“My drive stems from adversities and challenges I faced early in life and my ongoing drive to be of service to others.” After seeing her grandmother become homeless and experience going hungry herself, Brittany knew she had to do something to ensure other young people did not face those same challenges. She started The Future isn’t Hungry, which began as an effort to simply feed the hungry, but has since grown to also promote literacy and provide mentors to youth in low-income housing complexes and homeless shelters. And while she’s already been able to reach over 10% of the Hawaiian population, she sees her biggest impact in “the father who was laid off and smiled after receiving a meal with his two daughters” and in “the fourth grader whose face lit up when she received a brand new pair of pink shoes with a matching backpack to take on the new school year.”
A network of supportive mentors is a key ingredient for anyone to achieve success. And for children of incarcerated parents, this can be difficult to find. Yasmine, who pursued higher education despite battling the stigma of her father’s incarceration throughout her childhood, understands this better than most. Now, through her non-profit ScholarCHIPS, she ensures that others facing similar challenges have the opportunity to succeed. ScholarCHIPS provides college scholarships, mentoring, and a sense of community to children of incarcerated parents. Additionally, the scholars are also given the opportunity to make their voices heard at panels and other public engagements in order to combat the stigma they face daily. “Education is truly the gateway to better opportunities,” Yasmine remarks, “which creates better citizens who are open-minded and actively work towards a more peaceful world.”
Jasmine, who printed Love GIRLS Magazine’s inaugural 250 copies in 2012, makes no excuses for the gender inequality that is inherent in today’s society; “media for women has gotten a negative reputation. Love GIRLS magazine puts that negativity to rest with its peaceful, loving and powerful message.” Jasmine published the magazine after seeing the devastating effects of bullying, and to create a space where girls lift each other up instead of tear each other down. She highlights the voices of girls who feel silenced, believing that women all too often do not get the chance to be heard. Through the quarterly publication of Love GIRLS Magazine, which now distributes 12,000 free copies nationally, and her annual Love Awards ceremony, Jasmine seeks to promote self-esteem and confidence in girls everywhere.
More than 800 million people went to bed hungry last night; but every year the agencies striving to aid the hungry must throw away almost $600 million worth of food that expires before it can reach those in need. Maria Rose was struck by this massive inefficiency and took action; she and her small staff at MEANS (Matching Excess And Need for Stability) work with food shelving agencies all over the country to minimize waste. Using her innovate website, Maria Rose facilitates organization and communication between different locations in order to ensure that food reaches those who need it and does not go to waste. She has also compiled a 19 page document to assist high school students interested in running their school’s food banks sustainably. Maria Rose faces the staggering magnitude of the issue of hunger and waste in the United States with resilience and determination, asserting that until these problems cease to exist “I will keep working to find new ways to get more food to more people in a more sustainable way.”
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, Grace wanted to help other children who were going through tough times. She founded the non-profit organization We Cancerve in 2011 under the belief that regardless of circumstances, “happiness shouldn’t have to wait.” We Cancerve is dedicated to improving the quality of life of young people who are sick, homeless, or in foster care and has done so by donating over 150 outfits and 60 coats to the homeless, and hosting beauty, movie, pizza and dance party nights for teen foster girls.
After enduring a suicide scare involving a close friend, Kathryn was compelled to take action to lower the rates of suicide in her state of Alaska. She began her project, You Are Not Alone, by distributing wristbands in her high school to raise awareness for the issue. Kathryn was then appointed to the position of Youth Representative for the Statewide Suicide Prevention Council, and worked to create a conversation around suicide prevention across the state of Alaska, holding youth run, evidence based classes and starting You Are Not Alone clubs in over 20 schools. “As one individual with a basic level of suicide prevention training,” she says, “I have been able to make an impact by self-identifying as a leader and encouraging people to reach out to me for help.” Those who complete the suicide prevention classes are invited to receive training to become educators themselves, bringing the valuable lessons to their schools and continuing to expand the program.
When he witnessed the exclusion that his Autistic family friend encountered, Zachary understood the need for a program that addresses this problem “by attacking it at the source – by providing a program that teaches empathy and instills a foundation of compassion in our students at a young age.” He began a campaign to spread the simple but powerful message that “Kindness is Cool,” and SNAP (Special Needs Athletic Program) was born. Through a combination of sports clinics, training programs, and a pioneering eLearning course, SNAP works to eliminate bullying in elementary schools across the country, with a particular focus on inclusion of students with Autism and other disabilities. Zachary also runs seminars and delivers speeches, inspiring other young people to take action. SNAP has educated 3,500 students to date, but Zachary envisions a future where every single elementary student in the United States learns that “Kindness is Cool.”
