Rebecca Michlin, 16, of Southington, Conn., a junior at Southington High School, has managed the back-to-school project of Southington's Smart Start program for the past six years, providing backpacks filled with school supplies to as many as 300 underprivileged students each fall. "I love school and want every kid to love learning," said Rebecca. So when she approached her town's social services department in 2001 looking for a project to help her achieve the Girl Scout Silver Award, she was delighted to be given responsibility for the entire back-to-school project.
Rebecca works year-round to promote the project, solicit donations, recruit and train volunteers, purchase school supplies, and distribute backpacks filled with school supplies to kids who need them. She expands the program each year, adding new supplies such as lunch boxes, flash cards, dictionaries, calculators, and vouchers for new shoes. "I try to add a variety of items so the children actually look forward to going back to school," said Rebecca. She is now working with a local foundation to provide scholarships to graduating high school students.
Ryan Bloomquist, 14, of Branford, Conn., an eighth-grader at Francis Walsh Intermediate School, started a multifaceted fund-raising project called "the Lemonade Gang" that has raised more than $20,000 over the past eight years to battle nervous-system diseases and help families of young cancer patients. When Ryan was 6 years old, his neighbor was diagnosed with a disease of the central nervous system. Ryan wanted to help, so he rounded up some friends to sell lemonade. They donated the proceeds to an organization that supports nerve research. The following summer, Ryan and his friend Greg, who is the co-director of the Lemonade Gang, decided to raise more money by putting on a cabaret.
The gang added another project after Ryan's sister was born with a rare form of cancer. "Our family was devastated, and I knew that we had to do something to honor Hanna," said Ryan. So the gang started an annual Christmas Spectacular and donated those proceeds to a fund that helps families dealing with childhood cancer celebrate Christmas and pay for necessities throughout the year. Ryan and Greg now stage their Christmas show and summer cabaret annually, spending much of their free time directing the productions and managing publicity and ticket sales. They also organized a summer theater camp for 5- to 10-year-olds, conducted a concert for victims of Hurricane Katrina, and contributed to other causes. "There is nothing better than giving back to the community," said Ryan. "It feels good to know I'm making a difference in the world."
Greyson Gregory, 17, of Branford, Conn., a junior at Branford High School, created and manages a website that connects local teens with service opportunities posted by nonprofits, community organizations, and other groups seeking volunteers. In addition to developing the website (www.studentvolunteerlink.com), Greyson liaisons with civic organizations, schools, and business leaders; raises funds and writes grant proposals; recruits student volunteers; and promotes the site.
Rebecca Krumholz, 16, of Guilford, Conn., a junior at Guilford High School, organized a 5K race that raised more than $2,000 for Right to Play, an organization that brings sports to children in undeveloped and war-torn countries. Rebecca planned the event, enlisted the support of fellow students and school officials, oversaw promotional activities and the solicitation of donors and sponsors, and coordinated the logistics of the race.
Lauren Nadan, 17, of Southport, Conn., a senior at Fairfield Ludlowe High School in Fairfield, founded Hats for Hope, a nonprofit organization that provides trendy hats to children losing their hair as a result of medical treatment for life-threatening illnesses. Since Hats for Hope began in 2004, Lauren has provided more than 2,000 hats to children at four oncology facilities.
Alexandra Schreiber, 16, of Westport, Conn., a junior at Staples High School, started a volunteer service club at her school called Heart and Soul. The members of Alexandra's club volunteer at three local medical facilities, serve food to the homeless, celebrate holidays with homeless and abused children, and visit with aged and infirm patients on Valentine's Day.
Kelly Davis, 17, of West Bath, Maine, a senior at Morse High School in Bath, spearheaded the enactment of a state law allowing third-party nonprofit organizations to raise money for the police, and then raised more than $40,000 to purchase a bulletproof vest for every working police dog in Maine. Six years ago, Kelly wanted to do something for her community, and, being an animal lover, she decided to help protect police dogs. "Police dogs do not choose their dangerous lives. They deserve the same protection as their human partners," she said. But after Kelly started an organization called MeVAD (for Maine Vest-a-Dog) and began collecting donations, Maine's attorney general came to her home to tell her she was violating state law and had to stop.
