2021 Points of Light Inspiration Honor Roll
Celebrating Outstanding Individuals Who Help Brighten Communities
Hannah has struggled with mental health conditions since age 8. She had to leave school at 14-years-old due to her mental health worsening to the point she could no longer attend.
After years of struggling for support and exhausting her options, Hannah felt defeated, but the pandemic gave her new motivation to support the next generation. After the schools closed due to COVID-19, she was still out of work but wanted to do all she could to help so she began to volunteer. In 2020, she volunteered 250 hours over six months.
Hannah then launched a youth-led access initiative, One/Third Project, and has since brought on several volunteers to help provide academic, employability and emotional services to young people with disrupted educational histories.
Hannah has since been nominated for a few awards, been featured in media outlets and been invited to a number of events as a guest speaker on behalf of young people across the UK. She is grateful to have a small platform to give a voice to those who may have been left behind by the systems in place currently. If her experiences can help just one young person, she has done a good job in her eyes.
Since 2008, Steph has been volunteering in various ways with foodbanks, clothing banks and the Toy Rescue Mission. Her children all volunteer as well. Steph started the Food is Free Garden and Tacoma Food is Free Fortress during the summer of 2019. Before that she helped start The Pantry, which was a foodbank at Grace Place Church. Having been hungry a few times in her life and having experienced hardships like homelessness and real needs, Steph feels she has to help however she can, whenever she can. She said, “I honestly can’t NOT help.”
Nidhi cofounded a youth volunteering organization called Michigan Youth Volunteering Alliance, or “MYVA,” which focuses on engaging youth in community activities and serving people. This organization was started in pandemic times when she realized that youth and senior citizens are impacted with anxiety, stress, depression and isolation.
Nidhi founded MYVA initially with five youth members and now they’ve grown to 28 youths. MYVA’s main focus is on fighting hunger and as part of this they deliver meals to senior citizens who are homebound and unable to prepare meals for themselves. A friendly hello at the door can brighten the day for aged citizens and can even save lives. During the fall, MYVA teams help by raking leaves at retirement homes.
In Michigan, one in seven kids struggle with hunger. Through MYVA, youth have completed multiple donation drives to raise food and cereal for kids in need of food, and a can and bottle drive collecting around 1,000 bottles and cans. The money raised was used to buy 150 cleaning supplies for the local neighborhood care house.
Another project delivered virtual story reading for kids in Detroit schools who may not have access to a quality public library due to the pandemic.
Amelia’s mom volunteered for foster care organizations and she had several friends that are foster parents. So Amelia understood that it might be scary to have to leave your home and go live with someone you don’t know. She thought that a night light may make that a little less scary.
Amelia’s mom posted on Facebook that she was collecting lights and donations started coming in from all over the country. Amelia organized a day at school where every kid that brought $1 or a nightlight could wear a hat to school one Friday. A local business also donated an extra $200. Together they raised enough to donate over 500 nightlights to local children in foster care.
The news heard about her project and the story aired on the local channel went viral. Amelia ended up on the CBS national news. Munchkin Brand Toys in California heard about her story and sent an entire pallet of night lights to her house. Lisowe’s Lights was officially born. Since then they’ve donated 10,000 night lights to all 75 Arkansas counties, all 50 states and even 3 European countries. They work with over 200 foster care organizations to distribute lights in their communities.
Rajani founded Unite & Inspire, along with two other co-founders, Suchitra Tangirala and Deborah Banerjee, with a mission to unite and inspire people into giving back to the communities through volunteering services.
In 2020, she led the group of 200+ volunteers with a strategic partnership involving local nonprofits, designing and developing remote and virtual methods of addressing the needs of community. U&I team and youth volunteers distributed 25,000 pounds of food supplies, 5,000 school supplies,15 devices for online education and 1,500 hygiene supplies to 12,000 families in local communities affected by COVID-19.
Volunteers served 1,000 health care workers with distribution of PPE, food and gratitude gift cards. During the snowstorm, they served 500 families with hot meals, essential supplies and recovery care packages. U&I volunteers conducted 3200 hours of educational workshops teaching math, science, digital arts, coding and computer languages to special needs children, underserved youth and community patrons in Houston and its suburb towns.
The team served 500 senior citizens during the pandemic, uplifting their spirits and keeping the mental health intact through remotely conducted interactive and engaging activities. Rajani inspired the volunteers to raise awareness about bone marrow registry and blood donation which were quite low during the pandemic.
Dynasty’s dysfunctional childhood motivated her to found the nonprofit organization Dynasty’s United Youth Association (DUYA) in 2014. DUYA’s mission is to ensure that all children and youth have access to quality programs that promote character and cultural competence. Dynasty partnered with the Los Angeles Public library to provide free tutoring, homework assistance, job-readiness workshops, college and career advisement and social-emotional support to youth ages 5-18 in urban communities.
Over the past seven years, DUYA has helped over 800 students pass onto the next grade, recruited over 80 tutor volunteers, provided employment and internship opportunities, assisted over 20 students with college admission processes and provided college textbook grants for high school graduates. 90% of students return each year.
In March 2020, DUYA converted its entire curriculum to a virtual platform within one week to continue delivering services. To fund and execute a virtual program, DUYA launched its Virtual Learning Program with council member Herb Wesson and the L.A. Public Library to prevent students from falling behind grade level. DUYA also hosted a campaign called “closing the gap on educational inequalities,” where they raised $115,000 to sponsor more tutors and technological support for the youth who were severely academically affected by school closures.
From a young age Ailiya has been close to nature. She has participated in clean up drives in school and currently works as a volunteer at Greenpeace India.
Ailiya’s realization that our planet is in a climate crisis came when she saw a jellyfish floating towards her – dead. Jellyfish are Ailiya’s favourite aquatic animals and she was saddened by the sight she had to witness. She was told that it was due to the intense heat waves passing through the state because of climate change.
Ailiya knew she had to do something for the betterment of the planet and created Youthopeian, an organization educating youth about the environment and technology. Ailiya strongly believes that technological solutions can be developed to tackle environmental problems. Through her initiative she raises awareness about the environment and motivates more people to pursue careers in environmental science and environmental engineering to create a real difference.
Ailiya was able to impact 7,000+ students from 30+ countries through Youthopeian and grew her team to more than 250 members. They’ve established seven chapters around the world and are actively hosting events such as webinars and competitions.
When Lisa got an autism diagnosis for her daughter it was terrifying and lonely and she felt helpless. Lisa used the recovery time while battling breast cancer to build a nonprofit that would bring moms of special needs children together.
Labeled & Loved’s mission is to embrace and strengthen families with special needs by providing connective experiences and educational resources.
They host a weekend retreat for special needs moms with nationally acclaimed speakers and breakout sessions. Their video channel, Sunshine in the Spectrum, provides parents with practical tips for positively parenting across all abilities, led by a board-certified behavior analyst.
The L&L Sticky Notes for the Heart was created to offer hope in the midst of parents’ most vulnerable days with intentional and inspirational texts filled with encouragement. In-person and virtual Moms Mingles offer connection through theme-inspired dinners and much-needed nights out. Their Podcast showcases stories of hope, inspiration and experts in the field with awe-inspiring guests each week.
Virtual groups led by trained and background-checked volunteers will launch soon, as will a multimedia program inspired by the lack of resources available when teaching about puberty/maturity, sexual health and personal safety with application for the special needs population included.
Twelve years ago, Saif started volunteering at the Women’s Intercultural Center in Anthony, NM. The executive director wanted Saif to update all of their technology. Thinking it would take about a week Saif volunteered for a month and brought in new computers, established a database to track participants and volunteers, made the technology eco-friendly by decreasing the amount of paper used and so on. In seeing their day to day operations, Saif saw the impact that they made and instantly fell in love with the organization and stayed.
At one time because of knowledge of the organization, Saif served as acting executive director. One notable program is the Border Awareness Experience which brings in high school, undergraduate and graduate university students and faculty from all over the country to be immersed in border life, culture, immigration issues and other areas of interest based on their degree plans. It introduces young people to true border life and erases those common misconceptions they have of the culture.
Through Saif’s time at the Center, there have been an array of opportunities to help the border region and lend helping hands to those in need.
Dion was enlisted in the US Marine Corps, serving as cook and infantry, from 1977 to 1983. Upon discharge, he joined the NYC culinary world and trained under David Burke at the Park Ave Cafe, receiving the true meaning of fine dining. Dion climbed the ranks and became an executive chef.
In 2011, Dion served as a football coach, mentor and creator of Culinary Cadets afterschool program at a local middle school in the Englewood, NJ community. In 2013 Disabled Combat Veterans Youth Program (DCVYP) was 501C3 incorporated by State Of New Jersey. This nonprofit is geared to empower youth with mentoring, leadership, academic strategies and a jump start into adulthood.
In 2014 Dion volunteered as a culinary arts professor at Bergen Community College (BCC) in Paramus, NJ for six years. In March 2020, when COVID-19 invaded the world, Dion went full throttle and created Table To Table Tuesday’s food distribution in the Englewood, NJ community, partnering with worship houses and local nonprofits. They distributed over 2 million meals to residents and military veterans in Bergen County, Jersey City and Passaic County.
Paul is a longtime volunteer coach in the Durham RBI summer league, helping to revitalize baseball in the Inner City. Paul helps them play and practice baseball a few hours a day, giving them something to work on, developing them into successful teammates and young men, teaching them to work together for a common goal, to be an integral part of something special and to look forward to those days on the diamond for reasons more than just a game.
The team becomes friends and family, staying in touch for years. In the 2019 season, Paul had the honor of being a coach for the 16-18 division all-star team that became the first RBI team from North Carolina to advance to the RBI World Series in Vero Beach, Florida. For many of the players, it was their first real road trip, first time on a plane, first time away from home and their parents. Paul couldn’t have been prouder of the way they represented themselves, respected the opportunity to be in the national spotlight and embraced the other players from the other teams and other cultures from across the country as friends and interesting individuals more than just as competition.
When the local school district started giving out meals to all children in the community, ages 1-18, regardless of homeschool, private school or public school, the Jewish community asked about Kosher meals.
Yoni took the initiative to find a local distributor to accommodate the Kosher-keeping community. Yoni started with giving out just under 12,000 meals per week and am now up to over 30,000 meals per week. By the middle of June 2021, Yoni will have given out over 1 million Kosher meals to the local South Jersey community.
What started as a small couple-week project has blossomed into a 20 hour per week volunteer job to make sure that all children in the area are fed. Yoni also collaborates with the local food pantries to donate extra items including over 1 ton of milk each week to the local food pantry and is now working to fundraise to make this program permanent even after the pandemic is over.
Sara has seen firsthand the poverty endemic to an underclass of working poor in Cali, Colombia. 30% of Colombia’s economy depends on daily activities such as street sales and garbage recycling. These jobs provide just enough to cover basic daily needs in good times.
The pandemic has been devastating, as many in this underclass became unable to work due to sheltering restrictions. In June 2020, Sara decided to bake and sell cookies to generate money that could be donated to help those in dire need in Cali. She learned how to design a website through YouTube and created HumanKINDcookies.org.
The generosity of the US community to this initiative has been overwhelming; to date, Sara has baked and distributed 7,520 cookies, raising close to $10,000 for food. Her project continues to be not only a stable source of food for vulnerable families but also an inspiration for others to embark on similar activities. Three families joined her initiative and baked her cookie recipe in different geographic areas, while companies in Colombia have partnered with her for Christmas and art events to multiply the impact of her efforts. She has a rigorous academic schedule yet has never stopped baking to help others.
Allan works to spur strategic philanthropic investment toward critical community groups and to catalyze positive change.
He led the Thornburg Foundation’s response to COVID: working quickly to provide more than $850,000 in relief to non-profits serving families experiencing hunger, homelessness and farmers critical to food supply, and to partner with state government to leverage $1 million in emergency food relief to native communities on lockdown.
Allan co-chaired the NM Census Funders group, which raised $1.2M for 83 community-based organizations to encourage the state’s hardest-to-count communities to be counted. Recently, he helped start a pooled fund to support a healthy entry for asylees and another to support victims of domestic violence, which have both increased during the pandemic.
The foundation team uses bi-partisan, evidence-based approaches to catalyze meaningful and lasting change in the fields of education, governance, water, agriculture and social services. Allan firmly believes in service to others, starting from his time as a Peace Corps volunteer in Guatemala to now serving on local nonprofit and education advisory boards, advising social entrepreneurs and using his role to drive philanthropic action.
Aryan believes that the harder you work, the luckier you get and always tries his best in whatever he does. Aryan is a passionate individual who thrives to bring out the best in others as well. He’s been working with students since August 2020, helping them to have a better perspective of their actual skills, talents and strengths through his nonprofit, Optiverse.
Until May of 2021, Optiverse had mentored for 480 hours and expanded reach in 10 countries and nine states. Optiverse has also been conducting weekly workshops for underprivileged students and pediatric patients suffering from cancer.
The team also spreads awareness through various NGOs and trusts via collaborations. At Optiverse, the team also thrives to build one’s personality as well as enhance analytical, oratorical and writing skills. The Optiverse course includes design thinking, life maps, strength forms, free writing, skill worksheets, decision making, English strategies, identity building and gratitude journals.
Mentors are students from all around the world with a passion to connect and help other children. Since Optiverse is an organization devoted to provide accessible learning to all sections of the society, the course is 100% free for all!
Pranavi was inspired to start her project, Kindness4All, when she saw that not many people in her community were aware of the power of spreading kindness. Pranavi wanted to share this with them to create a movement to make kindness the norm.
Through Kindness4All, Pranavi aims to inspire other youth to participate in acts of kindness and community engagement to become leaders of change and positivity. To accomplish this, every week she conducts different “Kindness Projects” that people of all ages from all locations can participate in. Some of the previous projects include encouragement letters to women facing breast cancer, appreciation cards to local frontline workers and food pantry volunteers, fundraising money for Disney books for under-resourced elementary schools in the area, food drives for local food pantries, creating “Birthday Boxes” to help the underprivileged and “Kindness Packs” for children in hospitals.