It’s a bird...it’s a plane… no, it’s Super Ewan! Twice a month, Ewan, along with his group of “Super Fans” that include friends, family, and many different members of his community, set out on “adventures” to feed their “Super Friends”-- people who are homeless and hungry in Detroit. Ewan supplies bagged lunches and clothing for those in need; most importantly, though, he engages with the homeless, showing them love and compassion. “Unfortunately,” Ewan notes, “people have their guard up around homeless folks. Not me! If someone needs help, I do whatever I can to help them.” Ewan’s impact currently reaches 200 people a month, and he hopes to be going on even more “adventures” in the future.
Amelia was shocked one day when she was asked by a classmate if her Uruguayan mother cooked tacos. She perceived this as lack of awareness that she and her fellow college students often shared around underrepresented languages and societies. Dismayed by the few opportunities she and her peers had to learn about and understand diverse global communities, Amelia wondered, “how can we address problems facing us at a global level if we can’t even communicate at a basic level?” Through her non-profit organization, the Student Language Exchange, Amelia hopes to ensure that America’s future leaders are equipped with a strong basis in cultural understanding, linguistic experience, and global collaboration. She trains and supports international students in administering semester long introductory courses about their language and culture. Offering 32 languages such as Amharic, Haitian Creole, and Swahili, the Student Language Exchange has served over 350 college students across 6 college campuses.
After witnessing bullying in her school and being bullied herself, Danika saw a need for kindness education in her community. She took action by joining her school’s 4-H club, then creating and volunteering for the role of “character educator.” She shared monthly mini-lessons on kindness and good character to the group, and upon observing that her peers truly wanted someone to lead them in a positive direction, Danika expanded her efforts to schools across the state of South Dakota. “It's inspiring when I see students realize that they each have the ability to change the world with small actions of kindness;” she says, “they realize that is what makes them a superhero!” Following Danika’s example, more than a dozen 4-H clubs statewide have appointed “character educators”, and more than 100 clubs have received her Character Education activity book, allowing her mini-lessons to reach a total of nearly 1,000 youth.
Archer, who suffers from Cerebral Palsy and must use a wheelchair, could not easily open the door to his high school. This came to a head after one exceedingly frustrating morning when he struggled with the door for several minutes in the pouring rain. But rather than being discouraged, that moment motivated him to act; “fear and failure are not something that stop me or define who I am.” He resolved to raise the $40,000 needed to install automatic doors at his school. He met with school officials and staff members to devise a Wheelchair Challenge, where students pledged $20 and nominated their peers to spend a day in a wheelchair. His challenge was so successful that it raised more than twice the target amount. Now, Archer is working to run seven more Wheelchair Challenges in his community in order to increase compassion for those with disabilities and raise funding to make other schools accessible for everyone.
As a young man of color, Brandon is keenly aware of the structural inequalities that exist in our society that don’t allow for young people of color to realize their full potential. He fears that “one of our country’s most undervalued natural resource—youth of color” will be left out. That is why Brandon founded Enza Academy, a leadership and innovation club and afterschool program for low-opportunity high school youth of color operating in the Bay area and New York City. Through partnerships with Stanford and Columbia University, Enza Academy is teaching young people the skills they need to be innovators and empowering them to start their own projects now, not “when they’re older.” Brandon explains, “our dream is invent the school of the future. We want to revolutionize the way students of color are educated.”
Born in war-torn Ethiopia, Qanani spent several years of her childhood in a Kenyan refugee camp fearing for her safety in a one-room apartment with her family, until she came to America at age 14. Today, Qanani is the inspirational Co-Founder and Board Chair of Momentum Alliance, a uniquely youth-led non-profit that empowers marginalized and underserved youth populations. Momentum Alliance’s two programs - Student Alliance Project and Leveraging Momentum - coach emerging leaders who then design camps, summits, events, workshops and trainings of their own. Through exploration, discussion, the arts, mentorship and peer relationships, Momentum Alliance helps youth populations who need it most, whether they be undocumented, indigenous, LGBTQ, low-income, survivors of domestic violence, or many others. “Peacemaking means building authentic reciprocal relationship, asking questions and listening to each other,” Qanani explains. “Without listening carefully to all voices, we cannot truly be peacemakers.”
As a member of the LBGTQ community themself, Brennan was deeply affected by the disproportionately high rates of bullying and harassment endured by other LGBTQ youth. “Because I am privileged enough to have a supportive family,” they say, “I need to do everything in my power to create that safe space for others who have nowhere to go for help.” So in the summer of 2012, Brennan and a friend began the task of creating a safe space for LGBTQ youth in rural North Carolina to connect with and educate one another, empowering them to make positive change in their communities. The project, QueerNC, has since grown to serve 500 youth across North Carolina through meetups, social media, seminars, leadership trainings, and dances. An additional 80 youth have participated in QueerNC’s ASPYRE leadership camp, an annual weekend-long camp that empowers and assists participants in designing their own action plan to create positive change.
