When we were little, my brother, Josh, and I went on epic adventures, confined only by our imaginations and the walls of our backyard. Since I was older (by an entire year AND a half) and Josh was braver, I had the big ideas, and Josh carried them out.
Time moved on, and so did we – on to bigger ideas and bigger adventures and, eventually, to middle school. Our year and half age difference put us two grades apart. We stayed close, but developed different sets of friends. Then, in fifth grade, things changed for Josh. Kids he had once been friends with started bullying him. They sent him texts telling him he was stupid and worthless. Somehow, he believed them.
I knew the kids who were bullying my brother. They weren’t bad kids. Yet, inexplicably, once they were armed with cell phones and social media, they launched words at him that were far more harmful than sticks and stones. To Josh, their words were more like arrows, piercing right through him. Technology enabled these kids to be anonymous and removed from his reaction. I wanted somebody to make them understand the pain they were causing. By the time I finished eighth grade, I’d realized: the ‘somebody’ to do something would have to be me.
I created Be ONE: The Be “Open To New Experiences Project”, a community-building, peer-to-peer program for middle schoolers. It’s not enough to tell kids not to be bullies. Most kids won’t connect that you may be talking to them. Instead, I use games and guided discussions to foster empathy through shared experience. During the program, kids begin to see that they share the same struggles. They realize they are powerful, and that they can wield their power to build each other up, rather than tear each other down. I do a presentation, including slides of myself and of celebrities, then and now, to demonstrate the enormous amount of change that happens between the beginning of middle school and the end of high school. Be ONE provides a non-judgmental opportunity for kids conclude for themselves that they do not want to be the reason somebody else gives up before having a chance to reach their potential. Apologies are offered and accepted, friendships are repaired, bridges are built, and self-esteem grows.
Be ONE is changing middle school cultures in public, private and charter schools throughout Arizona. In just four years, more than 1,600 students have participated in Be ONE. I have taken Be ONE to schools in California and Virginia, the City of Phoenix Youth Ambassador program, local community groups, and libraries in Scottsdale and Glendale. Through speaking engagements and a PSA airing soon on The Disney Channel, I am reaching millions more. Someday, Be ONE will be in every Arizona middle school and The Be ONE Project will be a national non-profit organization based here in my home state. I may only be one person, but every person can Be ONE.
To learn more about The Be ONE Project, visit:
January 18, 2002. One moment we were frolicking on the beach; the next, I watched in horror as my two-year-old sister nearly died from eating a cashew. Rachel was diagnosed with a life-threatening tree nut allergy, and our family was told that just one bite of a nut could be fatal. Rachel’s life became a minefield, and I could not merely hope that she would be safe. I had to stand up for her, serve as her advocate. This seminal moment prescribed my path as an agent for change.
I soon learned that there were six million other children just like Rachel, who lacked access to critical allergen information at school. Federal law mandates that all food items identify allergens, but shockingly, this does not apply to public schools. I was determined to seek solutions to the notion that they were destined to live their lives in fear.
As a freshman Youth in Government delegate, I drafted a bill to improve best practices in school food allergy management, and was awarded “Best Bill in the House.” After this success at the State Assembly, I began a grassroots campaign, engaging the support of local legislators, School Board Members, and medical and education organizations. I reached out to a national software company, and helped to develop innovative software which identifies allergens for all menu items. Despite much opposition, I convinced my school board to pilot this technology in my home district, making Martin County a pioneer in comprehensively labeling food allergens. However, I was not satisfied reaching merely .6% of Florida’s students; I aspired to take my voice to Tallahassee.
Eager to communicate a compelling argument to unreceptive legislators, I trekked to Florida’s capital only to encounter myriad special interests and red tape. These objections, however, only intensified my resolve and commitment. I quickly learned how to cultivate new ideas in a culture that rewards the status quo, and sought to elicit change rather than impose it. I ardently lobbied the Senate President, Commissioner of Agriculture, and the Governor to profoundly change our state’s current ineffectual policy. After two years of steadfast negotiation and collaboration, the Department of Agriculture introduced guidelines and implemented the software in all 67 school districts, benefiting Florida’s three million students. Additionally, the Senate sponsored a State Proclamation in recognition of National Food Allergy Awareness Week, and I received a letter of commendation from Governor Scott. Consequently, I was invited to speak at Food Allergy Research and Education’s Annual Teen Summit and was awarded their National Food Allergy Innovation Award for Making a Difference. The success in creating a safer school environment for Rachel and her peers motivated me to expand my initiative federally. Throughout the past year, I have joined forces with Members of Congress, the USDA, CDC, FDA, and Let’s Move! to work together to accomplish this goal. The pinnacle of my advocacy was meeting with Michelle Obama’s Deputy Chief of Staff in the White House, leading to a letter of commendation from the First Lady. I have also been invited to testify in front of the House Sub-Committee on Education to introduce allergen labeling as an amendment to the USDA Child Nutrition Act.
My experiences have opened my eyes to the privilege of democracy and the potential for positive change despite pervasive bureaucracy and opposition. I have learned firsthand that everyone’s story matters; no voice is too small. This concept became my call to action in my TEDx talk, “The Persuasive Power of Passion: From Love to Legislation” which I presented at the Miami Opera House to an audience of over 1,200 people last year.
Additionally, I was selected as a keynote speaker at Girl Power Day: “Model This: Girls, Leadership, & Making a Difference”, where I delivered a speech titled “Youth Advocacy: Transforming Passion into Action” to 500 teenage girls. The initiative is also featured in SafeKids Worldwide Blog, AllergyHome Blog, Allergic Living Magazine, and Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
What began as a labor of love ultimately empowered me to find my voice as an advocate and reinforced the principle that I cannot simply be a bystander to injustice. I am now driven to pursue advocacy in other arenas and am further inspired to champion my convictions. At Brown University, I envision broadening the scope of my activism to engender progress in the field of international relations, promoting human rights as a critical vehicle to transcend oppression and resolve global conflict.
My journey began at the age of 12 when I wanted to find a way to make a life-changing difference for one girl somewhere in the world. So, with determination and a bit of luck, I decided to create my own business and a foundation called Reverse The Course. I taught myself to sew and began making reversible headbands to earn the money needed to pay for one girl’s education.
Now 18, I’ve designed and sold about 12,000 hair accessories at boutiques, holiday fairs, through my website and through retail stores in five states. To date, from business profits as well as donations and grants to my foundation, I’ve raised over $80,000.
With the money we have raised, Reverse The Course Foundation to date has supported 45 girls and has paid for 115 years of education in Kenya, Uganda, Paraguay and Haiti. Education funding includes tuition, boarding, uniform and textbook costs. I partner with proven organizations with team members in the U.S. and on the ground in the countries we operate to ensure that the money is being used appropriately. Through these local partnerships I also gain insight into which schools in each country are strong and staffed by well-trained teachers.
The girls supported by Reverse The Course live in extreme poverty and face additional, horrific obstacles: early marriage, early childbirth, female genital mutilation, HIV/AIDS, rape and violence. Yet, give these girls just one chance – an education – and they will become their communities’ and their countries’ solution. Each girl’s education will help her earn an income, help her support her family and stimulate her community’s economy. By receiving an education, they also will have a greater opportunity to live longer, healthier lives and have fewer, healthier, educated children.
Reverse The Course was created as a sustainable charity. While our primary mission is to fund girls’ education in poverty-stricken countries, we also educate a large audience here in the U.S. about the issue of gender inequality. Through speaking directly with thousands of customers at event sales and speeches to high school students, women’s groups and service organizations, people young and old have become active participants in our movement to “reverse the course” of girls’ lives through education.
Leading by example, Reverse The Course inspires people from all parts of life to take action in whatever way they can to make a difference in the lives of others. Please see the links below to learn more about this unique model of social entrepreneurship.
The idea of controlling over 30 pounds of solid rocket propellant instantly intrigued me. Since I developed a passion for model rocketry in elementary school, I have always wanted to do something more, something greater than launching modest model rockets. One evening when my friend Dylan was over for dinner, we thought it would be a cool idea to launch more than one model rocket at once, after all, how hard could it be? After some initial investigating, we found that the Guinness World Record for the most model rockets launched simultaneously was held at a staggering 3,130 rockets, all launched within a 5 second window. I immediately began to brainstorm creative ways on how to economically and physically break this record. Unfortunately, Dylan’s mother has been diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer. Dylan and I both have seen her struggle through countless rounds of chemotherapy, radiation, and surgeries. With the struggles of breast cancer so ingrained in Dylan’s life, I decided to turn our event into a breast cancer fundraiser. Thus, Rocket4theCure was born.
