her gender clear, she was barred from participating in the same classes and programs with the other girls. When she learned that she wasn’t the only Trans youth suffering these hardships, Eli decided she wanted to do something about it. She started TSER (Trans Student Educational Resources), an organization dedicated to eradicating the marginalization of LGBTQ youth through advocacy and education. TSER uses workshops, volunteer trainings, infographics, speeches, student outreach, teacher trainings, and media engagement to spread awareness about Trans issues, and these efforts have collectively reached millions of people. “I love my community and am committed to making it better,” Eli says, and she hopes to accomplish this in the future by hiring new staff to expand TSER’s reach.

Reshini Premaratne headshotReshini P., 15, Virginia

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 when she realized 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.” Reshini was inspired to change her community’s attitude towards homelessness and started the X-Out Homelessness campaign in 2010. In the past 3 years, X-Out Homelessness has grown to include 21 schools throughout the Greater Richmond area, reaching over 10,000 students. Through the campaign, approximately $5,150 has been raised to benefit the homeless, and more than 275 pounds of goods have been donated to homeless individuals. In her words, the X-Out Homelessness campaign is helping “everyone recognize how powerful understanding and empathy are at encouraging people to lend a helping hand to those in need.”

Miles Jackson headshotMiles J., 10, Georgia

Miles has always loved to read, and he credits his intellect to books. So when he learned of the disadvantages faced by children who didn’t have access books, and the sheer number of children who couldn’t afford to have them, he was inspired to act. He founded the Books For Miles Foundation, which has since collected and donated over 7,000 books to children in his community. His “goal is to help as many kids as possible by providing books to them and anything else they may need to be better people and live happy and healthier lives.”

Valerie Weisler headshot smallerValerie W., 15, New York

Having been a victim of bullying herself, Valerie became determined to stop the bullying epidemic…with kindness. She founded the Validation Project, an international organization that has partnered with companies like Nickelodeon and Seventeen Magazine, and aims to end hate and spread love through awareness raising campaigns, leadership trainings and educational events. And in just over a year Valerie’s message has reached over 5,000 teenagers and raised over $25,000 to continue to spread the message of kindness and love. She believes that young people can utilize their unique skills to make a positive impact in the world and spread peace and love. Valerie knows that “we get back what we give, and when we give validation, we get that love back.”

Imani Henry headshotImani H., 12, Delaware

Due to a birth defect Imani had to face severe reading challenges, and she was bullied for it. With the help of her parents, educators, mentors, and volunteers, Imani was able to recover, and it made her want to give back and help others. To accomplish this, Imani started the 100 Men Reading Program, which is a group of professional businessmen who go out and mentor children through reading. They also provide each child with a brand new book. Besides aiding the children, her project also “addresses the injustice of schools not providing additional interactive literacy program resources for poor underserved children that may experience reading challenges.” When she was first starting out, Imani received a $5,000 dollar scholarship to get her project going; now, the 100 Men Reading Program services schools and children all over Delaware. In the future, she hopes that her project can move onto a national scale and reach libraries and schools across the country.

Adan Gonzalez headshotAdan G., 22, Texas

Adan struggled to afford his education, but persevered until he won the scholarships that enabled him to attend an elite university. Today, through the nonprofit he founded, the Si Se Puede! Network, he aims to help as many young people, like himself, gain access to the higher education he worked so hard for. Through the network, students in the Dallas Public schools are provided volunteer opportunities, can seek advice, and receive college counseling to help them continue their education. Students have specifically stated the Si Se Puede! Network as their reason for applying to college, and the network has helped students receive over $50,000 in scholarships.

Alexis Werner headshotAlexis W., 18, Pennsylvania

Moved by her step-father’s PTSD after coming home from the war in Aghanistan, Alexis created Seeds of Hope, a multifaceted project that serves veterans and teaches the importance of service to the community.  She and her peers maintain and harvest seven “Victory Gardens” in Pittsburgh, donating all of the fresh produce, 2,000lbs since 2011, to homeless veterans in the city.  Alexis also planned, wrote, and edited the children’s book Seeds of Hope: The Beginning, which highlights the importance of healthy eating, appreciation of veterans, and serving the community. Additionally, Alexis helped produce the student-made documentary “Our Way Home” which features WW II veterans and their experience with the psychological traumas of war; it has been aired on PBS and 60 minues. Alexis continues to expand her work in this creative direction because she believes “storytelling is the most impactful tool used to help others. I have been able to use my story to create change.”