Will is a strong believer that anyone can make a difference, regardless of age, and uses his hunger-fighting organization to set an example for other kids who have causes that are close to their hearts. After seeing a man holding a sign that read “NEED A MEAL,” Will struggled to find a way to help. This lead him to create FROGs (Friends Reaching Our Goals), which provides meals to hungry children while raising awareness for the issue through fundraising sports tournaments and parties. Today, FROGs has donated over 175,000 meals and 50,000 backpacks with food for hungry children, and has provided a unique dining and service program called Dinner Club to 280 underprivileged kids, who learn that anyone and everyone can give back. Will speaks to thousands about the FROGs story, hoping to inspire other children to take on projects of their own; “Our goal is to inspire kids to make positive change in communities,” he says, “empower kids to: See a need, Make a Plan, Gather Friends....Change the World!”
Sejal believes many of society’s problems, such as violence, hunger, and sickness, stem from the common cause of poverty; and that it is the responsibility of those who are above the poverty line to fight to eradicate it. This sense of duty and desire to give back inspired Sejal to found the Elevator Program, a unique skill-development program that enables its graduates to pay their experiences forward by mentoring the next group of participants. The Elevator Program is a “five floor” program that helps participants rise out of poverty through vocational training, apprenticeship opportunities, soft and hard skills training, and a mentorship component that enables graduates to give back to the program that gave them so much. Sejal has dedicated herself to instilling hope and the valuable tools in those who feel they cannot rise out of poverty, and may have given up. “By providing participants of The Elevator Project with education,” she says “we are giving them the one thing that no one can take away, which allows for an end to the cycle.”
Raised in the Aztec tradition by his father, Xiuhtezcatl understands that he is a caretaker of the land-- a privilege and responsibility that, in a world ravaged by climate change, he does not take lightly. He has been taking action in one way or another for many years, saying that he has been on the front lines of the environmental movement since he was just 6 years old. Now, Xiuhtezcatl is the founder and visionary of RYSE- Rising Youth for Sustainable Earth. RYSE combines a council of 13 youth leaders, Xiuhtezcatl’s “exceptional young solutionaries,” with the advice of a council of elders that plan global actions to address the issue of climate change. Xiuhtezcatl explains that he grew frustrated waiting endlessly for world leaders to do their part; “our generation is going to be the most impacted by climate change. And so therefore our generation has the most at stake and we have the most power in this matter.”
Daquan founded Recesspreneurs, an after-school entrepreneurial education mentor program that pairs college students with children of low-income. Recesspreneurs teaches life skills, facilitates entrepreneurial thinking and strives to close the achievement gap. Daquan created the curriculum with help from his professors after becoming a successful entrepreneur while still in college, despite the fact that he grew up in a financially insecure single-parent household. Recesspreneurs empowers both mentor and mentee, and to date has served more than 30 youth participants in two communities with the help of more than a dozen college student mentors. Daquan is looking forward to expanding to an additional 5 communities during the 2015-2016 school year, which will serve more than 60 youth participants and involve over 20 college mentors. Recesspreneurs creates a space where underserved youth “are learning to become the peacemakers and leaders of tomorrow.”
Caragan, who has dyslexia, has combated difficulty and judgement her entire life. Driven to help other children in her state of Wisconsin struggling with dyslexia, Caragan co-founded Bright Young Dyslexics with her brother in 2013, and currently serves as co-president. “Without identifying dyslexia, parents and children struggle to understand why their otherwise bright child cannot learn to read,” Caragan explains. She has raised awareness of dyslexia, encouraged empathy through dyslexia simulations, trained teachers to help dyslexic students learn, and made resources for dyslexic children more accessible. In addition, she has raised over $20,000 to allow dyslexic children to pay for tutors and other aid or assistive technology. She leads a Youth Advisory Board to further her organization’s mission of raising awareness about dyslexia and helping dyslexic students.
Samantha describes her childhood living with increasingly severe and debilitating scoliosis as “a painful, lonely journey.” Her non-profit, SHIFT Scoliosis, seeks to alleviate some of that pain and loneliness for other children with scoliosis, especially children living in poverty, through early screening and intervention. As the founder and president of SHIFT, Samantha directs three initiatives: Seeing the Curve, Purple Paintbrush and Wrapped with Love. Through these programs, Samantha has established scoliosis screening clinics and expanded medical knowledge within communities, provided children with therapeutic art classes, secured donations of blankets for children enduring medical crises, and served over 2,200 children in 21 communities throughout the US. Samantha also directs SHIFT’s Youth Leadership Initiative, which engages children suffering from medical conditions in meaningful service as leaders in these programs.