Since their founding, Kindness4All has conducted over 100 different “Kindness Projects” that people could participate in. Through Pranavi’s initiatives with Kindness4All, she’s been able to help make the lives of over 50,000 people better with acts of kindness while inspiring another 90,000 people about how kindness can make the world a better place.
When Bridget had her first child in 2011, she was astounded by the amount of stuff required to take care of a baby and how expensive it could be. Meanwhile, she knew some of her neighbors were likely struggling to afford these things. Bridget learned that many parents have to make extremely tough choices when it comes to raising their babies – do they pay the electric bill or do they buy diapers? She decided that there had to be something she could do to help. Initially, she wanted to collect unneeded baby essentials and donate them to an organization who could deliver them to families in need. However, she realized quickly that there were no central agencies in New Jersey that were distributing diapers or any other baby essentials to families who couldn’t afford them. So she decided to do it herself, founding Moms Helping Moms Foundation – a NJ Diaper and Baby Supply that provides hundreds of thousands of free diapers, clothes, strollers, formula and other baby essentials each year to low income families all over New Jersey. They continue to be one of the only places these families can turn to for this type of support.
Tejasvi, a high school junior, is the founder and executive director of SHE: Sustainable, Heard, Empowered, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization which strives to eliminate period poverty and stigma in our society. She is directing four high school wide SHE chapters in California. Her initiative promotes the usage of reusable pads. Disposable pads contain dioxins from bleach that can harm the uterus. Statistics show that about 800,000 women die yearly due to lack of access to proper sanitation in the U.S. Each disposable pad contains the equivalent of about 4 plastic bags. That means every woman discards about 40,000-60,000 worth of plastic bags throughout her menstruating lifetime. Disposable pads are harmful to women’s health and the environment.
During the pandemic, Tejasvi has conducted donation drives. Several care packages have been donated to women’s shelters, containing reusable pads, masks, hand sanitizers and dental care kits. Tejasvi is also focused on spreading awareness about women’s health and beauty standards through social media and other platforms.
Tejasvi aims to empower many women around her by conducting more such initiatives. She firmly believes that you empower yourself by empowering those around you.
In addition to overseeing the middle school’s athletic and extra-curricular programs, Kelly also implements service-learning into the district’s offerings. She has created the ‘Zionsville Do Days’, a span of several days in March where all classes (pre-school through high school), clubs and teams focus on a service project of their choosing, helping to serve organizations from all over the county. This past year, more than 30 organizations in the area were involved, including the local Humane Society, several nursing homes, the local park and food pantry.
Additionally, Kelly also leads students on service learning trips to Bolivia, Haiti, Nicaragua, Mexico and San Francisco. Over the course of the past 10 years, she has taken more than 400 students on these service-learning trips. While in these areas, students have the opportunities to work in medical clinics, volunteer with the homeless, host sports clinics, teach English and build homes.
She is relationship-focused, believing that students can discover passions and talents they never knew existed if they get outside of their comfort zones. By serving others, students are able to connect on unique levels for the betterment of their school, community and beyond.
Cynthia is the president of StarStyle® Productions, LLC. She was inspired by her dying farmer dad who said he lived his dreams. Cynthia’s mission is to empower women, families and youth. In 1999 she founded and is the executive director of the all-volunteer charity, Be the Star You Are!®. Without a salary, she orchestrated the assistance of thousands of individuals and distributed over $2 million in resources.
Cynthia produces and hosts the weekly life-affirming broadcast, StarStyle-Be the Star You Are! and gives youth a voice via Express Yourself! Teen Radio. Through Operation Disaster Relief, BTSYA provides emotional recovery to evacuees and survivors. During the pandemic with artistic community venues shuttered, Cynthia affords radio interviews to creatives. As a New York Times bestselling author, Cynthia published eight books. She raised chickens, drove tractors and picked fruit to fund college as the first in her family. She was the Outstanding Teenager of California and a teenage ambassador to Holland.
Cynthia’s goal is to inspire, encourage, inform and motivate others to be their unapologetically unique selves.
14-year-old Ashley has dedicated herself to making a difference in her community through her 501(c)3 Sargeant’s Army. She started Sargeant’s Army to honor her cat, Sargeant, who died of cancer. She started by donating hand-sewn cat toys to local animal shelters. In 2020 she started sewing and donating masks to essential workers. After donating masks to a homeless outreach event she decided that she wanted to do more. She now creates and donates Hope Bags filled with hygiene items, socks and a kindness card to outreach programs throughout the state of Arizona. To date she has raised over $32,000 and donated over 12,000 Hope Bags to 21 different outreach programs in Arizona and neighboring states. Knowing how few volunteer events there are for younger children, she now hosts packing parties for the Hope Bags to provide volunteer opportunities for them.
Another way she gives back is by writing and illustrating children’s books on pressing social issues. She has published two books with a third on its way and all proceeds of the books are donated 100% to Sargeant’s Army. Each book sold equals a Hope Bag going to someone who needs it.
Sahana co-founded Foundation For Girls (FFG), a social impact organization to economically empower homeless single moms and support their children. FFG was founded in December 2014 and at the time, Sahana was 8 years old. Today, FFG invests in women to be financially savvy, digitally capable, career confident and socially connected for multi-generational change. FFG’s 4-pillar programming in financial well-being, career journey, digitally forward, and circle of care equips moms and their children with resources, relationships and recommendations for their journey to financial stability.
During COVID, when the world was shutting down, FFG, with Sahana’s leadership and by leveraging technology, has expanded to nine states – CA, IA, WA, GA, NC, SC, TX, MD, DC. Over six years, Sahana has spearheaded FFG’s impact investing in over 2,500 homeless single moms and children (approximately 300 moms and 200 children per year) so they can become self-sufficient and financially resilient.
Growing up with a stuttering problem accompanied by severe anxiety, Kristin knew firsthand how it felt to freeze on hearing her name. She was relentlessly ridiculed by others, often taking flight when encountering difficult speaking moments. She gave presentations alone to teachers. She went to college to major in dance and after an ankle injury, was forced to create another path for her life.
Kristin is a role model of how persistence and perseverance result in resilience, and she has dedicated her life to evolving as a person and speech-language pathologist. After working with others who stutter for over twenty years, she co-founded, along with Julie Raynor, a non-profit program called Camp Shout Out. Approaching its eleventh year, this overnight program creates positive experiences communicating for kids ages 8-18 who stutter, and desperately needed hands-on training for both graduate students and professionals. As one parent shared, “It’s a game changer.”
Caramia started Digging for Diversity in January 2021 to help combat increased social tension and lack of open forums to express viewpoints. Her community needed a safe space to speak one’s mind without fear of reprisal. She accomplished this by founding a program based on the Native American talking circle, an open-space allowing people from different backgrounds to discuss topics without judgement.
Her team has hosted and broadly attended MLK Day of Service and Global Youth Service Day events. Digging for Diversity provides a planned hands-on service-learning component, themed cultural food-sampling and open discussion forum themed around current issues. “Speak and Paint Your Truth” GYSD event featured expression of personal feelings through painting of 38 canvases forming the sentence: Racism isn’t getting worse, it’s getting filmed. This powerful statement is on display at a regional youth center. Caramia and her team are focused on expanding their program to other communities.
It was the pathetic mews of a hungry mother cat, scrounging in a dumpster to feed her kittens that first caught Robert and Katherine’s attention. The chance meeting between the hungry strays and two computer programmers led to the creation of Rude Ranch Animal Rescue.
Since 2001, Robert & Katherine have led the effort to improve animal welfare in their local jurisdiction and throughout Maryland by creating one of the first no-kill animal sanctuaries, a regional state-of-the-art high volume, low cost spay/neuter clinic (2012) spearheading creation of groundbreaking animal friendly legislation (2018).
Thanks to Robert & Katherine’s efforts, many local & government animal organizations have become no-kill entities. Animal euthanasia rates in their jurisdiction have dropped to almost zero. Animal Euthanasia rates in Maryland have dropped over 6% since 2012 when Rude Ranch began aggressively promoting spay/neuter for all animals.
Nesa was walking her child to school when an elderly crossing guard mentioned her A/C was not working. Nesa asked her husband to go to her home to take a look to see if he could repair it. They were shocked to see the condition of the house. No A/C, roof leaks, mold on the wall, septic backing up, stove/oven not working, and plumbing backed up. It was heartbreaking. The person that protected the couple’s children every day and was loved by so many needed help.
Nesa quickly set up a working committee assigning tasks and securing donations to renovate the home. Over six weeks with the Flower Mound Lady Softball team support, the group could replace the roof, replace all the windows, replace the A/C system, paint the interior, replace rotten wood, clear the septic system, and install new drywall and bathroom fixtures.
It was a fantastic feeling for Nesa and the team to know that they could provide a safe and comfortable home to someone who cares for and protects their children every day on their walk to and from school.
Qjiel founded Streets to Schools when he was only 15 years old in 2016. His work involves aligning the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) to ensure that the needs and rights of children, especially those in poverty, are addressed. In 2019, the Philippines ranked last in reading in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). Qjiel and his team deemed that there was a great need to teach literacy to children as a lot of children in the Philippines graduate junior high school without ever learning how to read and write. Through his efforts, he has empowered children and adolescents aged 5 to 18 to proactively champion the 2030 agenda by publishing a storybook that advocates SDGs and literacy. Volunteers all over the world then story-tell these published books through online platforms to further inspire this generation to address our world’s most pressing problems. Being an agent of change, Qjiel celebrates the participatory rights of children as their model of innovation allows children to learn about community problems and contextualize SDGs in their situations. This allows young people to become global citizens while championing literacy at the same time.
Rylee is a 15 year old freshman in high school who, since the age of six, has selflessly given her time through community service through multiple projects of her own, as well as through service under other organizations. She has served as a Jr Committee member for the Salvation Army Vineland corps for many years through their holiday turkey drive, as well as throughout the pandemic doing food distribution multiple days per week. Rylee began her own initiative at age 9 called “choose wise words,” where she speaks to groups on the importance of removing words in our everyday language that offend others. Rylee also authored a book of the same title that she uses as a teaching tool for younger audiences. Rylee has earned her Gold PSVA every year for 10 years, and recently earned and was presented her presidential lifetime achievement award. Rylee has a heart for homeless individuals and spends many days providing meals both in soup kitchens as well as on the streets of her city. She holds food drives for local pantries, held a toy drive for her birthday, and created and donated 90 Easter baskets for underserved children.
CAAP, the Community Activism Awareness Program, established in 2005, is Benton Central’s oldest, largest, busiest club doing good in the school and community. Their motto is “Do not prepare the path for the children; prepare the children for the path.”
The faculty sponsor for these past 15 years has been Ms. Sandy Herre. CAAP is comprised of around 60 hard-working, service-minded high school students.
CAAP fundraises and leads supply drives and projects throughout the year to help others in need – children, adults, and fellow teens locally and afar, animals, the environment, and the world. Sandy and the team lead their own projects and partner with other groups to boost their efforts.
CAAP acts as a certifying organization for this respected national program, established under the George H. W. Bush Administration, and recognizes students who have donated significant hours of their personal time in service each year.
COVID-19 has brought storm clouds of anxiety, which masks the sunshine of millions of individuals around the world. In April 2020, Natalie learned that people with mental health conditions were struggling significantly more during COVID-19 due to feelings of isolation, increased stress and high-anxiety. Empathizing, she knew that she wanted to spread sunshine to people struggling with mental health conditions.
In May 2020, Natalie started her own international mental health organization, Solely Sunshine. The organization’s website provides the opportunity for anyone to volunteer to write virtual letters of encouragement, which get transcribed to paper by her team of over 100 teen volunteers.
Natalie says, “The best part about running Solely Sunshine is hearing the positive feedback from the letter recipients. One recipient said, “I was desperate, I was even thinking about suicide… I sincerely thank you for your help. I’m really grateful. I will try my best, I will look at your message everyday.’” Since May 2020, with the help of people in over 50 countries and 43 states, Natalie and the team have mailed/received approximately 8,000 letters of sunshine, impacting over 10,000 people (the writers and recipients).
Chef Maria Loi has many titles (chef, entrepreneur, Greek food Ambassador, TV host & healthy lifestyle expert) and is passionate about changing the world one healthy bite at a time. But helping others truly lights up the soul of the woman known as the Julia Child of Greece.
A dedicated philanthropist, she’s deeply involved with the Loukoumi Foundation, which helps children work toward career dreams. She’s a co-founder of Elpida, a foundation supporting children with cancer, oversees a fund that grants scholarships to underprivileged students and works with Careers through Culinary Arts Program, Citymeals on Wheels and The Center for Discovery’s Dept. of Nourishment Arts as a DaVinci Master Chef.
Through her namesake NYC restaurant, Loi Estiatorio, Chef Loi has provided tens of thousands meals since March 2020 to firefighters, the homeless, the elderly and others. During the height of the pandemic, she also delivered hundreds of meals a day to frontline healthcare workers at NYC hospitals – making and boxing many of the meals herself. Most recently, she was honored as Neighborhood Hero by the City of New York for feeding anyone in need of a nutritious, delicious, healthy meal during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Soon was educated at Hongik University in Lithography in Seoul, South Korea and graduated in 1992. She also has experience studying at SUNY at New Paltz in Lithography. Soon has over 30 years of experience teaching art students by helping them with their college entry portfolios and art contest submissions. She has taught both private and public school students in the field of art as a private Art Instructor. In Raleigh, North Carolina, Soon has owned her business, Soon’s Art Studio, for the past three years. Soon teaches mainly third to fifth grade students in watercolor and pencil drawing. The mission behind her teaching is to help students become better artists by improving their artistic skills. In 2016, Soon came up with the idea to direct the North Carolina Art Contest through the Korean Wave Federation in Raleigh, North Carolina. As a judge, she gave art scholarships ranging from $100 to $1000 to help with their education. Soon became Vice President of the organization and assists with an organization called Korea Fest yearly.
A bridge is defined as “a structure carrying a pathway or roadway over a depression or obstacle.” While Siena may not be building a physical bridge, she is mending a pathway allowing children and adults to walk a safer path.