After the initial excitement wore off, I soon realized what we had gotten ourselves into. Luckily, as an Eagle Scout of Troop 1893, I was well prepared for the task at hand. I began in January of 2014 with preliminary emails and big picture logistics such as location and rocket suppliers. After what seemed like hundreds of phone calls, meetings, deals, and re-evaluations, I had all the details in place to start fundraising for this event. Donors, for a small fee, could “sponsor a rocket” and get a loved one’s name on the body of a rocket. By July, the project was rolling full steam as rocket assembly groups worked over eight-hundred man hours on rocket construction alone, and rocket sponsorships were coming in by the hour. Website, media outreach, and logistical planning consumed my days as other, last minute issues arose. Eventually, the two thousand total man hours spent on the project culminated as we began to make final preparations for launch at the Chesterfield County Fairgrounds.
Launch day, 5:45 p.m., October 26th, 2014. The Rocket4theCure team had been wiring rockets together since 6:00 a.m., and our launch window was closing as the airspace clearance time dwindled. My knees trembled when I pushed the automated thirty second launch sequence. As the countdown reached zero, I knelt down in front of the launch control. That split second before launch, that surreal moment when time stood still and my surroundings fell perfectly silent, brought together every emotion experienced throughout the project. A sudden roar rumbled throughout the complex as 4,087 rockets flew into the air with smoke trails marking their paths. I could hear thunderous popping sounds when parachutes deployed. As the smoke cleared, 3,973 successfully launched rockets gracefully and silently fell about the pavement. After verifying the record had been broken, we let the 500-person crowd run out onto the field while hugs and high fives were shared by all. Besides raising $20,155.40 for breast cancer research and putting Rocket4theCure in the Guinness Book of World Records, I felt a strong sense of contentment knowing I directly contributed to finding a cure for my good friend’s mother.
Meet Reese McKenna Donnay. Reese is just like any other typical eight-year old girl. She loves to draw, paint, and play soccer, but above all else, Reese loves to spend time with her younger brother Cade, and her parents Ryan and Sara. Unfortunately, Reese faces unique challenges that most girls her age don’t face. Reese has Juvenile Batten’s Disease, which is a disease that attacks the nervous system and causes blindness. Worst of all, this disease has no known cure and an average life expectancy of 19 years old.
When my fellow high school DECA members and I learned about Reese and her battle with Juvenile Battens Disease we knew that we had to do everything in our power to help her and other patients of JBD. Reese’s father, Ryan, is an influential teacher and coach at Rogers High School, and often helps with our DECA chapter. Ryan Donnay’s special connection to the Rogers community and Rogers DECA Chapter is the reason we decided to Rally for Reese. Our goal was not only to raise money for Reese and her family, but to also give hope. Hope for a brighter future, and hope that there will be a cure found for Juvenile Batten’s Disease.
The Rally for Reese fundraiser had four major components: T-Shirts and donations, a 5K fun run, a dinner benefit, and finally Rally for Reese week. From the T-Shirts and donations component of Rally for Reese, the Rogers DECA Chapter sold an outstanding 2,074 shirts at $15 per shirt. Additional donations were also accepted with each shirt and the Rogers DECA Chapter raised an amazing $60,504 for the Donnay family! Even troops overseas in Iraq sported Rally for Reese shirts, and gave their full support to the fundraiser.
We started planning the Rally for Reese 5K Fun Run and Dinner Benefit and decided that they would be held on September 21st, 2013. The 5K Fun Run began at 10AM and was held at a local church. Runner registration was $25 per runner, and there were over 550 participants raising an additional $13,075 for the Rally for Reese fundraiser! The dinner benefit was held immediately following the 5K Fun Run at a local country club with a spaghetti dinner served to guests, and a local band “Drop Tailgate” for entertainment. The Rally for Reese dinner benefit activities included face painting and crazy hair for the children attending, as well as a mystery wine event and silent auction for adults over 21 years of age. The Dinner Benefit had over 400 attendees, and helped raise and additional $5,316 for the Rally for Reese fundraiser.
The week following the 5K fun run and dinner benefit, our DECA chapter hosted Rally for Reese week to help give students and staff that were unable to attend the previous events the opportunity to support Rally for Reese. Rally For Reese Week consisted of four sub categories: Ribbons, Reese’s Pieces, Handprints for Reese, and finally the local business benefits. The ribbons, which we’re wearing now, are teal, for the color associated with Juvenile Batten’s Disease, and hot pink, for Reese’s favorite color and were sold during lunch along with Reese’s pieces candies. Students and staff were also given the opportunity to paint their hands teal and pink and place their handprint on the Handprints for Reese banner that would be displayed in the cafeteria. These activities helped strengthen the bond between staff and students at Rogers High School, including Ryan Donnay. Finally, Cherry Berry and local restaurant,Maynard’s, were generous enough to donate 100% of their proceeds on a designated day that would be directly donated to the Donnay family. In total an additional $16,449 was raised for the Donnay family, but more importantly Rally for Reese Week helped increase community involvement and support for the Donnay family.
This lead to the conclusion of the Rally for Reese Project, but not the end of the Rally for Reese story. A massive $95,504 was raised for the Donnay Family that would be used towards medical bills and a much-deserved family vacation on a Disney cruise to the Bahamas. Our Rally for Reese project raised something more important than money… it raised hope. Hope that one day there will be a cure for Juvenile Batten’s Disease. And hope for a brighter future. This Rally project also benefited our Rogers DECA Chapter by enhancing our skills in leadership, social intelligence, and understanding the importance of community service.
In our ever-evolving digital world, it has become more important than ever to create technology geared towards social inclusion. Because of technology’s impact on the way we communicate with others, we have to consider those who do not have access to technology because they have no means of using it. One in ten Americans suffer from blindness or a severe visual impairment, and yet there are very few products on the market currently that are cost-effective and convenient to use. Smartphone apps do not provide the functionality a blind user would need to use their smartphone, while wireless Braille keyboards are not convenient and distract from the smartphone experience.
The BrailleBoard is a unique blend of practical design and portable functionality, while providing social inclusion for those who often face social disconnect. The BrailleBoard is a flip-open protective keyboard case connectable to smartphones via Bluetooth. However, what makes the BrailleBoard so distinctive is the patent-pending design: rather than featuring normal keys on the keyboard, the BrailleBoard is retrofitted with both Braille letters and large-print, contrasting letters. Its navy blue and white color scheme is suited for the individual requirements of a user with a visual impairment, while the clear Braille overlay provides blind users with the same sensory experience of a full-size Braille keyboard, in a compact design. The BrailleBoard grants both blind and visually-impaired users alike the ability to use handheld technology comfortably.
The BrailleBoard truly has the power to change the world and the way we view handheld technology. Unlike most pieces of technology, the BrailleBoard is equipped with the power to create inclusion. Both youth and adults are utilizing the power of the smartphone, both in social environments and the workplace. Ismael Herrera, a member of EmpowerTech and teacher of blind students, stated that the “BrailleBoard will open a whole new world of opportunities for blind people.” The BrailleBoard has the potential to positively impact the lives of every blind or visually-impaired teenager by creating a sense of normalcy for the teens using a smartphone.
And yet, the power of the BrailleBoard extends beyond teenagers. Dr. Michael Washburn, the former Vice President at Nestlé North America, who also has a severe visual impairment, said about BrailleBoard: “I think this idea deserves to be prototyped, fully-developed, and tested. I travel a lot, and would much prefer to use a BrailleBoard and leave the laptop at home!” He firmly believes that the BrailleBoard can impact the lives of blind and visually-impaired adults who don’t want the hassle of a smartphone application or a wireless keyboard.
As a patent-pending product with an initial prototype, the next step towards placing the BrailleBoard in the hands of every blind and visually-impaired smartphone user is the development of the keyboard case. I had the incredible opportunity to pitch the BrailleBoard to a group of investors through an organization called SEEDSPOT, a socially-geared business incubator based in Phoenix, Arizona, where I received first place, a monetary prize, and the chance to work with experts in the field of technology. In the next year, we will have created a finalized prototype of the BrailleBoard, which will have gone into production. For those who face social disconnect due to their visual impairments, the power of the BrailleBoard is undeniable. Although the goal of production in the next year is ambitious, the tangible social change as a result is far more encouraging.