Kelly contacted State Senator Mary Small, who helped her draft language for a new law. Kelly then wrote letters to legislators and encouraged others to do the same, testified at a Statehouse hearing, traveled frequently to Augusta to lobby lawmakers, and finally attended the signing ceremony in the Governor's office after the bill was passed. Kelly now spends her time soliciting donations, organizing volunteers, speaking at schools and community events, and maintaining a website. So far, she has raised enough money to purchase 54 bulletproof vests, one for every active police K-9 in Maine. Since new dogs are trained every spring, Kelly says she will continue to buy dog vests. "Sometimes kids can do things better than adults," Kelly said. "I encourage everyone to follow their passions and stand up for what they think is right."
Stephanie Dunton, 13, of Winterport, Maine, a seventh-grader at Samuel L. Wagner Middle School, conducts a monthly collection drive called the "Food Shuttle" that has collected more than 1,000 pounds of donated food items for a local pantry. Stephanie was inspired to find a community service project after seeing the satisfaction her older sister received from volunteering. Stephanie wanted to volunteer at a food pantry, but since she was in school during the pantry's hours of operation, she decided to undertake a food drive instead. At first, "I was going to do just one food drive but then decided that a monthly food drive would be better," she said.
After speaking to the director of the pantry, Stephanie wrote letters to friends and family members asking them to participate. With her parents' help, Stephanie picks up donations at people's homes, weighs and packs the items in plastic tubs, and then takes them to the food pantry and stocks its shelves. She also distributes a monthly "Food Shuttle News" to report each month's collection total, detail specific needs, announce monthly collection dates, and thank the participants. "It is so sad that some people have so little that one can of baked beans or one jar of spaghetti sauce will make their lives a little easier," said Stephanie. "I only hope that my seven hours each month will help make their lives happier ones."
Meghan Brewer, 17, of Boothbay Harbor, Maine, a member of the Boothbay Region YMCA and a senior at Boothbay Region High School, helped plan and facilitate a youth and adult "summit" to discuss needs and projects in her community. With support from school and YMCA officials, Meghan and other youth leaders planned the summit, led group sessions to brainstorm about community improvement projects, and worked with others to implement the ideas.
Katherine Curley, 18, of Portland, Maine, a senior at Deering High School, is a board member of a youth philanthropy and advocacy group that awards $1,500 grants to young people in Portland who undertake innovative projects to benefit their community. As a member of the YOUTHINK board for the past three years, Katherine has facilitated meetings, organized events, written press releases, applied for grants, made presentations at local and national conferences, and led an extensive recruitment campaign for new board members.
David Poritz, 18, of Amherst, Mass., a senior at Amherst Regional High School, founded a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping communities adversely affected by oil contamination in the Amazon River basin of Ecuador. While studying the Ecuadorian rain forest in sixth grade, David read about an environmental and civil rights attorney who happened to be his teacher's father. After being introduced to the lawyer, David was offered an internship in his law office, where he helped research cases involving oil contamination in Ecuador. He eventually got to visit the country. "Witnessing children with sores over their bodies bathing in contaminated waters and walking barefooted in toxic waste had a deep impact on me," he said. "When I returned to Amherst, I felt a moral obligation to help these people."
David spent a month learning to speak Spanish fluently, and then organized a drive throughout New England that collected 12,500 pairs of shoes for children in Ecuador. Since then, David's organization, Esperanza International, Inc., has raised money to furnish educational materials to impoverished schools, and provide medical supplies and support to local clinics. He also has guided groups of students and teachers to the Ecuadorian jungle, interviewed Ecuadorian cancer patients, and worked as a liaison for doctors and other medical specialists visiting the area. "My message to other students is about the importance of moving beyond their comfort zone, learning about injustices inflicted upon others and following their hearts to make a difference," said David.