Having endured hardships of her own, Siena learned to overcome her difficult past through helping others heal. Her personal situation changed dramatically because of the support received from the Bridges program located in New Hampshire. Bridges is a nonprofit organization that provides free services to support people in need of crisis. She is grateful for the support that she was provided through Bridges. This is why she chose to dedicate her time and service.
Her mission is to raise awareness for what children facing violence are going through.
Although she is extremely passionate about solving the issues of domestic violence she spends her time volunteering for many different organizations in hopes of touching the lives of many young and old. Together, let us eliminate obstacles that stand in the way of our bright future.
This year, Olivia made masks for first responders in her community. She wanted to find a way to help people during the current times and there was a mask shortage. Olivia got a grant to make them and was excited to help those at risk everyday. There were many steps involved. It took a long time, but it was worth it.
Over long days of designing and sewing masks using different prints like flamingos, space themes, and Dr. Seuss, Olivia finally completed them!
She donated masks to the library, fire department, and school. Seeing teachers wearing her masks during school makes her smile. We couldn’t have gone through this year without teachers and other frontline workers. Olivia is thankful she could help because she got so much out of it and had fun doing it!
Amy is a long time community leader. She has been involved with Laotian American Society (LAS), since its inception in 2002 and has served many roles, including its president in 2015.
Amy is also a member of many other nonprofits such as Who’s Who in Asian Americans Communities (WWAAC) and Asian Pacific American Council of Georgia (APAC). Amy was the liaison between Miss Universe Organization and Miss Universe Laos Organization in 2019 and 2021. In 2020 Amy helped to create Care Packages for Laotian Americans in Georgia during COVID-19 and as of today it continues. Amy’s been a speaker on a few panels, most recently invited to speak to the White House Initiative on AAPI commissioners and leaders during a town hall meeting as a business owner and community leader. Amy had also been invited to speak to the Gwinnett Multicultural Advisory Committee.
Amy is very passionate about her community. Not only is she a member of many organizations, but she also volunteered for many others. Amy was honored as one of the 25 Most Influential Asian Americans in Georgia in 2015 & 2017.
As a woman, her opinions are suppressed. As a lady, her behavior is criticized. But Amandeep Kaur couldn’t be repressed and she knew she was going to pass this message on to other women in her household, community and globally. Amandeep chose this path when overhearing a single conversation at age 12 about her father providing free care to a female patient in an unfortunate situation. From that moment she knew that she wanted to impact other’s lives like her father, just in a different way; Amandeep wanted to be the voice for women who are suppressed.
Amandeep began as an executive board officer for non-profit organization SHE (Sustainable, Heard, Empowered). At SHE, Amandeep helps engage the young women in her community to work towards tackling issues such as menstrual poverty and societal stigmas through youth-led projects. Over time, Amandeep branched out as the team lead in creating an advocacy campaign against the Sexual Abuse Of Women and Children in Bauchi, Nigeria using education to spread awareness. She doesn’t just make a difference in her community but in a community 7,880 miles away. Amandeep is fulfilling her grit by working towards a better today and an ideal future.
The heart of Chinmayi’s service lies in expanding the accessibility of online STEM events, opportunities, resources and mentorship for young students, especially within the field of neuroscience. Neuroscience (the study of the brain and nervous system) affects every single one of us on a daily basis, from the time we wake up to the time we go to sleep, yet many students do not gain exposure to understanding their brain until they are adults and well into college.
Expanding our understanding of brain health from a young age is essential, and Chinmayi is on a personal mission to revolutionize the way we think about early student involvement in neuroscience through an interdisciplinary lens of education, outreach and awareness coming together. In 2019, Chinmayi founded an entirely student-led neuroscience non-profit organization known as Simply Neuroscience, and to date, we have been able to empower tens of thousands of fellow peers in making change at a grassroots level during the COVID-19 pandemic. Neuroscience holds great innovative potential, and as the next generation of physicians, scientists, politicians, creators, entrepreneurs and advocates, we are collaborating to unlock the future, one neuron at a time.
Hannah’s mom, an immigrant who raised her and her little brother alone, taught her that education can make the American Dream. Hannah grew up in the poorest metro area in the nation. There are very few educational resources available. At age 11, she was selected to the U.S. Team and won co-champions in the Primary Math World Contest in Hong Kong. For the first time, she knew that a girl from an underprivileged community can be an international champion.
Returning from HK, Hannah founded San Antonio Math Include to offer greater access to STEM education to all students from different backgrounds, experiences, and cultural perspectives. In four years, she led SaMi to 7,183 students and 206 volunteers from 429 schools in 38 states and four continents. They have offered 15,692 free classes, written 300 pages of curriculum and established 28 national chapters. They’ve raised $104,018 in funds and created 1,641 Casting Your Future Scholarship for students from low socioeconomic backgrounds. Collaborating with Stanford AI Lab, they’ll introduce Artificial Intelligence to 133 local high schools and 103,140 students in 2021-23. Through the partnership with the UN Major Group of Children, their online classes are accessible to 170 countries around the world.
After being diagnosed with dyslexia, Caragan Olles founded Bright Young Dyslexics in 2013. Inspired to help others, Caragan has raised over $250,000 to fund phonics based tutoring and assistive technology for K-12 dyslexic students. She has educated over 2,500 teachers about dyslexia and how to accommodate their dyslexic students. She has impacted over 14,000 students.
After 9th grade, Ellie tried to find an internship where she could apply her experience in graphic design, but for a variety of reasons she found that to be very difficult. Soon after, she met other teenagers who complained of similar difficulties in securing internships and/or volunteer opportunities that could fit into their busy schedules. So, she set out to find a solution.
She interviewed several local nonprofit organizations and learned that all needed help with one technology task or another — tasks that would be ideal projects for tech-savvy teen volunteers. With prize money from a social entrepreneurship competition, Ellie filed for nonprofit status. Then, she built a website and began advertising for high school students interested in volunteering and for charitable organizations in need of assistance. The response was overwhelming. To date, more than 10,000 students have signed up to help the organization’s 250 nonprofit partners with website design, programming, social media marketing, photo management and other technology projects. Ellie’s network also offers a tech hotline, lesson plans and homework assistance to help teachers, parents and students adapt to the new COVID-19 academic environment.
For thirty years, Judy has worked to improve the lives of children with special needs. Her commitment to volunteerism came from having a son diagnosed with cerebral palsy after a traumatic delivery. Judy set upon an unexpected path of creating needed change and greater awareness for children with differing abilities, including her son. After Eric’s birth, Judy published numerous articles about the rewards/challenges of raising a child with a disability and published a parenting guide to help other families better meet their challenges.
“Breakthrough Parenting for Children with Special Needs: Raising the Bar of Expectations,” was groundbreaking. When Eric died in 2003 at age 12 from complications of disability, Judy co-founded the Eric ‘RicStar’ Winter Music Therapy Camp to honor Eric’s gift for music and provide priceless access to music therapy for people of all ages with disabilities. The award-winning RicStar’s Camp, now in its 19th year, has served over 1,700 campers to date. Judy also spent a decade volunteering as a certified therapy dog team, serving the needs of challenged Michigan elementary students. From great loss, Judy’s passionate commitment to volunteerism has created lasting, beautiful change.
Lauren Bartel has recorded nearly 2,000 community volunteer service and leadership hours across numerous organizations and highly impactful activities, positively affecting the lives of almost a million people. Lauren has helped lead the worldwide Youth Climate Summit, has testified as a youth subject expert before local, state and federal officials on the environment and climate change, has been a digital volunteer at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, has conducted groundbreaking research at the world-famous Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden and is one of 250 students nationwide selected to be part of the Washington Youth Summit on the Environment.
When the pandemic hit, Lauren started a story-time program to virtually read aloud books to kindergartners, and what began as a local program at her school grew into a library of videos distributed to a homes across the U.S. She began a new peer tutoring program at her school, serving hundreds of students through volunteer peer help. Lauren also personally developed and established a nonprofit called Our Bright World, which supports and recognizes teenagers who are inventing and innovating new programs and projects that solve real-world problems.
You don’t ever forget the hurt that was done to you when you were a child. Like the rings on the center of a tree, the hurt is deep, but still there. Eva dedicated her life to helping children who endured abuse. They are not bad kids like she was not a bad kid. She was hurting, hungry and ignored by her community. So were her siblings. It was hard for her especially because her skin is black. Eva grew up in the south, but never gave up hope. Whenever she could, she helped others.
The thing is when you grow up with nothing, you don’t need much. Eva worked and worked, as a seamstress and as a mail carrier. Slowly, she saved enough to start charities that could give kids what I never had: a safe and loving home.
First it was a daycare, then group homes for teen foster boys, whom nobody would help. Then a foster agency in Barstow, CA, a community whom nobody would help. The kids Eva has served she considers her own kids. She shows them unconditional love. The team at A Greater Hope continues to give children just that: A Greater Hope.
Ayo Handy-Kendi, aka The Breath Sekou and Mama Ayo, the Storyteller, has been a volunteer for most of her adult life, imitating her mom who served as a volunteer most of her life. Born and raised in Washington, D.C., upon moving to Maryland in 2013, she got involved, volunteering with The Town of Capitol Heights, particularly with its Community Health and Environment Committee (CHEC).
Ayo has served by bringing her expertise as a breathologist to Capitol Heights Day and has presented cultural programs – such as Kwanzaa Candle-lighting Ceremonies, World Breathing Day and the Mayoral awarded Black Love Day, Feb. 13th celebration, of which she is the founder. As CHEC agreed to address the food-desert issue within the town, Ayo has used her 50+ years of community-based organizing, fundraising, program development and promotional/graphics skills to help coordinate the ribbon-cutting for the town’s new community garden and to help in the development of a food co-op. Her efforts have made a difference in the health and sustainability of her community and for this she is to be commended.
Empowering women and girls around the world to shine through economic and education opportunities is Jennifer’s focus! Jennifer went to Kenya in 2013 and over the years worked in various community projects. The after school girls meetings on topics such as leadership, boundaries and self worth, later bringing a community health worker along to discuss menstrual health, were growing. The adult women’s groups on income generating skills were also growing! Jennifer filed the project as a 501c3 and appointed a Board of Directors to support the work.
All of these years later, The Angaza Project has reached hundreds of women and girls, offered scholarships to High School (it is not free in Kenya and so many don’t get to go), created a path to higher education in universities partnering in Nairobi and connected to local master crafters for the women to train on skills that enable them to earn an income with dignity. Jennifer returns to Kenya several times a year to continue this work with the team and partners and even replicated the women’s empowerment in Mexico.
It has been said that the giving of one’s time to others is the best gift one can give. As a volunteer nothing is more rewarding to Cayla than to hear “thank you for being here.” Cayla began volunteering at a young age and has meet so many different people from different parts of the country. One thing she has learned is that everyone has a different story and you will never the same story twice. Volunteering has helped Cayla cherish her ability to influence and impact others in a positive way.
Through her organization “The Gold Ribbon Project,” Cayla has dedicated time to advocating for pediatric cancer. She has hosted fundraisers, collected toys for toy drives and prepared meals for families. More recently, Cayla has had the opportunity to attend CureFest in Washington, D.C., and Climb the Hill, where she personally met with senators and representatives to encourage them to provide more funding for pediatric cancer research. As a freshman at The University of Scranton majoring in Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology on a pre-med track, Cayla is determined to advocate for her future patients. As the recipient of “The President’s Lifetime Achievement Award,” Cayla’s hope is to make a difference one gold ribbon at a time.
In 2018 Ramis relocated from New York to Austin. New to recovery in a new city, with no connections, he applied for volunteer support services with a nonprofit organization, Communities for Recovery, which supports long-term recovery from substance use and co-occurring conditions. Ramis says that volunteering super-charged his existing skills while helping him build new ones such as accountability, peer support, advocating, mentoring and leadership. Volunteering didn’t change only his life but the lives of his whole family.
Through volunteering Ramis has built a strong recovery and social network. He is a co-founder of the Spanish-speaking peer support group Groupo Latino de Recuperation, which is focused on helping underserved demographics. Ramis volunteers with Communities for Recovery partnering agencies by leading support groups, mentoring peers and advocating for all who are seeking recovery. Since 2018, Ramis has volunteered over 3,900 hours.
Adds Ramis, “By helping others, I felt needed in the community. Not only did it boost my self-esteem, but other people also benefited too. Volunteering is a great opportunity to improve yourself, others and the whole community”
Alessaundra started Sharon’s Closet 559 as a way to continue and honor the way her parents had raised her, to give with a smile. For many years Alessaundra’s parents have been a huge resource for help, love and support to so many in their community and she wanted to be the same.
Giving out free clothes and shoes to the many in need in Fresno has been such a blessing to her. To see the community smile, laugh and sometimes cry tears of joy in these hard times is so encouraging. As Alessaundra and her team travels through so many different areas of Fresno, they’ve met and served over 1,000 people since their start in September 2020. They hope to continue to be a point of light in their community for many years to come.
Operation: Military Matters was started in November 2015, as part of a school project by nine-year-old and fourth grader Graci Tubbs (now 15 and in 9th grade). After hearing and seeing veterans speak at a school Veterans Day assembly, Graci felt the need to support the U.S. military and let the men and women sacrificing their lives know that people back home cared about them. What started out as a school project collecting supplies from the community and sending care packages from home to the military overseas grew into a nonprofit.
Today, Graci speaks to civic organizations and the military to let them know about OMM. Her efforts help raise support and donations to continue sending care packages to the military. More than 5,500 care packages have been sent to military members around the world and Graci has raised more than $130,000. Graci receives letters from the military telling her how much the care packages are appreciated. Here’s an example: “With COVID, being away from home and our workload we have all been a little down and unmotivated. We just got the packages about an hour ago and everyone’s morale has completely changed! Smiles and laughter all around!”
The community of Sunland-Tujunga and Shadow Hills needed a newspaper to inform its citizens of what was happening and act as a platform to help in local elections and provide information on local events and organizations that were pulling the community together. Dr. DeMulle’ brought together a team of volunteers to create and operate The Foothills Paper for over 16 years. Because of the high fire danger in this rural community, he became involved with the local fire stations and provided on-site journalism of what they were doing, illuminating the individuals fighting the fires.