Cassandra Lin headshot smallerCassandra L., 15, Rhode Island

After learning that many Rhode Island residents did not have enough money to heat their homes, Cassandra was motivated to help provide heating for Rhode Island residents in need. After some initial research Cassandra correctly surmised, “that if we could generate fuel from waste, we could help these financially stressed families to heat their homes.” Cassandra created Project TGIF (Turn Grease Into Fuel) - a system that collects waste cooking oil from residents and restaurants and refines it into biodiesel that can later be distributed to families who need emergency heating assistance. Through this work, Cassandra is connecting her passion to help others with an interest in environmental protection, positively impacting many in her community and beyond.

Gerry headGerry O., 11, California

As a former victim of bullying, Gerry wants to use the media to address the issues of bullying for today’s youth. Gerry believes that “when someone is bullied or harassed, there is not a minute to spare and we, the kids, may be able to be proactive and effective.” Seeing that movies work better than lectures and brochures at conveying ideas, Gerry created films that explain the consequences of bullying and the different outcomes that follow different actions. His movies are told from the perspective of the victim, the bully, and the bystander so viewers can see how each person has a responsibility in the situation. His films attracted the attention of the California legislature, which resulted in a statewide anti-bullying day in Gerry’s honor.

Jasmine Babers headshotJasmine B., 18, Illinois

Jasmine and her best friends were victims of bullying, significantly impacting their self-esteem. And when she turned to media, such as TV, film, and print, to build herself back up she noticed the persistent negative portrayal of teens, always focusing on what teens are doing wrong, never what they are doing right. Jasmine saw this as an opportunity to create a nonprofit organization which she named Love Girls Magazine, a self-esteem publication that applauds girls for who they are and encourage them to be themselves. As Jasmine states; “I wanted to teach girls not to limit themselves, be confident in what they have to say, and share their stories.” With the support from her community, Jasmine’s magazine has become popular with female writers and other adults who now mentor her as Love Girl Magazine’s leader and each issue is circulated to over 3,000 young women.

Christopher Rim headshotChristopher R., 19, New Jersey

Christopher could no longer stand by as bullying became a larger and larger issue in American schools, so he founded It Ends Today, an organization that travels the country speaking to students about the consequences of bullying and advocating bystander intervention. During each visit from It Ends Today, students learn techniques to handle bullies and comfort victims through presentations. To date, It Ends Today has more than 22 chapters, reached 168,000 students, and has 400 active volunteers; and it continues to grow, receiving over 18 requests for presentations a week.

David Hamburger headshotDavid H., 18, Maryland

Witnessing racial stereotyping and ignorance amongst his peers led David to others like him who wanted to have discussions on race and create a more united student body, so he founded SEARCH (Student Educational Advisory Resource and Center for Help) Character Initiative. Through SEARCH, David has recruited 20 other leaders who share his vision, and together they have implemented monthly discussions, a daily ten-minute curriculum on issues facing the school, and presentations to the community through faculty and Parent Teacher Student Association meetings. David wants to expand SEARCH to other high schools and implement a middle-to-high school feeder program.

Amelia Roskin-Frazee headshotAmelia R., 17, California

Upset by derogatory comments made by her classmates, Amelia decided she had to do something about discrimination and the lack of acceptance of LGBTQ people.  Knowing how powerful books have been for her, she created the Make It Safe Project, which donates books about sexual orientation and gender identity to schools and youth homeless shelters. Through her project over 10,000 teens have gained access to these books. She hopes that the exposure to this literature will increase acceptance not only for straight teens of LGBTQ teens, but also for LGBTQ teens of themselves.  Amelia’s goal is to reach all 50 states with her donations, and to continue to meet and learn from people who have experienced different struggles throughout their lives.

Katie Stagliano headshot smallerKatie S., 15, North Carolina

When Katie was nine years old, she managed to grow a forty pound cabbage. Having grown up in a home that emphasized being grateful for the food she had because so many people had none, Katie immediately thought of using that cabbage to help people. When she saw the impact that one cabbage had--feeding over 275 people--she was inspired to do more, and that’s how Katie’s Krops came into being. Katie’s Krops now supports over 60 gardens in over 25 states with its grants. Katie is happy that she can call the people she helps her friends, and she says, “Their struggles are my struggles. Their triumphs are my triumphs and working together, we can end hunger.”