As a ninth grader, I was given the assignment to test which alternative growing method including: aeroponics, aquaponics, hydroponics, and traditional gardening would grow plants faster. During the second semester of my junior year, I used this assignment to develop my science fair project on the macronutrient retention rates between the same alternative growing methods used to enhance urban agriculture. Based on the results of both experiments, the aquaponic system not only grew the plants quicker, but also retained a higher percentage of macronutrients. Aquaponics is the growing of plants using only water and the fecal emission of fish as a natural fertilizer. Conclusively, the aquaponics growing model was the most efficient.
Using this information, my science teacher and I decided to design a larger scaled model in our school’s greenhouse. It was quite successful as within two weeks, the kale plants we grew had grown up to 12 inches. Subsequently, we grew other vegetables and within 6 weeks, had a greenhouse full of mature plants and herbs ready to be picked. We were contacted by our school system’s nutrition program and decided to distribute this food.
Since the greenhouse is property of the school, everything we grow is used for non-profit purposes. We give to school system nutrition program, and community members who exercise around our school and stop by to view the garden. We also conduct free pop-up farmer’s markets for the same. To date, we’ve started three public aquaponic systems for two local churches, a MARTA train station, and a local elementary school.
Since the debut of the aquaponic garden, it has given the school and myself a lot of publicity. In April of 2016, we were contacted by FOX 5 News to do a cover story on the achievement of the greenhouse project and its impact on the community. The article can be viewed by using the following link: http://www.fox5atlanta.com/good-day/132215678-story. With all of its success, we are now partnered with the school’s #1 food provider to grow fruits and vegetables for students of the Atlanta Public School community.
In May 2016, I wrote a book titled Nice Girls Club: New Best Friend. The novel tells a story about a young girl, Brianna, who is challenged to reflect on her mean behavior and accept people for who they are. She has some experiences that empower her to be kind to others and exercise empathy. All of these experiences help her to build positive relationships with her family and peers.
I was inspired to write this young girls book series after observing how the young girls within my community interacted with one another. I discovered that girls could possibly recognize their own limitless potential and appreciate themselves if they were exposed to a more positive lexicon and context. My observations forced me to reflect on my own childhood and some challenges that I faced with self confidence, body image and bullying.
I established Nice Girls Club to empower young girls to be kind and develop self-confidence and self-awareness. Through my book and organization, I encourage girls to love their own unique characteristics and build positive relationships with others. My ultimate goal is
motivate girls to discover the greatness they have within.
Nice Girls Club provides workshops and book readings to girls. Our book readings are followed by thoughtful discussions about challenges that girls face in everyday life. Our interactive workshops allow girls to interact positively with their peers and embrace their own unique qualities. These workshops challenge girls to view situations from multiple perspectives. This encourages them to empathize with others and become more compassionate and understanding.
Read my blog and obtain more information about me, the book and Girl Empowerment Workshops at www.nicegirlsclub.org.
BitxBit Camp was founded in 2015 after receiving a $3000 grant from the National Center for Women & IT AspireIT. The organization’s objective was to provide opportunities for students in inner-city schools especially minority middle school girls to learn computer science with students from a similar background.
The next season, not only did the program receive yet another grant, but it was able to earn $10,000 in sponsorship from Microsoft, Intel, and Sphero, helping to bring the program to fruition once more, and to help expand nationwide into a school-year online mentorship platform for minority students interested in computer science alongside the annual summer camp program.
With a wide-ranging demographic pool, the students were able to engage in areas of discussion including race relations, feminism, and social justice, inspiring websites and mobile applications that were dedicated to combating prejudice and inequality. Mentors ranging from professionals in software engineering to high school and collegiate-aged students helped provide guidance to build dozens of creative and innovative projects throughout the year.
Furthermore, the first meetups and the annual end-of-year gala were organized in 2016, featuring panels and speakers ranging from CEO’s and entrepreneurs to data scientists and researchers. Ultimately, BitxBit Camp has garnered a network of more than 1000 students and educators, and has been profiled in Fusion Magazine, Fox News, ABC News, Sinovision, Imagine Magazine, Key Club Magazine, Women 2.0, and the White House Champions of Change.
Only 20% of Congress is comprised of female elected officials. How do we tackle this problem? I discovered a solution through developing a project for youth, led by youth. In 2013, I founded Project Next Generation (ProjectNextGeneration.org) (PNG), an international not-for-profit organization. PNG’s mission is to inspire the next generation of young leaders to affect positive change worldwide. This organization delivers tuition-free educational programs for thousands of elementary, middle and high school students.
Through PNG, the problem I am addressing is women’s participation in politics. I strive to inspire females to immerse themselves in the political process and run for office one day. My goal is to mentor girls in their formative years and bridge the gender gap. I teach girls communication skills and provide them with the resources as well as confidence to create change.
The success of ProjectNextGeneration.org can be seen through the numbers. I hold no-cost workshops throughout the year for thousands of students. I write grants to fully fund the classes for all my students. I’ve raised over $70,000 to hold tuition-free workshops. The program’s impact spans across 4 continents: North America, Asia, Europe and Africa. I have presented my work at the United Nations, United States Senate and the Davos Congress Centre (World Economic Forum) in Switzerland. I developed a college video series to inspire youth to attend college. It has reached over 70,000 students online. Post workshop surveys show that participants have won their student council elections and received scholarships to top universities thanks in part to the resources of PNG. Some international business partnerships PNG has established are with Coca-Cola and National Geographic. WBZ-TV CBS Boston and PEOPLE Magazine have conducted interviews with me and published segments about my organization (see links below).
My project has received international recognition for its groundbreaking success. I received “The President’s’ Volunteer Service Award” by President Barack Obama. I have been named “Massachusetts Top Volunteer” by Prudential Insurance. I received “The Princess Diana Courageous Citizen Award” by U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron. I have also been named the “Outstanding Youth Philanthropist of the Year” and “The American Red Cross’ 2016 Youth Hero”. I have worked on a video project at MTV studios in Times Square to encourage young people to vote. I plan to continue expanding ProjectNextGeneration.org in the future.
Volunteerism is integral to who I am. I have a pay it forward attitude and desire to give back to the community that has invested so much in me. I feel overjoyed each time I see my impressionable students dream bigger and speak louder. There is no better time than now for young women to hit the ground running and be leaders. Media Recognition
In the spring of 2015, I was approached by one of my professors in the Civil Engineering department. He asked me to help him revive a previous research team in order to develop a composting plan for the school’s cafeteria food waste. That summer I stayed on campus (Lafayette College) with another student and began learning about the methods that would be needed to test the different nutrient values in the compost we would eventually create. Since the research had stopped in 2011, none of the methods were up to date and we had to make sure that they were still viable. After a summer spent developing a methodology book, I began testing that fall on compost batches we created from our own food waste at school. The funding we had received was from the Engineering department to help solve the Food Security/Nitrogen problem associated with runoff stemming from agriculture operations. Lafayette College was picked for an initiative program created by President Obama to solve 14 challenges that would help alleviate world issues.
Nitrogen and Phosphorous are added to agriculture systems to provide plants with the energy they need to grow. However, everyday we lose many of these nutrients in runoff. My project was a consideration of how we might enhance the nutrient value of compost – essentially engineer a compost with higher targeted nutrients. This was important because we used food waste from our own dining services to help form a food loop to help conserve our precious natural resources. The compost batches we had created originally were not even close to same value of nutrients as commercial fertilizers. However, many of these commercial fertilizers are petroleum based and result in the release of nutrients too quickly for the plants to actually utilize it.
In the spring of 2016, I began my literature review to figure out ways in which to increase the nitrogen content. Through this research, I discoverd that the compound struvite had been used as a fertilizer before in regular soil, but never in compost. That spring, I began creating struvite at a wastewater treatment plant. This is a compound that is nitrogen and phosphorous rich and acts as a slow release fertilizer. Over the summer, I added them to our compost and found that the crystals did not fully dissolve before 8 weeks. If we can implement this on a large scale at agriculture operations we could cut down on a lot of the waste. If agricultural operations collected their runoff and made their own struvite crystals, they could add it to their food waste and then use it as fertilizer on their own operations. Food is thrown away before it reaches the stores because it is not visually appealing. If farmers create this food loop, it would minimize the amount of phosphorous countries mine every year by reducing the need for it. As for nitrogen, it would be contained in the cycle and farms could create their own small scale nitrogen cycles.