Alyssa Bickoff, 14, of Brookline, Mass., an eighth-grader at Solomon Schechter Day School in Newton, has raised nearly $25,000 to help find a cure for ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease, by selling specially inscribed wristbands and participating in fund-raising walks. One of Alyssa's father's best friends died of ALS in 2004. "I learned a great deal from him throughout his illness," she said. "After his passing, I became determined to dedicate my life to raising money to find a cure to save everyone who has-or may become afflicted with-this disease."
Alyssa launched a campaign to sell bright orange wristbands with the inscription, "Banded Together to Cure ALS." After she delivered a presentation to her school about the importance of supporting ALS research, her fellow students chose to allocate the proceeds of an annual charity drive to Alyssa's cause. In addition, Alyssa has participated in two seven-mile fund-raising walks to benefit the ALS Family Charitable Foundation. The money that Alyssa raised has been used not only to fund research into the neuromuscular disease, but also to purchase wheelchairs and mobility items for patients.
Matthew Chase, 16, of Dover, Mass., a junior at Dover-Sherborn High School, helps introduce the sport of tennis to disadvantaged children by providing free lessons and collecting donations of gently used tennis equipment. While teaching tennis skills to inner-city kids over the past two summers, Matthew noticed that some could not afford racquets, so he set up collection boxes around his town and received more than $2,000 worth of used equipment, which was distributed to young players who needed it.
Kelsey Chisholm, 17, of Lynnfield, Mass., a senior at Lynnfield High School, co-manages "Kids Gear," a youth organization that collects new and gently used baseball equipment for disadvantaged children in Greater Boston. With help from the Boston Red Sox organization, Kelsey promotes an annual collection event at Fenway Park, recruits and organizes volunteers, sorts and inventories donations, helps distribute the items to community youth organizations, and works year-round to promote "Kids Gear" efforts.
Cieu Lan Dong, 17, of Cambridge, Mass., a senior at Brooks School in North Andover, has worked fervently to improve conditions for women and children affected by HIV and AIDS in the African nation of Botswana. After conducting a survey of HIV-positive women in Botswana, Cieu Lan lobbied government officials to improve health policies, nutritional guidelines and childcare; raised funds to create an after-school job training center for teen AIDS orphans; and collected donations of books to start a new library for an AIDS orphanage.
Elizabeth Handel, 17, of Needham, Mass., a junior at Needham High School, created a program that collects donated children's books and gives them to incarcerated mothers at the Framingham women's correctional facility to share with their children during prison visits. Over the past three years, Elizabeth's "A Book from Mom" project has placed more than 4,000 brand-new children's books in the hands of mothers at MCI-Framingham.
Gregg Katz, 17, of Upton, Mass., a senior at Nipmuc Regional High School, established a high school club that brings students and senior citizens together for a variety of social activities. Gregg's Nipmuc Friends of Seniors club now has nearly 30 members who take part in activities at the Upton Senior Center, such as computer classes, an ice cream social, and a "senior professional day."
Courtney Mota, 17, of Rehoboth, Mass., a senior at Dighton-Rehoboth Regional High School in North Dighton, created and leads an after-school language program for elementary school children. Courtney recruited fellow students to help her teach weekly French, Spanish, and Portuguese classes for four weeks last spring to 30 youngsters at a local elementary school.
Ashley Pratte, 17, of Manchester, N.H., a senior at Trinity High School, played the leading role in organizing youth-run debates among candidates for the state senate and executive council last October. Ashley joined the Manchester Mayor's Youth Advisory Council three years ago "to affect policy and get the voice of youth heard in city government," she said. As chair of the council last year, Ashley decided that one way to promote civic engagement among young people would be to sponsor their own debates for state candidates running in the 2006 election.