Whether it was aiding her classmates with a challenging math problem or handing out food packets on the streets of her parents’ native Sri Lankan city of Colombo, Reshini grew up with an innate desire to help others. After volunteering with the homeless in her community of Richmond, VA, Reshini discovered how little her peers knew about the issue of homelessness in their city. “I found not only the disparity between the impoverished and the upper classes, but also the lack of awareness among students today and the leaders of tomorrow astonishing and unacceptable,” she explains. It was after this realization five years ago that Reshini founded X-Out Homelessness, a youth-led organization that raises awareness and funds to help the homeless community. Since then, X-Out Homelessness has raised almost $10,000, donated about 350 pounds of goods, and has spread to 25 schools.
Stephanie developed a love of learning at a young age, as well as a strong sense of appreciation for the opportunity she has had to pursue her academic interests; “I think education is the basis for everything. Without education, there’s no inspiration” she says. “One day I hope to reach children all over the world.” And at 12 years old, she decided to spread the gift of education to those less fortunate than her. She and her brother started “Chicos and Kids,” and traveled to Colombia to teach English and American culture to 30 children in her first of many summer trips. Since that initial trip to Colombia, Chicos and Kids has evolved to be more than just language lessons; it’s raising awareness for the plights of Central American immigrants taking refuge in Maryland, and providing them with much needed support through mentorship and events that collect donations. To date Chicos and Kids has served 85 children and 25 parents.
In Jordan’s elementary school, 20% of the students qualified for subsidized lunches. This had her wondering; how could students focus on learning if they were hungry? How could they have fun on the weekends when they didn’t have access to school meals? Encouraged by her teacher to take action, Jordan started Penguin Packs to address this injustice; “I want to work to solve this problem.” Every Friday, 30 elementary school students in Jordan’s district receive enough meals, snacks and drinks to last the weekend; and they return to school on Monday happier, healthier, and ready to learn. From teachers, to staff, to special needs students who help her bag the donated food from her church, Jordan has engaged her entire community in caring for those in need.
Josh is the founder and CEO of Technocademy, a 501(c)(3) non-profit that combats the high rates of technology illiteracy in senior citizens and veterans, equipping them with basic 21st century skills and helping them to stay connected with friends and family. Through Technocademy, Josh provides both one-on-one coaching and group classes, and has orchestrated "Operation T-CUP" in partnership with United Way, mailing out informational DVDs to over 100,000 seniors. Josh has now grown his organization to include a network of over 250 volunteers, and he has plans to continue to scale his operation with a new iPhone/Android app and a coding and programming class for underserved middle school populations. Reflecting on his work with senior citizens and veterans, Josh says, “there is no better feeling than to see how these families are able to have a more meaningful relationship.”
Fish believes that the key to creating a more peaceful generation is student-led peace education. To address this need, Fish and his friends began the Teaching Peace Initiative, a non-profit that trains and empowers high school students across the country to teach non-violence and conflict resolution curricula in middle and elementary schools in their communities. “Everyone is born peaceful,” he states, “but a culture that sends messages that violence is OK turns that initial instinct upside down.” Fish hopes to continue Teaching Peace Initiative’s reworking of the culture of aggression and violence through the further development of his original curriculum and expansion of the program nationally.
Dissatisfied with the way the issues of gang violence, dropout rate, and juvenile incarceration were being handled in his community, Ryan decided to take matters into his own hands and set his sights to changing the attitudes towards education of young people in his community. He created a Youth Literacy Council to aid him in organizing programs, holding book drives, and speaking out about youth literacy. He believes that “it is not right to focus on the problem after it has occurred. We need to be focusing on stopping the cause of the negative activity – illiteracy and disinterest in school.” Through these efforts, he has donated 26,000 books to 20 charities and library programs, engaged 168 students and 73 adults in free STEM workshops, educated 1,800 teens on financial literacy, and reached over 700 people on the topic of literacy by speaking at events.
Alexis’ freshman year of high school was thrown a curve ball when her stepfather returned from his third tour of duty in Afghanistan, this time suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. “I realized I could continue to be angry,” she says, recalling the sudden upheaval of her home life, “or I could do something to change it. This was when my non-profit, Seeds of Hope sprouted. It was my turn to step up and advocate for others like my step-dad.” Since then, Alexis has started three major components to Seeds of Hope: she has established 15 Victory Gardens at Veteran centers nationwide, which have provided over 2,000 pounds of produce for Veterans and their families; she helped plan, write, and edit a children’s book called “Seeds of Hope,” which tells the story of how important Veterans are while educating children on the importance of community service and healthy eating; and she is currently helping develop a documentary called “Our Way Home” that will tell the difficult homecoming stories of nine Veterans, ranging from WW2 to present day. Through this work in advocating, educating, and aiding Veterans and their families, she hopes to ease the transition for veterans coming back home and help manage their PTSD.