Leila Abdelrahman headshotLeila A., 16, Florida

60% of Muslims have experienced some kind of discrimination in their life, and Leila is one of them. She’s had to endure cold stares, resentful glances, and even a barrage of racial slurs, all just for wearing a hijab. “I grew frustrated and resentful,” she said, “but I soon realized that the sole source of this hate was ignorance.” She decided to make a change. Leila founded the Muslim Student Union Club, to provide a safe place for interfaith discussion and learning opportunities and to bridge the gap between religious factions. Her club is currently organizing a cultural festival that will be open to all 3,000 of the students at her school, and she hopes to continue spreading Islamic awareness, even if it’s one school at a time.

Luke Southwell headshot smallerLuke S., 18, California

In fifth grade, Luke got all of his friends together and convinced his principal to let them start a school newspaper. They had to take on all the responsibility, and he found it empowering to work together, accomplish something, and get recognition for it. When he started PressFriends, he said, “I knew from experience we could make a difference by showing elementary kids how much they can achieve.” By 2008, they had trained over 350 volunteers, mentored over 1600 underserved youths, and published over 80 newspapers. He’s excited that some of PressFriends’ board members are going on to form other programs, such as TheatreFriends, SportsFriends, and STEMFriends.

Rebecca Pober headshotRebecca P., 17, Alabama

Human trafficking is the second largest organized crime in the world, and yet it goes largely unnoticed, since most people can’t believe it could be happening in their community. Rebecca decided, “I was going to let nothing and no one stop me from fighting this issue.” She filmed a professional documentary in Alabama and Nebraska which included interviews with FBI Special Agents, an IRS Agent, a State Representative, federal/state law enforcement officers, and victims/survivors She’s also made an accompanying website called Project P.A.T.H.: People Against Trafficking of Humans, that gives people the tools to identify and prevent human sex trafficking in their community. Rebecca hopes to expand the reach of her message even more in the future, determined to do anything she can to save even one more person from this horrifying reality.

Sarah Clements headshotSarah C., 17, Connecticut

The Sandy Hook Elementary shooting hit Sarah close to home; she’s a resident of Newtown, Connecticut, and had once attended Sandy Hook herself. Her mother even teaches there, and is a survivor of the shootings. She has since joined the Newtown Action Alliance and founded a branch of it called the Jr Newtown Action Alliance, which allows students to raise their voices about gun violence. Along with the NAA, she travels down to Washington DC every three months to lobby members of congress. She also goes across the country presenting workshops about gun violence, and in late February she co-organized a national summit for youth leaders with Generation Progress, bringing more than 120 millennials from 32 states together for three days of training on organizing and strategizing gun violence prevention. Sarah says that “this issue is a matter of life or death for our generation, and in the last year or so that this work has become my life.”

Talia Leman headshot smallerTalia L., 18, Iowa

Talia started as a peacemaker when she ran her first campaign to raise money for hurricane Katrina relief, raising over 10 million dollars. She has since founded RandomKids, an organization that supports other youths in their peacemaking efforts in various ways. Talia’s “nine years of research into youth initiatives has shown that when you invest in youth, you get a BIG return for humanity.” Her organization continue to help other youth peacemakers by providing them with new project ideas, phone consultations, the benefit of operating RandomKid’s nonprofit status, funding, and so much more.

Tiffani Alexander headshotTiffani A., 16, Georgia

Tiffani was appalled when she learned about the abuse some kids were enduring, a lot of it from their own parents. When she learned that those abused kids are more likely to grow into abusers themselves, she decided she wanted to work with them to deal with their emotions and end the vicious cycle. She started the Butterflies, Beetles, and Bees Oh My! Bug Club, which “teaches children how to care for and nurture small insects and how those skills can also be used to interact with other human beings.” Tiffani also teaches a curriculum she developed, which deals with current adolescent issues like stress, character building, and internet safety. Her stress class is especially valuable, giving the youth a healthy outlet for their frustrations. She believes that “if children learn to be aware of others feelings and needs, they will hopefully learn to be more caring and less likely to hurt others.”