Ashley began by researching the roles of state senators and executive council members to "figure out exactly what they do." Then she persuaded all of the candidates to participate, even though many were reluctant at first. To prepare for the debates, Ashley arranged for the New Hampshire Institute of Politics to teach council members how to moderate a debate and produce press releases. She worked closely with the rest of the council to formulate questions and rules for the October 26 debates, which drew a large crowd and were televised. Ashley's volunteer service, however, goes beyond her work on the mayor's council. For more than three years, she has served as a mentor, role model, and "big sister" to an underprivileged girl through the Boys and Girls Clubs. "Being involved in your community makes you aware of your surroundings and allows you to see life from a different perspective," Ashley said.
Dylan Mahalingam, 11, of Derry, N.H., a home-schooled sixth-grader, founded a youth organization dedicated to mobilizing young people around the world to help achieve the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals. Dylan first became aware of poverty when his parents scolded him for wasting food, telling him that people were starving in other parts of the world. Later, he had the opportunity to travel overseas and was struck by the poverty he saw. "When I saw all of this first-hand, it made me realize how fortunate I was and how I had been taking everything for granted," Dylan said. Then he learned about the eight development goals set forth by the United Nations in 2000 to combat poverty, and he wanted to help.
Dylan started his organization, "Lil' MDGs," with two other young people, and immediately began organizing projects to benefit the poor. They created brochures and flyers, wrote articles, and built a website to publicize their cause. Then they recruited individuals, schools, and companies to collect a wide variety of items for disadvantaged children around the world. As more youth and other volunteers joined the effort, Lil' MDGs has been able to arrange for medical and education assistance in India; distribute essential items to earthquake victims in Indonesia; send clothing, books, and mosquito nets to Uganda; help build a dormitory in Tibet; and raise money to protect coral reefs in Indonesia. "I learned that the world truly is a small place and that we are all in this together," Dylan said.
Matthew Dawley, 18, of Dover, N.H., a senior at Dover High School, led a volunteer project to help preserve a historic home site on Smuttynose Island. Matthew planned the project; recruited others to help; solicited donations of funds and materials; and then led his team of volunteers as they cleared brush, excavated dirt, and debris from the foundation of the old house, and catalogued artifacts found during the project.
Alison Herlihy, 14, of Hampstead, N.H., a freshman at Pinkerton Academy in Derry, conducted a "makeover" of a bedroom for two young girls from a family of Somalian refugees. With help from her mother, Alison cleaned the spartan room, patched the walls and painted them pink, and then decorated the room with pillows, posters, curtains, lamps, and toys that Alison had collected or purchased.
Jamie Briggs, 17, of West Greenwich, R.I., a senior at Exeter-West Greenwich High School, formed a "community partnership team" at her school to raise awareness and support victims of domestic violence. "No one, man or woman, deserves to be a victim," said Jamie. "I wanted to organize the partnership team so teenagers like me will know they have resources to go to if faced with these problems, as well as how to recognize when there is a problem."
Jamie first expressed her concern by supporting Silent Witness, a national organization that works on the domestic violence issue. In 2003, she started the process of creating a partnership team at her school, aided by Silent Witness, a shelter for abuse victims, and her school's guidance department. She and a core group of other student volunteers have since coordinated a school-wide assembly on domestic violence, conducted collection drives to provide teddy bears and cell phones to abuse victims, and raised $1,000 for the cause by selling "Break the Silence" bracelets.
Meaghan Spillane, 13, of Warwick, R.I., an eighth-grader at Aldrich Junior High School, received a wish from the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Rhode Island, and then raised more than $3,000 to grant wishes to other sick children. "I feel it is important because kids should learn how to give back to others who have helped them," Meaghan said.
Meaghan, who has a rare genetic disorder that often leads to bone marrow failure, received a Make-A-Wish trip to Walt Disney World several years ago, and wanted to do something in return. She met with people at the Make-A-Wish Foundation and offered to raise funds for the organization's annual gala. Meaghan wrote a solicitation letter and mailed it to more than 200 individuals and businesses in Rhode Island and across the country. For every donation she received, Meaghan sent a thank-you letter and provided reports to the foundation. In addition to raising $3,100, Meaghan volunteered to help at the gala, and has encouraged other "wish kids" to get involved in fund-raising. "I can't wait to start again for the next event," said Meaghan.