Eleanor’s story of community service started in September 2011 after reading in the newspaper that 19,000 healthy homeless pets were being killed each year in her border city. After founding Pennies FUR Pets, Eleanor asked for donations at local coffee shops and events to help homeless pets in her community. Everything led up to Make A Difference Day 2011, where volunteers of all ages came — from high school and college students to her third-grade classmates — and Pennies FUR Pets was recognized as a top ten National Make A Difference Day project that year.
Eleanor is now one of seven youth serving on the Points of Light National Youth Council. She helped donate $57,300 back to homeless pets, used a grant from Disney to speak to over 2,500 elementary school students on how to take care of their pets, and founded Kans for Kids to benefit food insecure children in her community, which helped donate over $60,000 worth of food and establish a sustainable food pantry at a poverty-stricken elementary school.
Tanveer is an MBA with a steady and upward career path. With a wide network of professionals, he aims to create a much bigger network and a better world. With his good interpersonal and networking skills, he is very effective in communicating with different stakeholders, understanding their needs and potential and helping to make the right connections, thereby creating a win-win situation.
Tanveer founded and launched Kolkata Heroes, not merely a concept but a platform to celebrate grit, determination and perseverance for an inclusive society. Kolkata brims with many heroes, mostly the unsung ones. Kolkata Heroes has successfully executed Heroes Awards, Run for a Cause, networking events, volunteer training and placements. During the COVID 19 pandemic, Kolkata Heroes launched its newest initiatives, such as Volunteer Hero Awards & Community Connect. And under Community Connect, relief has been arranged for almost 13,000 families and has been a catalyst to connect groups & communities.
Overhearing a conversation about an incident involving an abused child, 13-year-old twins Maya and Arjun were curious to learn about child abuse, CPS, foster care and underprivileged children. That led them to get their friends (Lakshanya & Ved Solipuram, Kavindu & Imaaya Weerasinghe, Ronit Maganti, Aarini Mehta, Arisha & Eshaal Merchant, Advaith Govind and Sriram Susarla) involved and start a club called mission BE A Resource (BEAR).
Since September 2020, despite the COVID pandemic, they have volunteered at multiple charity events, food banks and Christmas toy drives. They have donated books, shoes, supplies and Christmas gifts to CPS children; helped sort books, made cards, kids meals and care packages for cancer patients; and held a school supply drive where they raised $1,000 worth of supplies. They recently received the PVSA for their commitment to service. Their mission is to support children in need through donations and volunteering and they are eager for summer break to start so they can continue to volunteer!
Maya has a brother who was diagnosed with autism eight years ago. Maya wanted to make a difference for her brother and others like him. At age 12 she established the powerful Siblings and Friends Network to encourage other siblings of special needs individuals and their friends to come together and advocate for the creation of a special needs-inclusive country.
Maya leads a team of 200 youth volunteers who organize events regularly. She conceptualized and executed the first Autism Fun Day and Autism Christmas Party in her country along with an annual summer camp. She organizes Autism Outreach Booths throughout the country, especially in rural areas where she educates the general population on special needs. All the events are free and open to anyone with autism. Under her leadership, this group not only actively campaigns for the creation of opportunities for those with special needs but actually conceptualizes, organizes and executes these activities themselves, thereby setting an example for government and other organizations to follow. Maya has influenced an entire generation of youths to become special-needs advocates and changed mentalities in a country where special needs individuals are deeply marginalized.
Ethan Ye, a junior at Irvington High School in Fremont, CA, was thoroughly inspired after hearing his mother’s detrimental experience of growing up in Vietnam facing period poverty while prioritizing her family over her menstrual health. Seeing his community suffer from a similar fate, he gathered a coalition of students utterly passionate about the cause and established Students Against Period Poverty, a fully student-run organization that has made a monumental difference in their communities’ menstrual health.
So far, Ethan’s strenuous efforts have led to a collection of 22k+ menstrual products, fundraised $8k+, established daily grab-n-go menstrual item pickups at local schools, created a menstrual health blog, started a volunteer program with 160+ volunteers that donated 1.2k+ menstrual care packages and letters in just ONE year to local shelters, led menstrual health lessons in local schools to 300+ students and organized a menstrual health-related summer leadership summit to inspire attendees to advocate for menstrual health equity while easing period stigma in his community. In total, his nonprofit has worked almost 2,000 hours on their efforts to combat period poverty alone and he doesn’t plan to stop anytime soon.
STEM is a field that is traditionally dominated by men. But Sriya Tallapragada, an ambitious middle schooler from New Providence Middle School, is out to change that. She created GirlsWhoSTEAM a year ago as an effort to share her love of the field with others.
When COVID 19 started and her middle school shut down, Sriya decided that now more than ever she would need to create an online community for women in STEM. She launched GirlWhoSTEAM after coding the website and crossing her fingers. Over the past year, the impact she has made is momentous.
Their programs and online workshops have had more than 2,000 participants globally and have impacted an estimated 9,000 girls. They have hosted more than 40 events and speakers. Sriya leads a team of 100+ volunteers who work to run these initiatives.
Her favorite event has been GirlsWithGoals2021, an online conference that brought more than 500 girls worldwide to listen to empowering speakers and launch a startup over the weekend.
She hopes to start expanding into social-distant in-person events and workshops.
Neha Misra is an inspirational Climate Justice Advocate, poet, and contemporary folk artist with a deep belief in the power of human imagination to create new realities. A first generation immigrant from India, Neha’s lifelong civic leadership spans global, national and local points of light. A Presidential Leadership Scholar, Neha co-founded the award-winning social enterprise Solar Sister, which combines green power with women power to bring light, hope and opportunity to millions across sub-Saharan Africa.
Neha is the inaugural Global Ambassador for Washington-based nonprofit Remote Energy, which is making the solar installation field more inclusive, and a Solar Suitcase Ambassador for California based We Care Solar which serves midwives and frontline maternal health workers across the developing world. In her adopted home in Maryland, Neha serves on the board of the local arts organization, Silver Spring Town Center Inc., which has been supporting diverse intergenerational communities through the extreme isolation of the pandemic. In 2020, Neha launched a multi-disciplinary Earth stewardship-centered creative studio which is using the power of poetry and art to inspire people everywhere to re-claim and share their light.
Linda was a Star Trek fan as a teenager. In 1984 she started a chapter of Starfleet, the international Star Trek Fan Association. As the years have gone by they have become a philanthropic organization, raising funds & supporting 10 local charities at Christmas, including the Salvation Army Food Pantry, Free Clinic of Central Virginia and two local Humane Society shelters.
They annually send a local middle school student to NASA’s Space Camp in Huntsville, AL for a week long stay. Currently they’ve sent 11 students to Space Camp. Linda was fortunate to have found 63 other people who are Star Trek fans who share her enthusiasm for being a helping force in the community. She is also a breast cancer survivor and speaks at seminars about breast cancer. She has one published book & a second that will be out this summer. Linda freelances and had a story published in Chicken Soup for the Soul, has hosted a local TV talk show for 6 years and continues the very important work of the club, Heimdal Science Fiction, a local non-profit within the community.
Henry and his team worked for several weeks to make the Tech for Kids Camp as memorable as possible. He focused on making his Eagle Project having to do with STEM-related activities. Henry’s passion is robots and the computers really shined. He wants to share his knowledge with as many youths as possible. His Tech for Kids program was successful and he plans to offer this camp for many years to come.
Hannah has been working our project since September 2020. She created a Pen Pal Project to help Girl Scouts keep communicating. She knew that with everyone staying home and not able to stay time together as a troop, that she needed to do something. She started writing letters to a couple of her Girl Scout sisters, and from that, her Pen Pal Project soon had 180 Girl Scouts writing to each other.
Hannah also wanted to help with issues like mental health and education. She knew that many families were staying home and weren’t able to leave their homes. So she wanted to start a project that would help with isolation and depression. She knew that if Girl Scouts were writing that this would also help with literacy. She is 100% devoted to her project and all that it has been doing to help Girl Scouts from across the nation and even in Japan.
Don first became a Minnesota Master Naturalist volunteer in 2015. He has completed all three biomes of the Minnesota Master Naturalist program (North Woods-Great Lakes, Big Woods-Big Rivers and Prairies & Potholes.) He is actively engaged in recording species in iNaturalist.org.
Don is an active contributor to the Minnesota Bee Atlas, contributing more than 1,600 observations to the project. He is always at the ready to volunteer where he is needed, doing Christmas bird counts, pulling invasive species, “maple syruping” at St. John’s Outdoor University and lending a hand at Camp Ripley during National Public Lands Day. He has become a great outdoor photographer, putting his talent to use at Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge. Following his Bee Atlas experience he has created educational materials sharing his knowledge of native bees in Minnesota with others.
Belinda & Celina, two nurses, moms and best friends, co-founded a charity non-profit named Celebrate Birthdays, an organization that makes sure every foster child and all children in need have the opportunity to celebrate their birthdays and receive a present!
Prior to the pandemic, they were throwing birthday parties in multiple foster homes and organizations celebrating the youth, but when the pandemic began they were no longer allowed on campuses and quickly had to pivot, creating a mobile “Birthday in a Box,” a 10 x 10 box filled with 16 items, a birthday gift for the child and a book to promote literacy. Belinda & Celina not only have worked on the front lines of COVID-19, but have given back through the gift of birthdays to make sure every child gets to celebrate theirs!
India J. Mayo, CPA, is board treasurer of The Evoluer House (TEH), a non-profit organization providing education to impoverished teen girls of color in Philadelphia. As a Black woman who forged her way into one of the world’s top accounting firms, India knows first hand the importance of educating young girls and dedicates herself to getting them to where she is today.
India began educating women on finance at NYU as president of Smart Woman Securities. She found multi-cultural, successful women to exemplify female success in a male dominated field and taught seminars to her peers. As president, India helped over 50 college women successfully complete seminars and gain tools to invest in their future.
After graduating, India began work at PwC while continuing to serve her community. She serves as a mentor for underrepresented students of color, creating opportunities for them to follow her path. As board treasurer at TEH, she uses her background to ensure every dollar donated is making an impact and that the organization can grow. She transformed their accounting process, enabling TEH to double their revenue. Annually, she teaches financial literacy, giving girls the financial tools to break the cycle of poverty in their communities.
Since she was a kid, Vinaya Gunasekar has worked to bring science and technology educational resources to other kids like her. She got started with STEAM by creating a science wing at her elementary school through her elementary class’ initiative, Project R.O.O.T. Now at age 13, Vinaya is an environmental activist, educator and STEAM changemaker who is passionate about recycling and using technology to benefit our earth in innovative ways.
She is a member of all-girls FIRST Robotics Team Infinity & Beyond and is an ambassador of The STEAM Connection. Vinaya is currently working on making STEAM accessible to hospitalized children and is co-hosting the Hands-On Techie Talks podcast with Danielle Boyer to introduce kids to STEAM education during the pandemic, as well as working on her robot, named Auto Oscar, to clean recyclables off of school campuses.
Dwantrina Russell is the Founder of Gustavia Pearls Women’s Outreach. She is passionate about helping others and has invested her time into organizing many programs that benefit the community. These include delivering meals to seniors & veterans, provide free clothes, home goods and appliances to single mothers and families who are faced with financial challenges, and monthly community food distributions. Dwantrina has also developed programs to bring awareness to Mental Health, Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) Education.
Dwantrina enjoys volunteering because it gives her a chance to build strong relationships and get to know the people in the community where she serves. Her goal is to address the needs of the community and bring solutions that will make a lasting change.
Tori Hope is one of the nation’s leading foster care advocates. As a former foster youth herself, she has done much to lift up youth in foster care and vulnerable families. Tori is the founder of Bring Beloved, a nonprofit that grants foster youth the opportunity to share their stories of trial to triumph. Tori is also the founder of the Fostering the Good Scholarship, a scholarship rewarded to foster youth or students in extreme poverty. She is the co-director of the the Brave Leadership Academy which aims to give women who have been human trafficked leadership opportunities in their community.
Tori is a biological, foster and adoptive mom. Tori and her husband Jacob took in a young man who had previously been sleeping in public restrooms. They generously offered him a home, relentless support and then adopted him in February of 2021 promising him a family forever. Tori values opening her home to others and serves her community by keeping an open door. She believes the best way to show people love is to be an example, not just use words. Tori has been named Mrs. Minnesota Universe and will be competing for Mrs. Universe 2022 in July. She is writing a memoir with B&H Lifeway publishing to educate current foster parents.
Katie Curland serves her community by giving a voice to children and women as an advocate for those who have experienced abuse and domestic violence. She drives to strengthen community response to situations of child maltreatment directed towards abuse prevention. Her efforts have supported over 100 families in Utah.
Katie acts as an ambassador for patients and families fighting cancer. As a survivor herself, she encourages family involvement to make and keep happy memories. Katie creates experiences for patients to live life while they are fighting by coordinating resources. Katie serves in relief services with the American Red Cross and responds by coordinating meals for families who have been evacuated from their homes due to fires and other disasters.
Growing up, India’s family made sure that they understood the importance of caring for one another and developing relationships. India saw their mother buy food for the homeless and uncles donating their time and money, and India wanted to make sure that they continued to do that when they left home. It started when India began working at their school’s civic engagement office, and from there they learned more about giving back and doing for others outside of my community. Being a kind of coordinator instead of just a volunteer gave India insight that they never had before. India has learned a lot in their short time on this earth, and they can’t wait to learn and do more for not only their community, but for communities everywhere.
While working for a national animal nonprofit in 2007, Dianne McGill received a call from a woman whose friend was dying and had no one to care for her two cats. Her friend’s hospice had no way to provide pet care and she was trying to find help for her friend. Her friend was heartbroken at the prospect of losing the loving companionship of her two cats and even more upset about what would happen to them after she died.