Xiuhtezcatl Martinez-Roske headshot

Xiuhtezcatl M., 13, Colorado

Xiuhtezcatl is only 13, but he’s already gotten pesticides out of parks, implemented fees on the use of plastic bags, put a moratorium on fracking, and ended a 20-year contract with a coal company so that the city could move toward sustainable energy practices—and all of that is just locally. Nationally, and internationally, he’s the youth director of Earth Guardians, gives EARTH multimedia and fracking presentations at schools, was selected to be on Obama's Youth Council, and was one of the youngest speakers at the Rio+20 UN summit. He says that “Adults say we are the future leaders, but I say we are here NOW and can make a difference NOW.” He’s currently working on an online action portal called GAYA (Global Alliance of Youth in Action) to provide youths around the globe with the tool necessary to run their own campaigns. His ultimate goal is to “create a peaceful, healthy, sustainable world for the children that will inherit it!”

Yasmine Arrington headshotYasmine A., 20, Washington DC

From a young age, Yasmine had to face being ostracized on top of the already heavy emotional and financial burdens that came with being the daughter of her incarcerated father. She realized how freeing a higher education can be, and she wanted youth in the same position as her “to have the privilege to experience this kind of freedom, so they may not only lead a better life than their families, but also provide a better life for their future families.” At 16, she founded a scholarship and mentoring non-profit called ScholarCHIPS. ScholarCHIPS awards $2,500 scholarships and $250 book awards to deserving youths with incarcerated parents, as well as provides a network of mentors and support groups that can help them not only with their day-to-day struggles, but with undertaking the task of reestablishing their relationship with their incarcerated family member. Yasmine knows that “ScholarCHIPS will be a renowned promoter of education, a strong voice for this demographic of youth, and a force to be reckoned with in the DC Metropolitan area and throughout the United States.”

zacharyZachary B., 16, Florida

The first thing that crossed Zachary’s mind when he learned of the existence of homeless youths was that it could happen to anybody. He put himself in their shoes and decided that if it were him, he would want someone to help. Since then, he’s made and distributed over 10,000 supply packs filled with food, personal hygiene packs, first aid kits, socks, candy, and a yo-yo to homeless youths, and that’s only one of his many campaigns working to brighten the day of these kids, because he has “seen the affect that a small act of kindness has on them.” Zachary is currently planning a food drive that he hopes will raise over 560,000 lbs of food, as well as his 6th “24-Hours” event, where he lives in an 8 x 8 foot glass box for an entire week to raise both food and awareness of the homeless youth problem.

2015 peace first prize winners

Brennan

brennan projectBrennan Lewis, 18, Apex, NC

Growing up a member of the LGBTQ community in North Carolina, Brennan saw firsthand the difficulties and feelings of isolation that LGBTQ youth can endure in a heteronormative environment. And while Brennan was very fortunate to have a loving support system in their family and friends, they saw others who weren’t as lucky. So with a strong sense of compassion, Brennan and a friend took action and courageously created QueerNC.

Grace

grace projectGrace Callwood, 10, Abingdon, MD

Grace is a cancer survivor who learned, through giving away clothing that didn’t fit her post-treatment, that anyone and everyone can help brighten the day of their neighbor. The girls who received Grace’s donation had just moved into a homeless housing complex and were thrilled to be getting new clothes for school. After hearing what a difference her donation made in their day, Grace wanted to help other children who were going through tough times.

Jasmine

jasmine projectJasmine Babers, 19, Rock Island, IL

After watching her best friend and sister endure bullying and witnessing the devastating effects that it can have on them, Jasmine decided it was time someone created an outlet to promote compassion and tolerance among young women.

Xiuhtezcatl

xiuhtezcatl project 2Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, 15, Boulder, CO

Growing up, Xiuhtezcatl’s father emphasized his obligation to taking care of the land – a privilege and responsibility that, in a world ravaged by climate change, he does not take lightly. He has been on the front lines of the fight for the environment since he was four, attending and leading rallies and summits, always willing to confront adult leaders for the current climate crisis we see today.

Yasmine

yasminearringtonactionphototwoYasmine Arrington, 22, Washington D.C.

2.7 million young people in the US have an incarcerated parent, and statistics show that they are more likely to drop out of high school and go to jail themselves because of it. Yasmine is one of those 2.7 million; she has experienced firsthand the financial and emotional burdens, and the marginalization that a family goes through as a result. And through building a meaningful relationship with her incarcerated parent, by forgiving him, she was motivated to do something to support her peers and help them find their own peace of mind and end this cycle of incarceration.

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