The most exciting and enjoyable times of my two year research project was when I was able to present at local, state, and national conferences. I enjoyed networking with fellow environmental enthusiasts in the field and talking about the products they were developing. I was able to present my ideas to well connected and highly educated people in the field.
Community service and volunteerism are core to who I am as a person. In 2008, I was hospitalized in a mental institution with bipolar disorder comorbid with paranoid schizophrenia. After I was released, I stayed at home most of the time recovering, but I felt a sense of emptiness and misery. Then, during one of my therapy sessions, my case worker told me a phrase that would forever become my philosophy of community service: “The happiest people are not those who are getting more, but those who are giving more.” She explained that there have been studies that prove that volunteering helps alleviate depression. Therefore, I made it my 2009 New Year’s resolution to perform more community service. Little did I know that I know that I would ultimately become a leader in service work.
Since 2009, I have been heavily involved in service work and leadership within several organizations and community initiatives. Through my involvement, I had the opportunity to collaborate with various charitable groups and 501(c)(3) organizations in the metropolitan Newark, NJ area. Over the course of these relationships, I noted a profound gap between the resources dedicated to addressing issues such as hunger, disease, and poverty in Newark and the actual need levels of those fighting on the front lines. In response to this, I founded a nonprofit organization, Newark Cares, which seeks to address directly the most serious social, healthcare, and educational problems facing low-income residents and homeless citizens in Newark, NJ as well as to provide assistance to other charitable organizations who lead this fight on a daily basis. I have developed initiatives to drive targeted daily traffic (at least 500 visitors) to NewarkCares.com to raise awareness and donations, which have resulted in a threefold increase in the number of volunteers and donations to these Newark-based charities and nonprofits over the past year alone. Newark Cares represents my effort not just to serve and lead, but to innovate.
My philosophy of education is that the key to happiness is to selflessly help others. Following this philosophy, I have made a remarkable influence as lead manager through my hard work in my non-profit organization, Newark Cares. I can attest that I have saved many people’s lives and in the process, I saved myself.
While working on an academic research project at the University of New Mexico, I became interested in using my knowledge of materials engineering to revolutionize the electromechanics industry. The manufacturing industry is presently responsible for the production of a significant amount of toxic waste which must be disposed of properly, often by incineration, which releases these products of combustion reactions into the atmosphere. The EPA has introduced a standard for green chemistry which is not enforced, at present, but should be used if we are to conduct responsible research. I began this project in the interest of extending environmentally sound green chemistry procedures to produce a novel material that could be used in electric vehicle motors. This will reduce green house gas emissions, and lower “carbon footprints,” which has beneficial implications for all life on this planet. Another motivation for this project is reduction of our dependence on foreign child labor, which is inherently unethical. The results of this project will not only alleviate child labor, reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil and mined minerals, but eventually reduce overall green house gas emissions and toxic waste!
All motors require magnetic materials for their operation. The strongest magnets in production today rely on cobalt-iron or iron and rare-earth metals; however, continued use of these elemental compositions in large-scale manufactured materials raises serious concerns, which are becoming more apparent as their use continues to increase. More than half of the world’s cobalt comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) where it is mined, often by the exploitation of children to labor in unspeakable work conditions, making most of the cobalt trade highly unethical. In addition, analysts at Macquarie Research project cobalt deficits of 885 tons by next year, 3,205 tons in 2019 and 5,340 tons in 2020; corresponding to a deficit increase of 503 percent! Magnet producers use rare-earth metals such as neodymium, dysprosium and terbium, mined primarily in China. Supplies of all three of these rare earth elements are vulnerable not only due to the increasing demand, but also the likelihood that China will restrict exports in response to the limited supply. The U.S. Department of Energy projects worldwide production of neodymium oxide to total 30,657 tons in 2015, with the most conservative estimate showing that the demand for neodymium will exceed the supply by about 2020. This project seeks to solve many of these aforementioned problems.
Under this project, I have developed a green chemistry procedure for the synthesis of a novel magnetic material. This highly-magnetic iron-nitride powder, free of rare-earths and cobalt, is produced from abundant, low-cost materials which are ethically mined and traded in the U.S. The use of this material in electric vehicles (EVs), for example, will significantly reduce the amount of greenhouse gases emitted in the U.S. each year by encouraging the use of clean alternatives to oil and coal. Developing alternatives to the use of rare earths will also reduce our dependence on these materials and will have a positive impact on our national economic and energy security. The transportation and electric power sectors account for nearly 75 % of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions each year. Better magnets would support the widespread use of EVs (not to mention their contribution to the wind power industry), significantly reducing these emissions. The U.S. spends nearly $1 billion every day on imported petroleum; improvements in magnet technology would enable a broader use of EVs, which would help insulate our economy from unexpected spikes in the price of oil and dependence on imported petroleum.
The commercialization of this material is now underway, and its incorporation into electric vehicle motors and other devices will no doubt result in the numerous benefits to mankind that led to its realization. Completion of my degree will hopefully help me to achieve this goal and to influence other synthetic chemists and materials engineers to popularize environmentally friendly green chemistry methods. I also used the opportunity afforded me during the development period to mentor numerous students, describing green chemistry, the material, the process of invention disclosure, and to provide overall instruction to students interested in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields, and to spark the interest of younger students in STEM. Over 20 high-achieving high school interns were selected to assist with this project, and talks on this project were given to over 100 middle school and numerous elementary school students. Through this project, I spent many hours above my normal work requirement volunteering for outreach to encourage students in STEM. Therefore, this project has had, and will continue to have far-reaching impacts on all-levels of students as well as professionals in the field.
It is estimated that 397,122 children in the United States are without a home due to abuse and neglect. Consider that half of the population of Alaska is living through the foster care systems, switching family to family. Over 23,000 of these kids age out of the systems without ever having experienced a permanent home. The consequences for these children are grim, they are more likely to experience homelessness, unemployment, and incarceration as young adults. Royal Family Kids Camp works toward providing support for foster children throughout the nation.
Royal Family Kids Camp (RFK) was created in 1990 with the mission to create life-changing moments for foster children of abuse. In 2012, RFK served over 6,000 children in 160 camps in 35 states and 11 international countries. Eighty thousand children have been enrolled in the camps in the last 25 years with no end in sight.
After watching the movie “Camp,” which is based on a true story from a RFK camp, I fell in love with the purpose of the program. In 2014 I contacted Rachel Olson, a three-year foster parent. She had attended the Anchorage, Alaska RFK camp and saw the effect it had on dozens of children at one time. She loved the idea of helping so many kids at once. When she and her husband, Trevor Olson, heard there was a need for a camp in the Mat-Su Valley, they jumped at the opportunity to establish RFK Mat-Su in 2014. Now, three years later, Olson’s Mat-Su RFK camp hosts 45-65 kids each year between the ages of 6-12.
While talking to her, she told me how some of the children at camp had never had a birthday, so every year the staff would have one big birthday party for all the campers. With eight months until camp, I started raising money through photoshoots by asking clients to donate to my cause rather than paying for the photos. My goal was to create a miniature birthday cake and custom backpack filled with gifts to give to each camper when the camp held the birthday party.
I raised over $2,500 and collected donated supplies, which included chap sticks, toothbrushes, books, and nail polish. Each of the 52 campers had their own birthday cake that matched the theme of the party, the Summer Olympics, and a bag of goodies that had their name embroidered on the outside. As I handed out the cakes and bags, the children made comments saying “I have never had a birthday cake!” Seeing their smiles brought me the greatest joy. Since then, I have remained partnered with the program and plan to continue to do so with the goal to help show these children the compassion they deserve but didn’t always receive.
There was too much oxygen. I was attempting to record the gas exchange for a single culm of Everglades sawgrass, Cladium mariscus, but the numbers did not seem right. As part of a high school internship, I was working in the Florida Atlantic University greenhouse after school, under the guidance of Professor Brian Benscoter. I was attempting to measure the levels of gas exchange under different hydrological conditions. As the level of water available decreases, plant life becomes far less productive, leading to an unhealthy foundation in the ecosystem and directly affecting the health of the surrounding areas and the human population beyond that.
The environment I grew up in was based around nature and the outdoors. Being born and raised in South Florida, explanations for the vitality of the ecosystems around me were ever present. In school, there were field trips to go trekking through swampy wilderness and chapters of textbooks devoted to understanding the Everglades. Growing up learning about the value of wetland ecosystems to Florida, I felt obligated to find a solution.