Alyssa Church, 17, of Portsmouth, R.I., a member of the Girl Scouts of Rhode Island in Providence and a senior at Portsmouth High School, created an activity program for autistic and other developmentally disabled children at a local preschool. Alyssa organized and planned crafts, games, and other activities; recruited four volunteers to assist with the project; and ran the weekly program for nine weeks.
Erin Larcom, 16, of Middletown, R.I., a junior at Middletown High School, chaired the 2006 Middletown Safety Town program, which provided safety education to 54 preschoolers. Erin, who managed the entire program, organized more than 50 volunteers, contacted local businesses and organizations for support, and conducted a simultaneous food drive to benefit a local shelter.
Maya Robinson, 18, of Bethel, Vt., a senior at Whitcomb Junior-Senior High School, created an exhibit of photographs taken by 20 international exchange students over the past 35 years, to promote greater understanding of foreign cultures and the interconnectedness of people around the world. Maya, a skilled photographer, began planning her exhibit two years ago before spending a year in India as a Rotary International Exchange Student. "I thought that coordinating with other exchange students to get photographs from all over the world would make a powerful visual connection between our community at home and our international host families and friends," she said.
During her year in India, Maya took more than 6,000 photos and asked other exchange students online to share photos that captured what it was like to live in a different culture. While there, she also raised money to pay for heart surgeries for more than 100 Indian children and conducted a drive to collect winter clothing for 35 children in a local orphanage. When she returned to Vermont, Maya pored through thousands of photographs taken in 18 countries to select images for her exhibit, then reproduced, sized, and framed them. During its monthlong showing at a local gallery, the exhibit, entitled "Seeing Eye to Eye," helped "everyone who saw it feel like they were part of a global community," said Maya. It was so successful that it was scheduled to travel to three Rotary International Conferences. Maya is selling copies and postcards of her photographs during her shows and donating the proceeds to support clean water projects. "The change I want to see is a world united across cultural boundaries through clear communication," she said.
Audrey Pekarik, 12, of Underhill, Vt., a seventh-grader at Browns River Middle School in Jericho, raised $3,000 to build a house for a needy family in Haiti by making and selling hand-made bracelets. Audrey sprang into action after hearing a guest speaker at her church talk about living conditions in poor countries and an organization that builds houses in some of these countries for $2,000. "I felt that with a safe house to live in, people could be healthier and feel better," said Audrey. "So I decided to build a house."
Audrey began to raise money be selling eggs from her chickens, but unfortunately, they were killed by a fox. She then came up with the idea of selling bracelets, but first had to learn how to make, price, and sell them. Audrey received help with these tasks from the owner of a bead store in town, and then her family helped her string the bracelets and sell them at craft fairs. She also created a display about her cause to encourage sales. "Sometimes I got tired of making bracelets, but I had to keep on making them," she said. In the end, Audrey raised much more than was needed for one house. "The thing I will always remember for the rest of my life is sending off the check," she said. "I know that I have given a home to a family who didn't have one."
Alexandra Larrow, 17, of Vergennes, Vt., a senior at Vergennes Union High School, recruited volunteers in her community to knit more than 400 hats for cancer patients. Alexandra, who does not knit, promoted her project through a local yarn shop, her local chapter of the National Honor Society, and her reign as Miss Vermont National Teenager. When completed, the hats were delivered to clinics, doctors' offices, and hospitals for distribution to cancer patients.
Leah Ziegler, 18, of Stowe, Vt., a senior at Stowe High School, co-founded a nonprofit organization that has raised $16,000 over the past four years for communities suffering from economic hardship, social injustice, or natural disasters. Leah and her younger sisters sent the proceeds from book and bake sales, car washes, and other fund-raising activities to orphanages in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Chile. They also made donations to the Red Cross for relief efforts following the 2004 Asian tsunami and Hurricane Katrina.