Dianne started searching for help but could not find any local or national program designed to help seriously ill patients with their pet care or rehoming needs. It was at that moment she knew it was time to solve the problem by starting a national program to help hospices provide care for the pets of seriously ill patients who had nowhere else to turn for assistance. McGill founded the national Pet Peace of Mind program in 2009 to ensure every seriously ill patient has access to the pet care assistance they need before and after they die so they can pass knowing their pets will continue to be loved and cared for in new homes. Today Pet Peace of Mind has chapters in 42 states and utilizes thousands of local pet care volunteers to serve more than 3,500 seriously ill patients and their pets each year.
Michaela always had a deep-down need to serve her community. It started at age 3 as a desire to give money to homeless people so they knew they were not forgotten and that they are very loved. At age 5 she asked people who attended her birthday party to bring items she could use to create Christmas Eve boxes for kids living in shelters. In 4th grade she founded Bundles of Love Club. She realized just giving money to the homeless was not enough and she could do more. Now there are 16 chapters delivering bundles of survival supplies.
She decided to begin a new phase of her work. She calls it 144,000 Acts of Kindness. It’s her opinion that if she can engage that number of people all doing the same act of kindness, a paradigm shift will occur in the world’s consciousness. She created packets of golden nuggets with a card that is either passed on to someone or left to be found. People who perform acts of kindness feel good about themselves. People who receive feel good. That energy is passed on and on and on until a wave of positivity shifts the vibration of the world!
Miran has always valued education and after realizing the need to improve schooling not only in his community but also internationally, he decided to create Strive2Thrive Edu. This organization is dedicated to improving educational systems and infrastructure in underserved areas around the world. He has grown the organization’s impact over 4,500 people in need in over 35 developing countries, by leading a team of over 450 volunteers and partnering with over 40 organizations across the world, and contributing over $136,000 in value of supplies and services.
Through his organization, he has focused on various programs including enhancing the capacity of underfunded educational institutions through teacher training programs, increased support for underrepresented groups in the 21st-century economy and workforce through technical training workshops. Moreover, he works to support at-risk students through academic tutoring programs. He has also worked with underfunded schools to build libraries and computer labs to improve educational infrastructure in underserved communities. Lastly, through his various initiatives, he has aligned his organization with over eight United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
Mrs. Melody Jie Chen is a passionate educator with rich teaching experience. After immigrating to the U.S., she worked full-time at Northwestern University library and continued her career devoting all her spare time and energy to the overseas Chinese education. She is a Xilin Chinese school’s founding teacher and also the co-founder of Chinese schools in Chicago area.
In her 3o years of teaching practice in Chicago, Melody has studied western educational theories and integrated Chinese traditional values, using various teaching methods to stimulate students’ interest in learning and to cultivate their learning ability, bilingual competency, social skills and worldview vision.
She has taught students at different stages with impressive results and many of them won awards in Chinese wring and speech nationally and regionally. Mrs. Chen has received many awards, such as “Overseas Excellent Chinese Teacher” and “Outstanding Teacher in Overseas Chinese Education” by different Chinese associations including Overseas Chinese Affairs Office of the State Council of China, Chinese School Association in the U.S., Xilin Association in Chicago, and others.
Bill is the Disaster Response Coordinator at First Presbyterian Church of Kingwood which is a part of the Houston Responds, Lake Houston Coalition. After volunteering as an individual to assist people whose homes had been flooded by hurricane Harvey, Bill became aware of the work that Houston Responds was doing to bring together nonprofits and faith organizations. He saw the value in leveraging resources in his area so that people could be assisted more effectively with a reduced duplication of efforts.
Bill got together with his pastors and key members who had been involved after hurricane Harvey and identified the best ways First Pres could respond to a disaster. A half dozen focus areas were identified and teams were established for such things as laundry, meals, pre-event assistance, post-event disaster assistance, volunteer coordination and communication. He then recruited team leaders and co-leaders. This was followed by a churchwide survey to recruit members for these teams allowing people to serve where they felt called. Bill remains ready to serve but is praying we will escape hurricanes this fall.
Micaella has been donating her time and resources since she was a young girl. She was born after surviving an attempt on her life while in utero. She came into this world severely premature and then placed in foster care. Adopted at age 5, she began her fight to make sure all who came into her path knew that they were important and loved.
Currently Micaella assists others in feeding the homeless, bringing them blankets and giving them rides to shelters in the winter. She is an avid spokesperson for the bettering of foster care systems around the nation and stands fervently to protect life starting in the womb. She has marched for Right to Life, several Christian walks and is a friend to the LGBTQ community. She believes that no matter what someone has done or been through they have the infinite right to be loved. No man is greater than the other. Micaella continues to be a beacon of hope and light in her community and around the nation.
Isabelle (age 17) and Katherine (age 15) learned almost 10 years ago that girls in developing countries often did not get to go to school because they were transporting clean water all day. They also learned that a child dies every 15 seconds from unclean water. These facts caused them to start a project making origami Christmas ornaments and exchanging them for donations to raise money for water wells.
In 10 years, these two girls have raised over $2,500,000 and have helped fund over 300 water projects in 20 countries: Ethiopia, El Salvador, Ghana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, India, Kenya, Liberia, Mexico, Nepal, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Peru, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and a Navajo Indian Reservation in Smith Lake, New Mexico. Isabelle and Katherine want nothing more than to educate the world about the clean water crisis and to make people realize that you don’t have to be a billionaire or a celebrity to make a permanent change in the life of someone who is thirsty.
Godfrey Molen is the founder and executive director of Friendly Loving Opportunities (FLO), a nonprofit dedicated to providing a variety of services to the homeless and low-income communities of Baltimore. FLO serves them with respect for their dignity. He was inspired by his mother, Ms. Florence Egbire-Molen’s insistent call to action to help others by providing aid to the community. She stressed the joys of giving and exemplified that example by providing basic care packets to homeless individuals each week.
In honor of her life, he began a regular program of distributing goods – snacks, toiletries, water — to inner-city homeless individuals.
FLO is committed to instilling hope by providing resources and services that restore confidence in individuals and families experiencing hardships and/or homelessness. Their work directly enhances individual and community potential and increases stability, improving the quality of life for underserved populations by providing care and access to services and items that they need.
Saran Nimmagadda is a high school junior in Michigan. She has always done service work with her family since she was young. Her first experience of service was when her family would go to a meal packing center and would pack hot meals for senior citizens on Christmas every year. She was often involved with service in school as well and liked to stay behind to help teachers clean up their classrooms or help the cafeteria staff run the after school cafe. One of her favorite parts of the school year was when her school would run a week of service and would send students out to various charities in Detroit to help others.
She, her mother and her brother all participate in food packing and delivery every weekend. She is always looking for different organizations where she can help out and even recently started her own organization to provide aid for her community. Saran plans on starting it as a club in school. Service has always been a part of her life and is something she always enjoys doing and plans on doing for the rest of her life.
Randy volunteers as a Medicare counselor through the State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) in New Jersey. SHIP provides counselors with extensive training, periodic updates and many other resources. These include presentations providing an overview of Medicare which Randy uses to educate clients. These presentations are also an opportunity to promote SHIP and make SHIP’s assistance available to a wider audience.
In addition, he often meets with clients one on one for a variety of reasons. Open enrollment and an annual review of each person’s plan choices is recommended and makes the end of the year a busy time for counseling. He also meets with people new to Medicare to help them understand the program and complete their initial enrollment. Much of the work involves helping people who qualify based on income and assets for one of several assistance programs. This assistance includes help with completing applications, gathering documents and interpreting instructions. Many clients are unaware of the assistance available to them or find the processes for applying confusing. All of this assistance helps people on limited fixed incomes to save on their health care costs and achieve peace of mind.
Mark and Paula are some of Northwest Assistance Ministries most faithful volunteers. When the pandemic hit, they knew where they needed to be. They have volunteered at the food pantry every day since the pandemic began, working tirelessly to make sure neighbors have food to sustain their families. Clients drive up and bags of groceries are loaded into their car. Preparing those bags and loading them into cars are just two of the roles they have filled. They also pick up donations, sort food, stock shelves and do it all with a cheerful, humble spirit.
“It was not something we thought a lot about,” they say of their decision to continue volunteering during the pandemic. “It was the right thing to do; we knew we were needed.” Volunteering has become a family affair for Mark and Paula. Three of their grandchildren also volunteer at the pantry. The love they have for one another is evident in everything they do.
Each day, at least one child dies from a home fire & almost 300 children injured from fires or burns. Dayna Hilton, a retired volunteer firefighter, has delivered innovative educational fire safety training to millions of children & their families since 2003. Volunteering 3,000 hours annually, Dayna & her canine companions, the Fire Safety Dogs, travel over 25,000 miles a year across the U.S. sharing their fire safety program. In addition, the team have Skyped their program with children from 34 countries & “traveled” almost 1M virtual miles
Whether sharing fire safety in a barn, large venue or Skyping in the middle of the night with children from other time zones, Dayna works tirelessly to help save the lives of children. One life saved was Angelica, 5, who shared, “Firefighter Dayna~ I was in bed under the ‘cobers’ and the smoke came. I crawled out of bed & crawled low, just like Sparkles [the FSD] showed me.” Immediately after getting her family outside, the home became totally engulfed in flames. Thanks to Angelica’s quick thinking, she is now a teenager. With the “power of the paw,” Dayna hopes to help keep more children like Angelica fire safe.
Service has been a part of Art’s life for decades. He currently serves on the Executive Board of YMCA International Refugee Services where he has volunteered for five years. Art served on Houston/The Woodlands Executive Interfaith board for six years, providing humanitarian assistance to thousands. He serves as a volunteer with The Church of Jesus Christ, organizing service and work projects for flood and hurricane survivors throughout the Texas Gulf Coast. Together they have assisted some 8,000 residents, mucking out flooded homes and rebuilding properties.
Currently, he has taken the lead in establishing a migrant respite center in Houston to help relieve the suffering of thousands of migrants. They are providing them a place to eat, clean up and get on their way. It’s a massive humanitarian community effort involving several Houston-based NGO’s. On a national level, he served as the vice president of The National Association of Hispanic Journalists Organization for several years and was president of the Houston Association of Hispanic Journalists. Together they rallied the support of countless businesses in providing more than a half million dollars worth of scholarship funds to struggling students. It’s a blessing to serve!
Meera is the co-founder of a nonprofit called Bykids4kids. The nonprofit’s mission is to serve all children and to inspire change in the world. Meera has always had a passion to help other kids; she really believes that it doesn’t matter your age, all people can help each other. Through the organization Meera has helped start a program called Kindles4Covid. Despite the pandemic she really wanted to do something to help. This program is done virtually via Zoom and helps kids build friendships, while increasing the amount they read.
Meera also started a project to help collect shoes and donate them to an orphanage in India called Little Stars. She personally went to India and was able to help many kids just like her. Meera always strives for to be the best and is passionate about what she does. Meera has recently started a project working to start a 5K, with proceeds going to help with the COVID crisis in India. During the beginning of the pandemic Meera made homemade masks and hand sanitizers and distributed these to her local community.
60% of obese children are at risk for heart disease. Avni decided to curb childhood obesity by making exercise fun through dance. In 2017, she founded a 501c3 nonprofit organization called Change Will Happen. Her mission was to make the world healthier one dance step at a time. She partnered with the American Heart Association to form the first ever high school club called Stuy STEM Goes Red. Then she made a free dance club to get the kids in her community moving. Her club performed at NYC’s annual dance parade in 2019. During the pandemic, Avni taught dance to over 200 kids virtually. She organized lectures from physicians and mental health professionals. Each discussion was attended by hundreds of students and their teachers. Avni has led medical camps in her community and medical missions to countries like Haiti and the Philippines. To finance her endeavors, Avni judged middle school debates, wrote prize winning essays and authored and published two books as fundraisers. This Scholastic gold and silver key recipient sewed over 4,000 PPE items in 2020. Since 2016 her organization has collected, sorted and redistributed over 26,000 batteries, saving them from landfills.
In summer 2020, Anirudh approached Ridgefield Music Parents with an intriguing idea. He had been thinking about how the complications of remote learning during the pandemic had been challenging for maintaining engagement and connection. He especially noticed, and personally experienced, the challenges when music programs and performance ensembles could no longer meet in-person. Music is a collaborative experience and eliminating the ability to meet in-person had been disheartening for students who thrive in school music programs.
Anirudh brought together a small group of key organizing students and they established the structure for the program. In collaboration with Ridgefield music teachers, Anirudh coordinated the growth of the program into schools where high school and upper-level middle school music students provide remote mentoring twice per month to early middle-school and elementary students. Participation in the program is voluntary but it quickly expanded to over 200 students! In a time where students feel so disconnected, it’s been extremely powerful to connect younger students to high school musicians who can serve as practice coaches in these students’ music education.
Theresa is a survivor of human trafficking and started The SOAP Project to educate people that it DOES happen in the United States, even in the suburbs. She wanted to help those still caught in the horrors of being sold to strangers. It takes a lot to convince people that there is no such thing as teen prostitution and that there are millions of runaways who are being victimized. Since the start of her nonprofit, she has had over 100,000 volunteers come to SOAP outreaches and given over 2 million bars of soap labeled with the national human trafficking hotline number to thousands of hotels and motels all across the U.S. They have attended 10 Super Bowls, 8 Detroit Auto Shows, NASCAR races, the Kentucky Derby and many more events where trafficking is rampant. Many young girls have been rescued by her courage and conviction. Due to her efforts, a law was named after her in Michigan where she was trafficked as a teenager. The ‘Theresa Flores Law’ removed the statute of limitations for minors who are trafficked so that they can persecute their trafficker whenever they are ready, no matter how many years have passed.
Joseph Mahtab founded social media-based community platform “People’s Voice of Amtali – PVA” in 2017. PVA embarked on journey to highlight the potential of sub-district Amtali, Bangladesh to take effective initiatives to address local social issues and improve the quality of service by building a bridge between the general public through government, public representatives and policy makers via virtualization. The a2i division of the honbl. Prime Minister’s office has innovation talks about the success of this group, which currently has members in 101 countries around the world, with brand ambassadors in 6 countries.