I was using the most sophisticated pieces of technology available to me: trash cans, bungee cords, garbage bags, and a finicky old gas chromatograph. While providing rough preliminary data, this lacked for a more rigorous and expanded experimental application. I needed a better system — one that was not too expensive. Unfortunately, there were no readily available inexpensive technology and no funding to purchase high-end equipment to measure gas exchange at the sensitivity that was needed. The idea was to build a large airtight chamber that could be automated to open and close at set time intervals while measuring carbon dioxide concentration, humidity, temperature, and other environmental variables. Confident that collaboration would increase the likelihood of the project’s success, I recruited two knowledgeable students from my high school’s Environmental Science Magnet Program: one engineering student and one biology student.
Under my direction, our team immediately went to work in the lab on new designs for our system — an inexpensive but reliable measurement chamber that could be deployed in the field for several months at a time. In only a few months, we developed a prototype and are on the road to making my old job completely autonomous.
In the coming months, we plan on field trials of our prototype and writing up our results for a peer-reviewed journal manuscript. Sharing what we have learned in this format will provide many wetland researchers with an inexpensive and robust monitoring system and the ability to conduct their experiments without draining their budgets. Increased access to affordable technology can and will enhance research productivity and quality. As a result of my team’s efforts, precious ecosystems all over the world, including the Everglades, can be better understood and better taken care of.
A cacophony of noise was audible from my position in the reclining hospital bed. The beeping IV pumps signaled the cessation of another infusion. The racket muffled the monotonous phrases that exuded from the mouth of the specialist. He quickly rewrote my intended plans on a prescription pad, editing them to read a life of misery with a medical diagnosis. However, I never intended on filling that particular script. The best medication is thinking innovatively to transform adversity into purpose.
It was the summer before high school when I was diagnosed with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome and its comorbid conditions, Mast Cell Disease and Dysautonomia. The mind-boggling terms that most have never heard of did not foreshadow the extent of struggle to come. I knew my life differed from my peers. They engaged in late nights of studying, participated in school sports, and had endless fun in the four years determining life success. They did not have to complete homework between doctor appointments or require a feeding tube and a central line for nutrition and medications. Eventually my health progressed, and the summer following high school, I spent eight months out of the entire year in the hospital. The sum of my experiences resulted in a series of blog projects on the website, http://www.hospitalprincess.com. The goal of Hospital Princess is to mentor others and to serve as a reminder to embrace full potential and happiness regardless of the adversity.
Hospital Princess connects people from across the globe. Healthy or sick, male or female, it guides those on unique journeys of their own. The site is comprised of relatable blogs, vlogs, tutorials, and devotionals. It gives a raw glimpse of my personal story. Navigating life with a chronic illness is challenging, especially in adolescence and young adulthood. There is no handbook on understanding chronic illness, whether directly taking on the role of a patient or experiencing it with a friend or family member. I did not have a mentor to calm my fears surrounding an uncertain prognosis or how to react when even medical professionals lack the necessary knowledge of my conditions. Hospital Princess offers YouTube videos on a patient’s perspective, like in “Central Line Resources” and “All About The Continuous IV Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) Infusion,” which is about being one of the few people in the entire world surviving on a rare IV treatment administered daily at home. It is a platform to further my aspiration of becoming a counselor with a specialty in chronic and terminal illness. (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCTQWXqMrlkhde32dRq3IRkw).
The blog receives the publicity to host online campaigns to contribute to research or patient advocacy, the most recent being a t-shirt fundraiser where all proceeds profit the research for Dr. Lawrence Afrin’s 20/20 Study. By implementing the skill of knitting acquired during an eight-month hospital admission in 2015 and early 2016, I was able to startup a small Etsy business affiliated with the website where some of the products are donated for hospital care packages.
Life rarely transpires according to original intentions. Mine surely did not on the day the man in the white coat denounced my dreams with a diagnosis. That does not suggest that crafting future is insignificant. In comparison to previous winners of the LA Tutors Scholarship, these efforts are probably miniscule. Nevertheless, it is my intention to exemplify that it is still possible to have some sort of an impact amid isolating circumstances. The website and blog, Hospital Princess, was initially a coping mechanism during an arduous hospital admission. Since then, it has become so much more. It emphasizes the importance of persevering despite hardship to achieve all aspirations. Whether at a desk or in a bed in the intensive care unit, my aim is to positively benefit others enduring their own struggles. I am forever grateful to Hospital Princess for giving me that opportunity.
In middle school, I went through a severe bullying experience in which I was verbally bullied, cyber bullied, and physically attacked. Apart from the violence, one of the worst things was having to eat lunch alone and the embarrassment of having others see me eating lunch alone. After I changed schools, and landed in a much kinder community, I would always invite people to join my group whenever I saw someone eating lunch alone. Some of these kids, one girl in particular, are now my best friends, whom I never would have met if I had not invited them over. I later learned that one girl who I had invited over had been struggling with self-harm and thoughts of suicide at that time. Finding new friends changed her mind and changed the course of her high school path for the better. I saw firsthand that one small act of kindness — something that may not have meant much to me at the time — made a huge difference in her life.
I decided that I wanted to effect this kind of change on a larger scale, so I created a free lunch-planning app called Sit With Us (http://www.sitwithus.io) that helps kids find allies in their schools and safe places to sit at lunch. I believe that every school has upstanders like me who want to take an active role in improving their community to make it more warm and welcoming. Something as seemingly small as lunch can make huge strides in making a school more inclusive because if kids are more kind to each other at lunch, then they are more likely to be kind in the classroom and outside of the classroom.
The way Sit With Us works is that users download the app and create a profile page with a photo, bio, and list of interests, like any other social network. Users must input their school name and address, so that lunch events are sorted by that geographical location. They are then offered the opportunity to be a Sit With Us Ambassador for their schools in which they sign a pledge to post open lunch events from time to time in the app and to make anyone who joins the table feel welcome. If a kid is looking for a place to sit, he or she can simply open the app and find a table to join under the “featured events” tab without any fear of rejection. Instead of holding up a sign that says “lonely kids eat here,” it is all very discreet, and no one will know the difference. At my former school, if I had been able to find one ally, I believe I would have had a different experience.
I released the app for iOS in the Apple Store in September 2016 and the Android version in February 2017. Since inception, I have gained over 100,000 users in eight countries worldwide, and it continues to grow every day. Sit With Us is the largest club on my school campus, and I see so many smiling faces in the lunch area every day. To my surprise, the app is being used for lunch and meeting planning by adults in colleges, places of worship, conferences, and large workspaces (such as nurses in hospitals). The app has been featured by under “New Apps We Love” in the Apple Store, has been covered in international media (print, TV, and radio), has garnered numerous awards, and is included in three museums (including the Smithsonian). I was named 1 of 25 Women Changing the World by People Magazine in the November 13, 2017 issue.
I have been invited to speak at many large conferences, including the UN Youth Assembly (from the podium in the Great Assembly Hall) and TEDxTeen. I also speak at local schools and in public libraries. I receive messages frequently from people all over the world, either saying that the app is helping them make their lives better or thanking me for providing an effective tool for kids to make their school communities more kind. Recognizing the effectiveness of my solution, six prominent anti-bullying organizations are partnering with me, including PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center, Champions Against Bullying, and United Against Bullying. I formed a nonprofit (Sit With Us, Inc.), and my company has received grants from Samsung, Disney, Youth Service America, Ryan Seacrest, and others. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to have met so many teenagers who have similar stories to mine, and my goal is to help make exclusion a thing of the past for all of them.
This pivotal experience of my life has taught me several important lessons that I try to share with others when I am doing community outreach. The first lesson is that you are never too young to make a difference. When I initially presented the idea to my parents, they looked at me like I was crazy. And yet only one year later, I am running a global nonprofit and leading a movement to spread kindness. Sometimes what may seem impossible at first is truly very possible if you put in the effort to make it succeed. Second, I want people to know that whatever they are struggling with, they are not alone. When I was being victimized, I thought that nobody else in the world understood what I was going through. But now that I have been able to connect with people through my app, I have found that so many others out there have stories so similar to mine. We are living in a world filled with humans seeking a connection, so no matter what, people need to know that they are not alone. My third and final point is to remind people to choose kindness. It’s up to us to make a difference in our communities — to leave the world a better place than how we found it. Having been on both sides, the person who was excluded and the person who invites anyone sitting alone to join the lunch table, I know that my app can make a difference. I believe that if we spread kindness out into the world, it comes back to us. Even if you don’t use the app, you can embody the spirit of Sit With Us by inviting someone who is sitting alone to join you. You never know — your future best friend might be sitting at the next table, and Sit With Us can help you take the first step.