Following the success of the group, this model is being followed in Kenya and the initial work to follow this model has started in Andhar Pradesh in India. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, Joseph and his team have warned people to wear masks, wash their hands regularly and maintain social distance. During this time, approximately 200,000 masks, 3,500 hand sanitizers, 32,000 soaps and 1,000 baby foods were distributed with the financial help and material support of various individuals and social organizations.
KaCey co-founded Helping Empower Youth (HEY!) with Marc “KD” Boyd in 2011. As two AmeriCorps alums they wanted to find a way to give back to children on what was once the poorest street in Georgia. As the organization grew, KaCey would continue to help provide wraparound services to youth and communities that are underserved, mainly communities of color. While most organizations were pulling back services at the height of the pandemic, KaCey and HEY! ramped up services. They engaged and worked with black male teens on Atlanta’s Westside who were selling water at intersections to make money in order to care for themselves and many times their families. After assessing the needs, KaCey and the dedicated team worked to create new programming, recruited advocates, helped to find jobs and connected youth to entrepreneurship training. KaCey is fully committed to changing the narrative for these young black teens who would have otherwise been lauded as creative entrepreneurs if not for the color of their skin and zip code. As a result, KaCey has been instrumental in affecting change in the lives of youth who now understand they have opportunity to chart their own course.
Volunteering has offered a piece of sanity for Ashna over the past year. People all over the world have been confined to their homes, with limits placed on what they wished and were able to do. But through various programs, volunteering has given a means of connection with people within the community and across the world. For example Ashna spent 90+ hours speaking and tutoring students in Ukraine about English. Not only were the students in Ukraine delighted with the opportunity of honing their skills, Ashna was able to foster connections with the students — seeing some regulars over the months at each session and just having some excellent discussions. It was incredible to see that no matter how far apart people are, they all have similar experiences. It is a great reminder that we are all going though this time together and that we are not alone.
Volunteering, serving others and having a servant’s heart has always been a large part of Jan’s life. Touching lives through the act of seeking to serve them in some way is touching hearts that are hurting and may possibly lead to changing someone’s life. Working in different places that do this changes Jan also.
Wichita Littlest Heroes is one of those organizations that reaches out to the families who have children with serious, life-threatening illnesses. The organization allows Jan to be part of the amazing ministries they give to the kids, the moms, the dads and the entire families, helping ease in some way the struggles they face every day. Jan says it’s a privilege and honor to be a part of serving others so that they can have hope, have a little bit of happiness and know others do care in making life better in their struggles.
Ronit Notkin, LMSW is the program director for the JASA Bronx Friendship House, a psychosocial club funded by the NYC Department of Health & Mental Hygiene. It helps older adults living with a mental health condition or co-occurring disorder improve & maintain successful community living. It allows members to increase their social connections, support and understanding of available community resources and opportunities.
Ronit is passionate about helping members find new and creative ways to learn and grow alongside one another and as individuals. She appreciates the opportunity to help expand community engagement and connection which further improves quality of life. She gets energized and inspired by her team daily. It is an honor to be a part of their recovery work and to witness how they develop friendships, take on new challenges, increase self esteem, enhance living skills and take on leadership roles within the community. Ronit wishes to share this honor with her entire team at JASA, the go-to non-profit for older New Yorkers, serving 40,000 seniors annually.
Dr. Pristika Ram, a 25-year-old from Tamil Nadu State, India, studied homeopathic medicine and received her certificate of Bachelor of Homeopathy Medicine and Surgery (BHMS) from Dr. MGR Medical University Tamil Nadu State.
She periodically visits a elder care center to give medical checkups and treatment on an honorary basis. In 2018, the Pudukkottai District was badly affected by the Kaja Cyclone. Pristika collected food items from the students of her college that helped 300 families.
Many people are suffering during the lockdown due to COVID-19 and Pristika raised money for donations and distributed food and hygienic kits that benefitted 500 people in her district. She associates with the local hospital to give homeopathic medical treatments for people who are asymptomatic or who have mild symptoms of COVID-19. She also participates as a part-time volunteer for programs promoted by the government and NGOS in her district to benefit girls and women.
For years, Cameron Climer has donated time to his local church, at a hippotherapy barn and by remodeling homes for those in tough situations. During the pandemic, he celebrated the town’s teachers by organizing “Think-o’ de Mayo.” Students made yard signs with appreciative messages and put out canned goods for the community food bank. He collected food and took pictures of the signs, amassing 400 pounds of food and countless pictures for the district’s teachers.
That same year, Cam began creating a comic book about teenage stress in high school. He wanted to help parents and their teenagers communicate about new stressors for students. He successfully created, wrote, published and promoted his comic book, 21st Century Teenager. To help people beyond his local community, he made the graphic novel digital, publishing it on Amazon. Now accessible anywhere, the project’s proceeds go to a youth mental health nonprofit. Cam was even asked to present about its subject material at a district-wide event about stress in high school. This is where Cam’s service story stops, but the tale is open ended; he expects to write many more stories in years to come!
After being shaken the gruesome nature of the struggles that many homeless people in his hometown, San Jose, face every day, Ishan started going door to door, asking neighbors for donations of hygiene items. He was stunned by the positive impact one teenager could make in just under a month. When the tremendous potential of youth all over the world joining forces to make a positive impact struck him, he started an organization, Essentials For Homeless, to facilitate students in holding drives to collect and distribute toiletry items to the homeless. He contacted schools across the nation to join his cause and dozens more like-minded youth joined the movement to organize hygiene drives. He is now in charge of 33 chapters in 10 U.S. states and five countries. Through this work, his organization has collected over 11,000 toiletries for donation.
WE STAND is an initiative that promotes inclusivity in education through diversifying the curriculum’s narrative. Alyssa’s story begins with her family’s nightly gatherings, where she learned about African-American history. Learning more about history piqued her interest. She became aware of the inconsistency in the history curriculum. As a result of this understanding, she was eager to learn more and was looking forward to February. For Black History Month, students would study black history. However, the discussion was limited to slavery and the impact of Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks in the Civil Rights Movement. This aspect of history forced her to examine herself through the prism of the persecution she was subjected to, contradictory to the stories she had learned that showed black people in ways of strength.
She hopes to establish culturally relevant curricula through teaching youth through her initiative, and that as a result of her efforts, people of color will not have to go through what she did. She has recorded four public service announcements about Greenville’s black history, as well as collaborating with The Spot in Wilson, North Carolina to create an event for Juneteenth.
Vernelle has taught financial literacy classes since 2010 to those from 3-years-old to seniors. She finds it rewarding because it’s impactful to equip people with the tools that they need to help themselves rather than always donating money. To hear the class participants share how they will apply what they had learned to change their situations is satisfying and to receive a report on how the training impacted someone for their good is priceless. But the most warming appreciation of them all are the hugs.
The training is mostly delivered to public schools and nonprofits. Vernelle’s purpose is to help the participants manage their finances instead of their finances managing them. Delivering a gift is an analogy that she uses about her financial literacy training. The lessons that she teaches them are filling the box. Referencing how they spend their money today and where they want to spend their money tomorrow is like putting the lid on the box. Finally, her personal stories are like wrapping and tying the ribbon around the box.
The COVID-19 pandemic battered families, left parents out of work and shut children out of school. A student herself, Akshadha was shocked to realize her peers were losing normalcy and social connections due to remote learning, social distancing and other unprecedented changes. This disaster was terrorizing children worldwide, especially the underprivileged. She was determined to brighten their days. After much research, she discovered that one of the best ways to relieve stress is coloring.
She started by creating coloring books for children at her school. She drew each coloring page by hand, optimizing her unique illustrations for maximized stress relief. To increase positivity and compassion, she went one step further, writing inspiring poems and integrating them in her books to teach children valuable concepts like kindness, healthy habits, diversity and environmental-conscience. Her desire to touch more children’s hearts led her to launch the Color Me Happy organization nationwide. Currently, she has distributed her coloring books individually to over 35,000 children and 90 underprivileged schools. Akshadha’s coloring books have helped thousands of children battle pandemic stress while learning valuable life lessons.
Esther has spent more than a decade volunteering to serve active duty, veterans and their families. Coming from a long family line of military service, she has seen firsthand the sacrifices and the true cost of service. Her volunteer service has extended to leading volunteer teams and training new volunteer leaders. For the last four years she has also served as the Enterprise Military Support and Assistance Group (MSAG) Events Co-Chair for 13,000+ members.
In 2020 much changed but she continued – virtually. This included key initiatives such as the third annual Suicide Awareness and Prevention Month to help address the invisible wounds in recognition as National Suicide and Awareness Month. She has continued into 2021 wherein during Military Appreciation Month 2021, she led a team of volunteers in more than a dozen states to host live virtual sessions to welcome home military families receiving homes donated by Bank of America, hosted pledge drives to recruit volunteers to share their time and expertise as mentors to veterans, active duty military, spouses and partners, and participated in a second annual virtual relay across the country, wherein each teammate created a bib to show who they honored.
Seeing schools often neglect topics beyond academia, rarely providing room for social implications, Owen recognized shocking student indifference towards pressing societal issues. Striving to model change through community and project-based learning, Owen founded iEngage, an organization aiming to instill a drive for social responsibility from a young age. Through iEngage, he was able to target educational inequality for underserved children and further empower campers to take action on various issues in their community.
Specifically, iEngage’s Camp #AloneTogether served hundreds of campers where they created COVID awareness posters, prevention infographics and first-line responder thank you cards, and even fundraised iEngage’s Project Blossom, a project that delivers flowers to sensitive areas as a tangible expression of hope and comfort for mental health awareness. Amidst these polarized times, empowered by his belief that the arts has the power to transcend all differences and unite individuals, Owen also launched iEngage’s Arts in Mission program, collectively calling youth of all backgrounds to not only celebrate and represent their cultures, but also showcase their artistic talents through service, performance and education.
COVID affected high schooler Liam Fellows’ life on many levels. One bright spot was having his grandmother move in with him so she could be with family and receive their care. Liam felt fortunate to have her live with him especially when he saw so many seniors facing loneliness. In August, Liam’s grandmother passed away peacefully and he felt like he wanted to do something to honor her. After donating some of his grandmother’s belongings to the Florence Sylvester Senior Center in Laguna Hills, Liam noticed that the center had a “Meals on Wheels” program and that they were delivering 200 meals a week to vulnerable seniors. Liam brainstormed how he could bring some cheer into their homes and came up with the “Smile for Seniors Letter-Writing Project.”
Liam asked his Lion’sHeart service group and Laguna Hills High School Kindness-Club to write letters to the seniors to be paired with meals. Each group liked the idea and committed fully to writing enough letters for all 200 seniors to have colorfully illustrated letters to open each week. Since September, Liam has collected and dropped off more than 6,000 letters of hope with the help of his team.
Aryana is a 17-year-old from Houston, Texas. Her service began when she attended a Girls Empowerment Network event and it changed her life: she was inspired to ignite the spark in other girls, too. She became a volunteer intern during the following summer, supporting Girls Empowerment Network to grow in Houston.
This motivated her to begin her own club at school to discuss taboo topics affecting young women, such as mental health, period stigmas and bodily autonomy. Now, Aryana works with Girls Empowerment Network and the Excellence and Advancement Foundation to inspire more young women to engage in advocacy and civic engagement.
Yuri made a promise to his mother on her death bed that he would keep her legacy of giving alive. Before, during and after the pandemic Yuri will be on the front line helping those in need. His nonprofit, AFutureSuperHero And Friends, has delivered groceries to the elderly, given out pizza to essential workers, fed the houseless men, women and children, given out masks to the houseless community, fed houseless veterans, given away gift cards to essential workers, FaceTimed kids while dressed as superheroes, given away 300 toys to children in hospitals who couldn’t receive visits during the crisis, visited 165 homes giving away Easter baskets to kids, gave out STEAM bags to kids, held a back to school backpack drive thru giveaway and art kit giveaway, drove up and down the California coast at Christmas delivering baby Yodas to special needs children and participated in Pay It Forward Day delivering toys to children.
These are just some of the things Yuri and the team has done. Yuri says he’s found his purpose in life and this brings him so much joy.
Lyman has been a volunteer driver for the N.H. Friends Program for two years. He is an active driver and his customers have been very receptive to his companionship. A 49-year Rotarian and 50-year board member of the N.H. Boy Scout Council, Lyman serves on the Conservation Committee, as vice-chair of the Old Home Day Committee and is a trustee of the Trust Funds in his community.
Larry Werner is a US Navy veteran who has been volunteering with the San Diego Sheriff’s Department since 2016. Larry serves the department in two capacities: as a law enforcement reserve deputy, he assists by helping with various patrols and special details within the County of San Diego. As a Search and Rescue (SAR) volunteer, he participates in search and rescue missions and assists during times of natural disasters, such as fires or earthquakes. As a SAR instructor, he helps teach other volunteers the skills required to become field-qualified search and rescue volunteers and to keep their skills current. The mission of these two organizations is important to Larry because when they are called out to assist, it’s because someone is in a situation where help is urgently needed, whether it’s looking for a lost family member or helping someone who has become a victim of a crime.
Tony’s dream was to study in the U.S. He survived the Kosovo War of 1998-99 as a refugee separated from his family. A hard worker and natural leader, he was awarded the first full-tuition scholarship ever given to a foreign student by Texas Lutheran University. He graduated from TLU summa cum laude with a dual honors degree in computer science and math. He then moved on to Harvard to earn his first masters degree as a JFK Fellow. Later Tony earned another masters and pursued his PhD in Canada.
Tony’s TLU scholarship was the stepping stone that enabled the realization of his dream. He wanted to share such blessing with others. Since 2006 he founded and led, on a volunteer basis, the Education for Peace Scholarship program, part of his nonprofit educational foundation, through which he enabled dozens of deserving young Kosovars to study on scholarships in the U.S. Committed to this initiative, Tony changed the lives of so many young dreamers and their families and helped shape the future of his home country, Kosovo. Tony’s scholarship recipients all made a name for themselves in their study fields and became Kosovo’s shiniest points of light in the U.S. and throughout the world!