La A.M.I.D. (The Association of Minorities In Dance) is an online organization that educates and advocates for those who are underrepresented in the dance world. I have seen firsthand how the lack of opportunity in dance can affect a dancer’s success. Amidst the competiveness of the field, there is a celebration of the human spirit and the power of movement that unites all dancers. Based on my personal experience, I wanted to create an organization that brought together a community that was already existing but needed to be connected. The organization defines minority as something that is not limited to just race. We believe that a minority in dance is anyone who feels underrepresented in the dance world. In addition to race this includes gender, religion, performance style, and physical ability. La A.M.I.D is a place that will connect these individuals to one another, education, and performance opportunities. The purpose of the organization is not to single anyone out but rather highlight those who are successful and inform those who are coming after. The dance world is evolving, and the door is wide open for change. Now is the time to embrace diversity.
Why is this important? As a child, I remember having this love for ballet but realizing that none of the ballerinas looked like me. I began to think ballet was not possible for people of my skin color. Thanks to my collegiate experience, I am gaining my confidence back. However, no person, let alone a child, should feel like their appearance or who they are will hinder them from achieving their dreams.
In the past five months, La A.M.I.D has been reaching people primarily through Instagram and Facebook. The laamid.org website was developed this past June. Working in conjunction with me, I have a team of two editors and four brand ambassadors. These individuals are passionate about dance and want to see other minorities be successful in dance.
My vision for La A.M.I.D is that the organization will have a strong social media presence, as well as an interactive website. Through social media, viewers can comment and communicate with one another in response to a La A.M.I.D post. In the near future, our website will focus on one topic, which changes every month. Based on availability, professional dancers will be able to log on and communicate with members, answering questions and giving advice. We will support our brand ambassador by advertising their successes, performances, and achievements. Every year students will have a chance to apply for a scholarship that can be applied to a colligate, studio, or summer program or tuition.
La A.M.I.D is a living project; dance is a part of every culture and can be a vehicle of freedom. Regardless if dance is something done recreationally or professionally, no one should feel like who they are will prevent them from success.
Instagram & Facebook – laamid4life
In American public schools, factors such as geography and socioeconomic status are unjustly determinative of who attends college and who doesn’t. The 56 million students that attend a U.S. K-12 school each year can have drastically different learning opportunities and educational resources. For instance, per-pupil spending across public school districts ranges from $9,794 in Chicago Ridge School District to $28,639 in Rondout District 72 (adjusted for regional cost differences) . The diversity of educational experiences culminates in grade 12, as students consider what to do after high school. Even though college is not the only pathway for greater opportunities, attending college can serve as an economic equalizer for disadvantaged students.
During the confusing and even overwhelming process of applying to college, access to information and resources also varies greatly. The average student-to-counselor ratio in a U.S. public high school is around 491-to-1, which presents some inherent constraints on the quality of advising individual students get in deciding what to do after high school and, if college is their desired path, how to navigate the process. For those that can afford it, college consultants often provide personalized assistance for thousands of dollars. Approximately one-third of college applicants pay for such services. However, expensive college consultants are not an option for a substantial number of students. As a low-income student attending an urban public school with one counselor for nine-hundred students in my senior class, I was disturbed that chance occurrences – like finding the right mentor – determined which students had the information and resources they needed to apply for college and financial aid.
The objective of my service project, FairOpportunityProject.org, is to improve the likelihood that young people in underperforming schools have an equal opportunity to attend college. I co-founded the edtech nonprofit in April 2016 and, since, have worked with college students, high school counselors, and advisors to write a free 70-page college admissions and financial aid guide including successful college essays, free online videos, scholarship websites, and much more. The guide was sent to 64,000 public schools, translated into Spanish and Mandarin, awarded Forbes 30 under 30, and featured in Thrillist, the Harvard Gazette, and the Harvard Ed Magazine. Most importantly, website traffic and user stories have supported the substantial need for our student-facing resources. Approximately 25,000 users have visited our website over the past two months and, besides being hosted on 49 other websites and downloaded in 35 countries, our ‘FOP’s Guide’ has been printed and distributed by superintendents across the country.
However, my experience leading Fair Opportunity Project has also made me recognize that much more can be done to address persistent educational inequities. It’s been a challenge to make our resources more accessible to students. Translating our guide into multiple languages was a step in the right direction, but I also realize that the text-rich guide can be overwhelming for many who might prefer more diagrams and videos. The most pressing problem at the moment is actually financial. Since its founding, Fair Opportunity Project has been operating off of a one-time $2000 grant from Harvard, our own out-of-pocket contributions, and hundreds of volunteer hours. Our financial circumstance constrains our ability to best serve students.
I believe that my work, through Fair Opportunity Project and through my other initiatives, exemplifies my deep passion for public service. I’m energized at the prospect of growing the impact of Fair Opportunity Project and, in doing so, mitigating a problem that is both pressing and personally meaningful. As the son of a high school English teacher and the grandson of a high school counselor, I’ve spent considerable time thinking about education and its role as a ‘great equalizer’ in our society. I’m proud of my contributions thus far and have been deeply touched by hundreds of stories I’ve received from counselors, parents, and students. For instance, I recently received an email from a counselor in Idaho Falls who thanked our team for “not only being aware of a very relevant issue, but taking the time to do something meaningful to work toward a solution.” Through the LA Tutors 123 Innovation Scholarship, I’d be empowered to strengthen my current efforts and deepen my passion for service.
I am the founder and president of two community service programs, A Game for You and A Journal for You. I launched A Game for You in June 2014 to collect board games, puzzles, and books for hospitalized children, veterans, special needs kids, low-income school libraries, the homeless and the elderly in assisted living facilities. I hold citywide and school donation drives, and organize delivery events with student volunteers. I also write grant proposals and speak at community events to raise funds to purchase additional items. I am so thankful for grant money provided by ABC Television, Disney, Start a Snowball Foundation, Karma for Cara Foundation, Festival of Children Foundation, Youth Service America, Daisy Button Believes, and generationOn. So far, over 8,500 people in Colorado, Georgia, and Quespos, Costa Rica have received a gift from my programs to help them through their difficulty. My most recent grant winnings from Disney were donated to the Counseling and Psychological Services Department at Emory University to provide journals for students that could benefit from writing to assist them through their healing process. Journaling has proven to help reduce stress, aid in mental health and increase creative activity in the brain.
In 2016 I was selected (through an application process) by Youth Service America to represent Colorado for a yearlong term as an Ambassador for National Child Awareness Month (NCAM). I was flown to Washington D.C. to receive service training from Youth Service America, where I was honored to meet personally with United States Senator Cory Gardner to discuss my programs. After returning from D.C., Susie Wargin interviewed me on live talk radio 850KOA, where I explained the initiatives and goals of my programs. I was also so humbled, but delighted, to receive the Channel 7 Everyday Hero Award during a delivery of games to the Ronald McDonald House. There I met Kori Rae, a precious 10-year-old who has battled Leukemia her whole life. We spent an afternoon together at the Ronald McDonald House playing UNO. I was privileged to watch how the magic of playing a game helped Kori Rae forget about her troubles. Playing games also helps those who are hurting to feel loved and connected to others.
I was inspired to begin collecting games, puzzles and books for those in need because I grew up with a physically challenged mother. Playing board games together helped us connect and stay bonded. Empowering at-risk people by providing them with an educational gift of a board game, puzzle or book, helps mitigate further health risks by increasing their cognitive function and social interaction, and helping them to relieve their loneliness and boredom. Remarkably, loneliness and physical pain stimulate the same part of the brain that lights up on fMRI scans; loneliness is quite literally painful. This breaks my heart. I have both witnessed and experienced loneliness. This is why I have aimed my service projects at alleviating such a crippling feeling. When a veteran feels lonely and is given a board game or book, he/she feels remembered and appreciated. When a memory care resident works on a puzzle, his brain is stimulated, and his confidence can grow. When a sick child feels lonely, and her friends do not know what to say or do, a board game provides a connection that helps to maintain that friendship.