Benjamin moved to Vallejo, CA in 2008 and immediately began learning about his new hometown, a little-known gem of the San Francisco Bay Area. Benjamin’s arrival was at a critical time. The city had recently filed bankruptcy and the burgeoning housing crisis combined with years of economic downturn after the Mare Island Naval Base closed in the 90’s. One day while driving through town and seeing even more people asking for food and help on the roadside, he felt the call to help to feed people. With the help of his church, Faith Food Fridays launched in June of 2011, handing out single grocery bags of canned and ziplocked bags of food to 40 families.
Over the years, the organization added FREE services like haircuts, flu shots and financial literacy to necessities like personal hygiene, cleaning supplies, clothing and small household items. The overarching goal is to help the Vallejo community in whatever ways they need. Faith Food Fridays recently gave out new shoes to hundreds of kids, and serves over 2,000 people and 450 households per week. Long term, Faith Food Fridays wants to make it possible for every community in the country to start a like-minded organization.
Debbie Moore worked with her students to create community service events virtually this year. She did not let the pandemic stop her and her students from making a difference. They created a Virtual Ridge Run 5K to help the community get away from the computer. They had prizes donated and encouraged the community to work on their mental and physical health during COVID.
The students had over 100 folks engaged in the event. In addition, they worked with another club on campus to help with a food drive which was so needed this year. Literally TONS of food were collected for the local food bank. The students put together an online talent show that successfully raised money for cancer research. The students also created a virtual #RidgeGivesDay that was extended to a month-long event complete with a gift card prize promotion for people that posted their Acts of Kindness during October. And the students collected money for Dig Pink and Breast Cancer Awareness, efforts done online.
Maria has been working to help improve and transform the lives of underserved and homeless families in Los Angeles County since 1993, through her work founding the Children’s Lifesaving Foundation. When the COVID-19 pandemic really hit, we knew we had to do something immediate and impactful. Reaching out to some very loyal supporters and friends including the Open Hearts Foundation, the Carrie Estelle Doheny Foundation, Capital One, Rite Aid Foundation, LA Regional COVID Fund, Grindstone Entertainment, the CA Fire Foundation, Whole Foods, the Rotary Club of Santa Monica and the Venable Foundation (as well as some truly amazing family foundations and individuals) they were able to raise and distribute over $85,000 in direct funds to highly in-need families in the Vita Network and across L.A.
They also donated in-kind donations to UCLA COVID Ward nurses and conducted an extensive, festive Holiday Outreach distributing over 1,500 toys and brand new pieces of baby and children’s clothing to homeless shelters. It has been Maria’s honor to work with the Children’s Lifesaving Foundation and she is so appreciative of her fellow Points of Light nominees who have worked to make a real difference during this very crucial and challenging time.
Dana is CEO of Lazarex Cancer Foundation, a nationwide nonprofit she founded in 2006 after her brother-in-law was diagnosed with cancer and couldn’t afford the travel expenses to participate in a potentially life-saving clinical trial. Lazarex seeks to improve the outcome of cancer care and give hope, dignity and life to advanced-stage cancer patients and the medically underserved by identifying clinical trial options and reimbursing patients for travel costs associated with FDA clinical trial participation.
In 2016 Dana expanded Lazarex’s mission to bring transformational change to clinical trial enrollment, retention, minority participation and equitable access through the IMPACT (IMproving Patient Access to Cancer Clinical Trials) Program. Most recently she led the creation of a public health initiative in Philadelphia – Community IMPACT – which seeks to develop a replicable model to improve cancer health outcomes for residents in medically underserved and socioeconomically challenged minority neighborhoods.
Dana also serves as a Board and Council member of the Yosemite Conservancy. She and her husband are the world’s top investors in clean water projects in Africa and have given millions to academic institutions.
As the head director of Young Mentors, Emily is blessed with the opportunity to guide student leaders in establishing Young Mentor branches within their own communities. She hosted several training sessions that covered the basics of the organization’s core values, completing ASB guidelines for club establishment, reaching out to principals of local schools and publicizing to recruit potential tutors and students. As a relatively new organization, there was no pre-existing documentation to follow, so Emily worked to create each presentation and draft contracts for tutors and administrators to use.
Outside of training, Emily maintained communication with all the leaders to conduct progress checks and promote transparency at every level. The most important matter she wanted all leaders to take away was that they were not alone on this journey and could always look to her for support. Through personalized feedback and individual counseling sessions, Emily hopes she has been able to provide a steady pillar of guidance towards these passionate student leaders to encourage them in creating change within their own communities to bridge the severe educational gap between socioeconomic classes in the country.
Over the COVID quarantine Emma began volunteering in her community as many of her activities were on pause. She dedicated time and effort every week within the Douglas County Lone Tree Library where she has found a great community of individuals and aided with delivering books, shelving and kid’s camps. Emma has also been helping at Sky Ridge Medical Center during the pandemic. She says it has been great giving back and building bonds with those around her!
Being born in Syria of a poor family Izdihar had a dream to be able to help the marginalized and the underprivileged. As a fine art artist, Izdihar sold hundreds of her original paintings to provide food, education and vocational training for the needy. Her dream became a concrete reality as thousands of families of Syrian refugees fled the tragic war in Syria to relocate in Lebanon where she lives with her family. Her voluntary service with the support of the local NGO that she founded were based on genuine love and respect of human beings regardless of their gender, race, social status or religion. Her focus was on helping teenage girls, boys and young women to get relevant education and to learn a vocation so they can be independent and have a brighter future. For example, over 240 girls and women have graduated from the sewing schools. More than 600 newborn babies and their moms were provided with basic needs of food and medicine along with guidance on how to face the challenges of being a refugee. Izdihar organized and led several counseling camps for traumatized Syrian children and youth in both Syria and Lebanon.
In 2015, Sue initiated and co-chaired a project entitled Hearts for Hospice to meet the needs of a local hospice center in her area by providing a handmade heart for placement on the door when a resident passes. The heart alerts those passing to be respectful of family members who are mourning the death of a loved one. A family member takes the heart home. Within three years the project increased to three centers in her area and numerous donations of materials and stitched hearts were received. Word of the project spread through articles in magazines and social media posts.
Sue volunteers over 40 hours monthly by stitching and assembling hearts, coordinating gatherings and writing articles for magazines, newsletters and social media posts. Through these efforts, the project has received participation from 28 states and three countries. Satellite groups formed in cities across the United States. Many have learned to needlepoint through distribution of the promotional materials and the designs created for the hearts. Recently, Sue initiated a related project, Hearts of Compassion, providing hearts to the Kansas City Ronald McDonald House Charities for families with children in the NICU of a local hospital.
At a NYS AHPERD-Suffolk Zone meeting, the board discussed different programs they hoped to offer the community, free of cost. One member proposed a fitness competition among all schools. This was when Elizabeth Bolger started “Suffolk Zone Fit Club.” It was a way to celebrate fitness and honor her former coach (who had recently passed.) Beth wanted to focus on teamwork, cooperation and perseverance. The mission was to empower and motivate students with the tools, skills, training and confidence they need to live a lifetime of fitness, thus improving self-esteem, preventing obesity and decreasing risks of serious illnesses later in life. Beth wanted to increase leadership skills of her 4th and 5th graders. She trained students to be the referees, score keepers and coaches. Offering students leadership roles helps them hone the social and interpersonal skills necessary to be successful in life. Beth’s efforts have reached thousands of students and professionals. The competition is an annual event that started in 2017 with 12 teams and grew to 41 teams in 2020. Because of COVID, Beth pushed out a virtual Fit Club video that has been shared with PE teachers all across the U.S.
Dr. Barron believes that in order to support our society’s most valuable asset, our children, we need to support those who provide support, structure and guidance to the children in our communities. These include families, first responders, educators and health care providers. In a time of unprecedented change and rapid expansion in social, economic, education, health and technology sectors, Dr. Barron believes it is critical to arm these groups with knowledge, programmatic support, policy support and legislative changes so that they might adequately assist the children in our communities.
With her expertise working with first responders, educators, communities post-trauma, policy makers and in mental health, Dr. Barron developed a model to help achieve that goal. It is her strong belief that it will create a more balanced and safer society for our children. In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, Dr. Barron volunteered her expertise with the community of Newtown. She was subsequently hired to advise Newtown leadership. She conducted a Community Needs Assessment for the Newtown Community to help provide long term recommendations for how to support Newtown.
Vivek has been instrumental to helping young people living with disabilities. Seeing the high cost involved for families to purchase Braille books, he co-founded Braille in Paradise with his younger sister, Vidoushee to provide free Braille books via mail delivery, thus reducing the mobility of the visually impaired students and improving their education level. Likewise, Vivek has been empowering marginalized youth through life skills coaching. He voluntarily assists to provide training to hearing impaired youth and assists in finding potential job placements for them.
Through Zenfants Bondier, meaning “God’s Children,” he and his friends have been serving food to the homeless, sex workers and HIV/AIDS affected people in the streets of the capital city. Through various other initiatives, namely Ability Paradise, he ensures that youth living with disabilities are equipped with the relevant tools to be able to advance in society and lead a respectful life with dignity. Being proud of his African and Indian roots and equally being a citizen of the world, Vivek is working on the introduction of the Peace Building Youth Award in Mauritius where young people are called to work on projects focusing on peace, mutual respect and ending of racism.
Vilmarie Ocasio recently obtained her bachelor’s degree in Communications with a minor in Public Health from Coastal Carolina University. Since she was a little girl, she has been involved with her community. She worked on her Girl Scouts Silver project implementing a recycling program in her neighborhood and a Gold Award project creating awareness about Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and cancer prevention. Vilmarie is CEO and founder of a nonprofit called Community Organization of MS and Cancer, Inc (COMSC). Her inspiration sparked when her mother was diagnosed with MS in 2014. She has impacted over 250,000 people worldwide through public policy such as being an advocate for a bill until it became a law, reaching out to legislators to sponsor, introduce and draft two new bills, giving makeup tutorials for MS patients, leading MS and cancer prevention awareness campaigns, giving professional health educational talks, sending portable air conditioners to people living with MS and cancer in PR and the U.S., sending safety whistles to people living in the islands due to the earthquakes, sending custom personalized emergency cards, creating MS memory game cards, and spreading awareness about COVID-19 around the world.
At the age of 12, Victoria first began volunteering with the Triangle Area Chinese American Society when she helped serve food at a local international fair. She later joined the board and through organizing group outings and cultural events she not only deepened her appreciation for her bicultural heritage but also realized the power of volunteering in making a difference in the world. At UNC Chapel Hill, Victoria developed a passion for youth empowerment and spent every week providing free piano lessons and leading arts and craft activities. She also noticed that the Chapel Hill area had a large homeless population and became an advocate with CEF, a local nonprofit organization focused on providing services to transition people out of homelessness and poverty. As a professional, she engages in skills-based volunteering through Common Impact, a nonprofit that matches corporate employees to community organizations to collaborate on solutions to their operations challenges. She led several project teams with her marketing expertise, most recently creating a digital communications strategic plan for Essex County Family Justice Center. Victoria’s relationship with community service continues to grow and evolve and she looks forward to the role it will play in her future.
Jordan Grabelle believes that helping a child to read is as easy as A-B-C! Starting at age 7, Jordan often volunteered at literacy events in underserved communities. As an avid reader, she was alarmed seeing middle-school children select preschool books. At age 10, she was determined to create an organization centered on the root of literacy problems: preschoolers not knowing the alphabet. Jordan (17) is founder/executive director for Love Letters for Literacy (LLL), a nonprofit promoting childhood literacy in at-risk communities benefiting 40,000+ children across all 50 states, 30 countries and six continents. Jordan’s innovative solution empowers families to have fun being their children’s first reading teacher, providing them with educational literacy-based games, a personalized note, and 26 colorful alphabet flashcards. Over 6.5 years Jordan scaled LLL into a global nonprofit, inspiring 18,700+ volunteers to donate 800k service hours, with students from 480+ high schools/colleges, supporting 60+ nonprofits. COVID-19 devastated underserved children’s ability to learn to read since most preschools closed. Jordan used social media, pivoting to a virtual-volunteer format, and increased her volunteer base by 300%, impacting 400% more children.
Hunger and homelessness are issues close to ZaNia’s heart. Sadly, she knew both all too well.
ZaNia is now a 14-year-old adopted 8th grader, honor roll student and world champion dancer. One day ZaNia saw a woman and her two children asking for food in front of a grocery store. She did not understand how anyone could be hungry in front of a food store. ZaNia asked her foster mother for money to help the woman, who cried when she received it. ZaNia cried because she knew what it was like to be hungry and homeless. She had lived in shelters with her grandmother. ZaNia was adopted by her foster family but she never forgot her time at the shelter. It was a sad and scary ordeal she never wanted anyone else to experience. At age 9, ZaNia created her nonprofit “Z Feeds Angel Food Project.” Her nonprofit packs “Go-Go Bags” which are gallon bags filled with food, drinks and toiletry items. Also included are words of encouragement, offering hope that life will get better. ZaNia has distributed over 800 bags. She loves the joy her bags bring to others.
Sean became a difference maker at a young age, saving a woman beaten and left to die in her trunk. Unstoppable since, with 17+ years in the Army Reserves, his dedication shows in his two MOS, 30+ military honors (including the Combat Action Badge, Meritorious Service Medal, Bronze Star & one of MP Corps Regiment’s highest honors: the Order of the Marechaussee), and four deployments including Iraq & Afghanistan. As a 1SG for a Civil Affairs company and as founder/CEO of nonprofit The Archangels, he’s dedicated years to providing and supporting programs/projects that bring support and peace to military, veteran and first responders, including therapy clinics, community 5Ks, scholarship programs, financial aid to families of the fallen or injured, Military Dining Outs, etc., always free to participants. In over 13 years, he’s also served throughout the Mesa Police Department and sponsors/participates in numerous community outreach programs. He earned a bachelor’s in Criminal Justice & Criminology from ASU (Summa Cum Laude) and completed a master’s in Organizational Leadership. His greatest joy is being a father and husband to his wife and kids who know, through Sean’s love and devotion, they always come first.