I have learned that sometimes the seemingly small things in life (like board games, or a journal) can greatly improve the quality of someone’s life. My mission with my service programs is to ease the suffering of individuals by providing them with a reprieve from their pain.
Other links providing more information: Youth Service America’s Everyday Young Hero http://ysa.org/everyday-young-hero-nicole-steiner/
Prudential Spirit of Community Awards – Colorado’s Top High School Youth Volunteer Award
Congressional Record Certificate from The Honorable Ken Buck, United States House of Representatives https://www.congress.gov/congressional-record/2016/2/10/extensions-of-remarks-section/article/E157-2
Douglas County School District article https://www.dcsdk12.org/high-school-author-learns-to-lose-fear-dream-big-at-disney-dreamersacademy?utm_source=Newsline+-+April+8%2C+2015
Denver Post article – Young Author Plots Path http://parkerchronicle.net/stories/Young-author-plotspath,184807?
Founder and President of A Game for You and A Journal For You community outreach programs (2014 – present) https://www.facebook.com/AGameForYou/
Karma for Cara Grant http://parkerchronicle.net/stories/Parker-teen-collects-toys,201550?
Parker Chronicle article http://parkerchronicle.net/stories/Giving-games-spreading-smiles,186658?
I am a 19-year-old young woman. I have grown up in scouting for 10 years, and I have stood out throughout my life for serving others, to the point that I have received my silver and gold award from the Girl Scouts (GS) and the 2017 National Young Women of Distinction GSUSA.
At the age of 16, I decided to work on my GS Gold Award project in order to raise awareness about multiple sclerosis (MS) and cancer; it was titled: Create Awareness for MS and Cancer. These conditions are intimately close to me, since my mother was diagnosed with MS and my grandfather and great grandmother died of cancer. The love that I have for them and the desire to help other people facing a similar diagnosis motivated me, to put into effect my project. I was determined to find a way to help people get easy access to resources and information, so I could influence awareness and be a helping hand for anyone in need.
I advocated for the approval of the Senate Bill 1180 to create a mandatory registry of people diagnosed with MS in Puerto Rico (PR). To achieve this, I worked tirelessly on the project for three consecutive months, obtaining a unanimous approval by both Legislative Assemblies of Puerto Rico, until it was converted into Law 85 July 22, 2016. This is the first law requiring registry regarding MS in the world. Thanks to this law, genetic studies are already being carried out at the University of Miami to research the incidence of MS in the Hispanic population.
I helped build and create an alliance with The Association of Medical Directors in PR to continue sponsoring educational conferences on MS for primary doctors and medical directors of PR. For the first time, I was able to coordinate an educational conference where primary doctors of the island were educated on what MS is and how to apply treatments. An MS neurologist specialist offered the training and spoke on how the symptoms are misinterpreted with other diseases. Furthermore, I promoted the celebration of the first “Orange Jean Day” in Puerto Rico, and the School donated funding to the MS Foundation of PR. I created brochures and presentations on MS and Cancer and distributed them at schools, hospitals, medical offices, government offices of Puerto Rico, and in social media.
Also, I made a collaborative agreement with VOCES Vaccination Coalition of Puerto Rico, Comprehensive Cancer Center of Puerto Rico, and Caribe Girl Scouts, where we coordinated the first girl scouts weekend camp under the slogan: VOCES Ambassadors, Healthy Young People. This was aimed at conducting educational talks on HPV (Human Papillomavirus), so that the information continues to disseminate. This agreement will continue to educate young girls about how to prevent diseases that may lead to cervical cancer. In addition, I included a link in the Health Department’s web page to facilitate the registration process of people with cancer and MS. Also, I was able to meet with lawmakers and officials at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., such as the Congressman of South Carolina, Tom Rice, and Congressman of Illinois, Luis Gutierrez, with the intention of submitting for approval the Senate Bill 849, The Neuro Data Bill, for patients with MS in the United States.
My project was presented as part of the audit of the school, Piaget Bilingual Academy, as their re-certification to the Puerto Rico Higher Education Council. Also, the Education Department of Puerto Rico will distribute the brochures that I created to 335 schools making impact on 106,011 middle and high school students in Puerto Rico. In my graduation trip in the “Adventure of the Sea Cruise Ship,” the staff announced on every television on the cruise ship “The MS World Day.” I wrote an autobiography of my work to the major newspaper in PR “El Nuevo Día,” and they posted my column as “The Letter of the Day.” Also, I participated in the Myrtle Beach, South Carolina MS activity, where many people asked many questions on all my community work.
For the second consecutive year, in 2017, I created an innovative campaign with the theme “Wink for Multiple Sclerosis Awareness,” where people around the world were able to participate. I integrated important agencies and involved key school districts and hospitals to disseminate the message to the world. A year after, I created a worldwide Multiple Sclerosis Campaign that had over 114,000 people; specially it impacted many students across the island. I can continue with my vision of educating and supporting people, family, health professionals, and the general public to learn about MS and cancer.
I am the founder and CEO of the nonprofit organization, Community Organization of Multiple Sclerosis and Cancer, Inc. The main focus for this organization is to support and educate patients, family members, students, professional health, and general public about these two conditions. Also, it is focused on cancer prevention specifically on cervical cancer and how to prevent the Human Papilloma virus especially in young people. I have received donations where I am using these funds to help people with MS that have been affected by the Hurricane María in Puerto Rico by sending them mini portable air conditioners that will help them keep cool in these hot weathers were the electrical power is a major issue.
I created a Facebook page: Community Organization of MS and Cancer, Inc.:
https://www.facebook.com/MSandCancerINC/ and a Twitter where about 2,300 followers worldwide communicate and clarify doubts. In fact, my project achievements didn’t stay in the ground it went up in the air and overseas. I had the opportunity to visit, in personal trips, different states where the airlines staff announced my project on various occasions and in a Caribbean cruise. My work has been highlighted in several newspapers, radio and television. I was the first Girl Scout to appear on a front cover of the national newspaper, “El Nuevo Día.”
I have received several awards for my work for the benefit of the community such as Youth Service America on Everyday Young Hero, Girl Scouts USA as a 2017 National Young Women of Distinction GSUSA, the House of Representatives of Puerto Rico, the Gold Medal from the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation of Puerto Rico, and the President of the Health Commission of the House of Representatives of Puerto Rico. In addition, Congressman Luis Gutiérrez, NASA, and the White House — Barack & Michelle Obama — gave me recognition from the United States Congress. Also, the Commissioner of PR (2012-2016), Pedro Pierluisi, gave me the opportunity to visit the White House in Washington, D.C. In addition, Hon. Alejandro García Padilla, Governor of Puerto Rico (2012-2016), recognized me as the young woman who was able to obtain the approval of Law 85 that will help people with MS like my mom and friends. Also, JCI Puerto Rico recognized me as one of the ten young people, and I was selected as one of the Women of Worth by L’Oréal Paris Puerto Rico.
One of my very important lessons learned is to never let anybody crush our dreams, or to say that we cannot do it. I have this statement: Anything is possible if we focus on what we want or need to accomplish. A person with a dream is a machine that will always go forward. I recognize that in such a young age, I am a woman with leadership and dedication. I have been able to promote many important initiatives and establish alliances that will continue to benefit children and adults with MS and cancer. I am a leader, an inspiration, and it is a great honor to receive this scholarship award.
Though I didn’t envy his impetuous lifestyle, filled with underaged drinking and driving, it just wasn’t fair. My best friend lost his life in a drunk driving accident at the young age of 17. I couldn’t put this behind me- I had to make a change. I taught myself to program and I began to code an app. SteerClear allows users to find, free designated rides home from safe drivers that they know. Today, SteerClear is available for Android and in development for iOS. From the first line of code to final publishing, I taught myself every step. It would have been easier to wait until a formal class setting to learn object-oriented programming, but I wasn’t going for facile- I was going for a change. I understand that 1600 lines of code are not going to change the world. And I concede that infinite lines of code will not bring Sean back. But if SteerClear can save one life, it would have all been worth it.
But I don’t want SteerClear to stop here. I want to cultivate real change by coding an app with not only a few hundred users- I want a few hundred thousand. I not only want to study computer science so I can learn how to make SteerClear an excellent app, but I want to study in our nation’s capital so I can see how real change is created.