From a young age, Radhika has been passionate about serving her community by helping the underprivileged. Seeing the prevalence of poverty in her community, she knew she had to take matters into her own hands. Thus, she founded Finances4Youth, a service organization dedicated to educating kids in low-income families about financial skills to break the cycle of poverty. Radhika’s mission was not just to teach classes, but to instill lifelong habits in children by using interactive activities. She has designed a detailed curriculum consisting of topics such as methods to avoid overspending and the importance of saving money. Initially, she taught workshops in local libraries. Since COVID-19 hit, she has pivoted her class structure by teaching the workshops virtually.
Through her efforts, Radhika continues to empower the next generation to become financially responsible individuals. Furthermore, she hopes to inspire youth to incite positive change by uplifting their communities.
As a 9-year-old, Rishika, now a sophomore, learned of the unfortunate circumstances that some individuals endure and how important it is to get people involved in helping others. This inspired her to share her blessings and make a difference in peoples’ lives while encouraging other kids to serve their community. Rishika founded Little Helpers, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization serving with a motto of inspiring kids to radiate kindness and help out!
Over the 60+ service projects, Little Helpers has raised over $16,000, donated more than 4,500 new toys to the Cincinnati Children’s hospital, organized COVID relief projects and generated tens of thousands of smiles. Little Helpers has a Youth Advisory Board on which Rishika leads 15 members who proffer fresh ideas while learning leadership through kindness. Under her guidance members have led multiple charity drives & donated 2000+ pounds of food to local food pantries. Rishika recently started a podcast called Little Helpers Big Inspirations in which she interviews kid changemakers and strives to inspire listeners to make a difference in their community! Rishika emphasizes that you don’t need to have a story to make a change.
Shivam is the founder and president of the Wizards of Wall Street organization. This organization works to promote financial literacy among teens through interactive teaching of personal finance and investment. His passion for community service has motivated him to inspire teens nationwide to become financially literate. After noticing that most school curriculums leave out crucial information on personal finance, Shivam has taken action to make teens prepared to manage their finances wisely in the future. He has created a curriculum optimized for teens, which introduces them to important strategies in investment. He hopes to make high schoolers educated in smart financial investments to take control of their financial lives. Currently, his curriculum has been adopted by many high schools nationwide and has made over 100 teens ready for their financial future. Beyond his curriculum, Shivam hosts multiple interactive events throughout the year to actively engage teens, especially those from underprivileged backgrounds. He works to foster both a learning and a socializing environment as a part of the organization’s goals. Through Wizards of Wall Street, Shivam shows his dedication to promoting financial literacy among teens.
Throughout Aravind’s youth, his personal motto has guided his love for and commitment to community service. Being an aspiring physician-scientist with a motivation to solve intractable problems to improve patients’ lives, he volunteers as an EMT in the East Millstone First Aid Squad. He and his fellow EMTs routinely respond to medical, trauma and psychological cases, serving the medical emergencies of community members. While he initially joined the squad due to his budding medical interest, interacting with patients and serving people in critical condition has taught him more than any textbook could have. His experiences, from comforting patients to treating those who refused hospital visits for fear of the costs, have strengthened his desire to pursue medicine and increase the effectiveness and equity of healthcare. He has translated this same spirit of service into leading a community-wide mental health awareness campaign, creating science research mentorship programs for elementary through high school students, expanding neuroscience education and preventing environmental damage through bioengineering research. As he continues moving to new frontiers, his ultimate joy is his commitment to serving society.
Many kids are interested in the behind-the-scenes of technology, including Ori’s brother. He loves robots and wanted to learn a programming language so he could bring his robot ideas to life. Unfortunately, there were no computer science classes at his school and limited classes outside of it. Ori was determined to provide everyone in her community with a free and accessible opportunity to learn to code. She discovered Teach-Technology Organization and connected with their program that focuses on teaching students how to code through libraries and virtual instruction.
Ori became the instructor for the Python course, but she also wanted to give students an opportunity to learn another important coding language: Java. She started by creating presentations and supplemental materials for the course. She then hosted meetings for students to join each week where they received direct instruction followed by practice exercises and homework. She also used an online IDE to serve as a virtual classroom and provide a hands-on experience by allowing students to run the code on their own devices. Ori is now the manager of the Java learning program, which continues to grow with its expanding number of projects, classes, volunteers and students.
In 2020, after speaking with teachers at Dallas ISD Title 1 schools, Prisha was shocked to hear that many DISD students had completely lost contact with their teachers and lacked access to school supplies and books. Devastated by this reality, she wanted to spread a message of hope to underserved students and teachers in Dallas that would encourage them to stay learning, inspired and passionate. With this idea in mind, she worked with a friend to develop Project Kind Packs, an initiative to provide packages, AKA “Kind Packs,” filled with school supplies, storybooks, hygienic supplies and letters of encouragement for students and teachers at Title 1 elementary schools in her community.
In two months, her project received support from hundreds of donors across the country, raised over $3,600, and received the help of over 100 student volunteers. With the funds raised, Project Kind Packs donated packs to nearly 300 K-5 students at 11 Title 1 schools. Her story was featured on various local news outlets and recognized by Rep Van Taylor, who dubbed her a “Hometown Hero.” Prisha is thrilled to continue her project this fall and share her passion for learning and storytelling with more students across DISD.
Saanvi aspires to serve her community through various means to provide resources to today’s youth to build a foundation of service individuals can take into their future. Previously serving as outreach director at The Leaders Readers Network, a nonprofit organization, Saanvi has set a foundation for the organization’s growth. Within LRN she has led the Pay It Forward Project, rallying 600+ volunteers, giving 3,000+ service hours and donating 3,000+ books to multiple Title 1 Schools. Saanvi has also worked to create the Student Leadership Conference in which students nation-wide participated in free seminars dedicated to teaching hard and soft skills. LRN has allowed her to be awarded grants from YSA, host steady book drives and solidify a consistent network in her community all to perform service at a large level. She is excited to continue taking this organization to new heights through her new role as co-president. Outside of LRN, Saanvi participates in numerous clubs and organizations centered around leadership: co-president of her school’s medical club, VP of Beta Club, state secretary of Clemson’s 4-H, local chapter coordinator of HSDA, finance director of SCHSD, and chapter lead of Greenville GR.
Joshika founded a charity called Jewels for Joy to give back to her community while encompassing her passion! As a 7-year-old, Joshika knew two things: she wanted to make a difference in her community and she wanted to become a fashion designer when she grew up. So she put these two together to found her own charity! Joshika handmakes and sells jewelry, like earrings and bracelets, and donates thousands of dollars and toys, plus spreads smiles all around. She uses all profits from her jewelry to help out the community! Throughout her journey, she has made more than 400 jewels, donated over 1,000 brand new toys to the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and supported several local charitable causes. Currently, she has been donating her jewels to nurses and doctors as a token of appreciation for their work and bravery during this pandemic and is raising money for COVID-19 relief projects. She has donated more than 100 pairs of earrings and bracelets with a kind note to three different hospitals in Ohio so far! This 8 year old has a big heart!
In 2018, 14-year-old Adie Selassie visited the Texas-Mexico border on a school mission to learn about Texan colonias — a group of housing settlements along the US-Mexico border. Adie learned that the colonias are some of the most impoverished parts of the US whose residents have very limited opportunities to improve their condition and exit their circumstances. Confounded by the extent of the poverty, she researched and surfaced the colonia residents’ most urgent predicament: lack of access to electricity.
Inspired by this experience, Adie founded Live in the Lights. Core to the mission of this organization is what Adie calls their Double Sustainability Mandate, which addresses the challenges of the colonias both through the use of clean solar energy, and through the creation of a small-business ecosystem designed to sustain intra-colonia commercial activity. Today, Live In The Lights has provided solar-powered electricity to over 260 residents in 30 households — the first ever foray into solar energy in the colonias. This endeavor has dramatically improved livelihoods, helped reduce greenhouse gas emissions and spread education on the economic and environmental benefits of harnessing solar energy.
Ray has spent the past 8 years participating in a prison program called Kairos Prison Ministry, in a maximum security prison. Every 3rd Saturday of each month, they spend the day with over 300 prisoners to shine a little light of humanity to the incarcerated men. Twice a year, Kairos introduces 42 new inmates into their program during a 4-day process. Each team member also writes 42 encouraging letters for each of the inmates. All team members help to hand bake 1,200 dozens of cookies for the inmates to eat during that weekend. During those four days, they receive home cooked meals throughout.
Ray has also spent about 15 years helping the homeless in his city. He’s opened his home to them to live with his family, washes their clothes, lets them take showers and has helped them get their IDs and social security cards. One of his friends got into a program that helped him off the streets and into an apartment. He’s on disability, so Ray has been his payee, managing his finances by paying his rent, storage and phone bills.
Linda loves serving with KEEP US FED in Conroe, Texas. In 2020, they saved over 1.1 million pounds of food, enough for over 920,000 meals, with the help of 60 volunteers and 30 recipient partner organizations, keeping all that food from the trash! Linda wanted to find a place to volunteer where she could care for the poor and needy. Recipient groups range from the local women’s shelter to church food pantries to halfway houses to grandparents taking care of grandchildren and groups helping foster kids who aged out of the system but still need a place to live with guidance on become a working adult.
Linda says there is nothing better than picking up 400 to 900 lbs a day of “excess food” from grocery stores or restaurants, packing it into 20 to 30-lb boxes and driving it to the day’s recipient group. She is greeted with nothing but smiles and thank yous upon arrival as the food is unloaded from the van. She says, “Who needs a gym when you get all this daily lifting and moving exercise?” She loves her volunteer job as it brings hope to her community!
As a Medical Reserve Corps volunteer supporting Houston area COVID-19 response, Mary dedicated over 2,000 hours to Harris County Public Health as a testing and vaccination team member at the county’s large outdoor sites. Additionally, she assisted with conducting voluntary community-based COVID antibody testing. Continually inspired by the compassion shown to the patients by her teammates, and the endless gratitude shown by the community, Mary served for 1 year, by which time, the public health response had been such a success that mass testing and vaccination sites were no longer needed.
Enrique Hernandez Salcido is a former Dreamer Scholar with the I Have A Dream Foundation, which was a large part of his success in his education. Even up to this day he knows he can rely on the foundation for any support. After graduating from high school he spent his time giving back to this foundation that supported him throughout high school by tutoring current Dreamer Scholars. As a Dreamer Scholar volunteer/tutor he created a strong relationship with a student, gave them high school advice, answered their college questions, and helped them with their day-to-day schoolwork. He hopes to continue working with Dreamer Scholar students because he believes in the I Have A Dream Foundation’s values, that students from all types of backgrounds deserve the opportunity to reach secondary education. He credits a lot of his success to the I Have A Dream Foundation and is grateful for the opportunity to be giving back to them.
Prior to the pandemic, AmeriCorps’ “Volunteering in America” report stated that more than 77 million Americans volunteered regularly. 1.8 million nonprofit organizations providing volunteer opportunities had to drastically limit in-person help received, despite the need for the work of these organizations significantly increasing. One organization is making sure that charities can run through virtual opportunities to connect with volunteers. Shazia Peeran, the founder of Giving Digitized, shares the app’s mission dedicated to charity and volunteering and how you can get involved. Giving Digitized is a digital platform that was created to make socially distanced giving easier for charities amid the pandemic. “Charities and nonprofits use it to request the exact needs to serve the community,” shared Shazia. Shazia used this national desire to give back to bring Giving Digitized to multiple states. By changing the way donors can give, it virtually powers giving back, alongside hundreds of volunteers using Giving Digitized across the United States.
Kim’s grassroots style of advocacy for 25+ years has focused on the disenfranchised of the community. Her initial work began with formerly incarcerated individuals trying to reenter into the mainstream of society. Often, Kim was the only woman at the “table.” She was involved with the then US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Indiana (Susan Brooks’ office) as part of “Lever Pulling” meetings in the courts with other police/service agencies working with violent offenders. Kim’s work has helped survivors of Hurricane Katrina relocate, the homeless, domestic violence, youth and senior populations. Kim founded H.O.P.E. (Helping Others Prosper Economically) TEAM – a citywide collaboration that unites agencies and efforts to work together that offer free, low cost and/or affordable services to these populations. They’ve done summits, workshops, job fairs and others all free to participate for the community to grow and learn, work together on topics of mental health, jobs for the hard to hire and some engagement with some high profile cases such as the Aaron Bailey shooting in our city and working with Paula Cooper, the first juvenile that was sentenced in the history of the U.S. to murder.
Michelle Puzzo graduated from the UConn in 1998 with a bachelor’s degree in physical therapy. She observed that many of her patients needed help beyond her physical therapy license and realized that many neighbors would be willing to help but did not know how to connect. In 2019 Michelle co-founded UR Community Cares (UCC) to virtually link neighbors within a 15-mile radius to support each other. She recognized the gap in resources for the growing population of people with mobility issues and the need for each town to be able to improve community connections. Those who need help can connect online to receive help from volunteers at no charge.
UCC has grown due to Michelle’s dedication to helping others. She is the nonprofit’s president and, along with a small board of directors, group of advisors and pro bono professionals, the site has expanded to having over 500 enrolled participants in less than two years. UCC has participants in over 100 towns in Connecticut and Massachusetts, is funded in the municipal budgets of Manchester/Bolton, CT and has received grants and corporate/private donations. Michelle is passionate helping people live safely at home as they age in place.
When Sydney’s high school shifted to virtual learning in March, she began writing poetry for her English class. Her poems focused on how the COVID-19 pandemic and quarantine were affecting her friends and family. The creative outlet allowed her to put her thoughts, feelings and emotions into words. The feedback was so good that she decided to publish a poetry book.
Sydney donated her first royalty check to Memorial Hermann Southeast to recognize healthcare workers for their hard work and dedication during the crisis. Her donation helped purchase additional personal protective equipment for nurses and staff working in the hospital’s intensive care unit and emergency room. Sydney truly hopes to inspire young individuals to be passionate about something and to chase after their goals. She found herself extremely lucky to be able to become an author, and wants to encourage the youth to give back to the community in whatever way they can, especially in times of crisis.
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