And this scholarship will make the world of a difference for me to pursue that dream. Attending college has been my biggest dream in life. I have made countless sacrifices throughout my teenager years in order to ensure that my education would always be my number one priority. However, I do fear that the rising costs of college will impede my ability to pursue that dream. Without college, I will not be able to grow SteerClear into an app with limitless potential. I need help to pay for college, and I could think of no better scholarship than one dedicated to stopping underaged drunk driving accidents.
I grew up in a hotel. The hotel was a magical place where luggage carts became playsets and pillow forts were abundant. While Dad worked in the lobby, I reveled in constructing tents by draping the hotel’s bed sheets off dining tables. The bed sheets came in boxes marked “discard,” but I didn’t mind. They were excellent fort-building material.
Only when I turned fourteen did I realize that the sheets I played with were meant for the trash. Linens that have slight imperfections, including coffee stains, pen marks, and holes, have to be discarded to maintain franchise standards. I believe that these blankets, sheets, and pillows deserve better homes than landfills, so my sister and I created Linens N Love to repurpose them.
We began collecting discarded linens from the hotel that Dad worked at and donated them to the local animal shelter. As an added bonus, a volunteer took us on a tour of the kennels, explaining how the dogs and cats use the towels and sheets to burrow into and feel secure. Realizing that other charities in need could utilize discarded hotel linens, we visited women’s homes, veteran charities, and more.
By having the opportunity to tour different charities in need, we grew aware of the world around us and become immersed in socioeconomic diversity. It was a powerful experience and we wanted others to share in it, too. So Linens N Love expanded to include friends who wanted to join the movement.
Today, our club has grown to include over 200 members at the Valencia High School chapter. We emphasize service-based leadership to create meaningful educational opportunities by training student leaders to coordinate their own deliveries. Students gain professional insight by communicating with hotel managers to request donations.
Students manage collecting donations and coordinating with shelters for deliveries. To ensure each volunteer experience is unique and memorable, we go on tours of the shelter after we unload donations, followed by a reflective session in the form of an article or question-and-answer session with volunteers or victims at the shelter. We believe in volunteerism with a purpose.
Our goal is to donate 100,000 linens to charities in need. Together, we have witnessed how clean bed sheets provide a sense of security and self for a victim escaping domestic violence or a family who’s lost everything from Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Harvey.
Our mission has evolved to inspire a program that can quickly and efficiently respond to natural disasters by establishing networks dedicated to connecting hotels with relief organizations including the Salvation Army and Red Cross. Linens N Love has grown to include hotels across the country and establish a new procedure where linens go to charities instead of landfills. One man’s trash is truly another man’s treasure.
100,000 linens is a dream. It is a dream born out of neglected boxes in a storage shed. It is a dream that my team and I believe in. It is a dream that Disney believes in when they recognized our efforts with the Shining Star Award and gifted us with a grant to continue our explorations into the world around us.
Though our educational adventures are supported by organizations including Disney, City National Bank, Choice Hotels International, WE Foundation, and Allstate Insurance, it is the fiery passion of our members that keeps the organization thriving. Recently, Allstate Insurance Foundation has reached out to Linens N Love to feature us in the Good Starts Young Campaign. Our story will be on a nationwide campaign in a documentary-styled film to be published by Allstate Insurance.
I am proud to be a part of the team of youth living a philosophy of compassion, purposeful volunteerism, and leadership. With every delivery, I can see our 100,000 linen dream growing into a reality.
We are dreamers and doers. All it takes to get started is a little bit of love.
Growing up, I found myself a victim of bullying and I did not like the way it felt. Like many young people, I often went into a semi-depression where I resented myself and everyone around me. I figured one way or another, it had to be my fault that this was happening. However, it took a while for me to extract the blame from myself and push it on those who so wrongfully targeted me because I am not like everyone else. After gaining the strength to understand that it wasn’t my fault I was being bullied, I became an Anti-Bully student activist! I created multiple activities throughout Middle School and helped to facilitate a Bullying Awareness Day. I also worked with my fellow Student Government Cabinet members to ensure we kept our school bully free for all those who attended then and for future generations. In the current climate we are in, it seems as if the world requires a special kind of healing. We have bared witness to school shootings such as the ones in Parkland and Santa Fe, bully-induced suicides labeled bullycide, and so much more. These events sparked movements such as the March for Our Lives and #Enough movements. Upon analyzing, it was found that up to 1 in 5 kids living in the United States alone show signs or symptoms of a mental health illness in a given year. This means that in a school in a classroom of 30 students, 10 students may be struggling with the same mental health issues that many adults deal with (i.e depression, substance abuse, schizophrenia, anxiety, etc.) and collectively, over 14% of High Schoolers have considered committing suicide. These students have no support system whatsoever to get them through it.
For this reason, I created The Teen Care Network, a program that supports those in need. The Teen Care Network (TCN) is for teens, ages 13-18, who have fallen victim to bullying and may be on the verge of bullycide (suicide from bullying). The program incorporates Mental Health First Aiders that are tailored specifically to adolescents. The goal is to create a “network” of individuals to allow students who have been bullied to have a voice. It doesn’t stop there though, the TCN desires to use a restorative justice approach to focus on the rehabilitation of bullies through reconciliation with the victims of bullying. The suicide rate for teens has skyrocketed since 1988 reaching 19.3 per 100,000. Studies have shown that those who commit suicide have admitted to not being “heard” at one point in their lives. Not to mention, suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people only being surpassed by Unintentional Injuries or accidents. The Teen Care Network strives to represent those voices unheard and offer them space and time to speak their truth regarding the stigma and shame associated with being bullied. The TCN will supply them with sessions, check-ins, art therapy, group therapy, and many more resources to create a community that will help to build their inner strength to live on!
The Teen Care Network serves as a catalyst to bridge the gap between students all over and the care that they all rightfully deserve! When you head over to teencarenetwork.org, you will find resources that will assist you on your way to healing, find volunteer opportunities, and even chat with someone via our site by clicking the chat icon. The Teen Care Network is here to provide care for teens ages 13-18 and genuinely provide for those who are in need! Together we can make bullies extinct and create a bully free environment for all – #makebulliesextinct! Join the movement on social media also – just follow us at @TeenCareNet on Instagram & Twitter!
My selected project is one that I have been coordinating for the past seven years, which has been successful in philanthropic efforts. When I was in sixth grade, I created and founded a program that strives to help others in the community by the support of the area. My program is called Helping Hats, which has raised over $70,000 in total for multiple charities in the past six years. Once a month, my program would give a chance for students in the Reeds Spring School District to raise money for many good causes by just donating one dollar. By donating one dollar, students and even staff could wear a hat all day during that school day. Each month, the fundraising would go to a different need, which would be a charity of my choice. By doing this, each need in the community would be helped.
My program has fundraised for many charities, including the local Backpack Program, Ozarks Honor Flight, Joplin tornado victims, and the Red Cross. The Backpack Program is an organization that gives our district’s needy students backpacks filled with food and healthcare supplies on the weekends. This is a significant need because there are students that rely on the meals of the schools, but on the weekends, they won’t have access to these meals. The Ozarks Honor Flight is an organization that provides flights for retired veterans to Washington D.C. to be able to see the memorials dedicated to their service. There was also a day devoted to the Joplin tornado victims, which raised over $10,000 and even collected bus-loads of supplies to help support the victims. Finally, Helping Hats spread awareness for the Red Cross, which was the most significant fundraiser yet, raising over $20,000! This was a special day for my program because it took place on Giving Tuesday, which is a world-wide social media event that inspires people to give back to their community or help others.
Unfortunately, I came across one of the most significant turning points of my life: being diagnosed with leukemia. I was diagnosed when I was fourteen and had to go through cancer treatment for almost three years. Because of this, I missed most of my high school years, and instead of living life as a teenager, I had to fight for my life. The most crucial chemo I had to be injected with gave me a lot of symptoms because I was deathly allergic to it. Not only did I have to go through a regular treatment program, but I also had many rare complications that lengthened the time of my treatment. I had to have open heart surgery, had seizures, a stroke, neuropathy, toxicity in my neck and brain, and had to have major surgery on both my legs. Even though I went through all of this, I continued Helping Hats, with the help of my family, friends, and community. If it weren’t for their support, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
Today, I strive to be a role model for students and teaching them that they can help others, no matter the age. My Helping Hats Program gives a chance to let students be the ones to give to others and inspires them to be giving at a young age. I hope to help people see that anyone can make a difference in the world, no matter how big or small the gesture.