The question arises every year as we consider nominations for our annual 20 Under 20 honors: How do these students find the time to give so much back to the community? As you will see, this year’s list is filled with young people who somehow manage to juggle their busy lives with doing extraordinary things to make Reporter Newspapers communities and the world a better place to live.
As in previous years, we asked public and private schools along with service organizations and the general public to nominate students who have been active volunteers in their communities. These students have accumulated thousands of hours of volunteer time, traveled to other countries, created nonprofits and worked with the underprivileged as part of their service.
We hope these uplifting stories will inspire you to find ways to give back to the community.
For her Girl Scout Gold Award, Regina chose to address problems with self-image and self-esteem in young Latina girls. She created the program En La Amistad Nos Encontramos, or In Friendship We Stand. It offered 12 classes to middle-school-aged girls that focused on health, beauty, and professional development. Regina hopes to keep the program going once she graduates. “I was very blessed to have worked with these girls because they taught me to appreciate what and who I have in my life,” she said. “At the final meeting, one of the girls proudly told me that she had stopped inflicting self-harm and that she was in a happier place in her life. Another girl, who had been shy from the beginning, hugged me and thanked me for helping her move on from depression. These girls will forever hold a special place in my heart. My goal for my project was to help these girls avoid depression and not become another story on the news. After completing my project, I have a sense of how much can be accomplished by helping others, individually and in a community setting, and I will move forward in life knowing that I have the power to create social change.”
Malini loves animals and has known since she was 7 that she wants to be a vet. She has logged hundreds of hours volunteering at Zoo Atlanta and local veterinarian practices. At Zoo Atlanta, she has served both as a representative to the public on conservation issues and has helped care for the animals by fixing meals in the kitchens or working in the petting zoo. She is also a certified wrangler and counselor for the Girl Scouts horseback riding program at Camp Meriwether and is a founder of The Galloway School’s Animal Welfare Club, which organizes fundraisers for local pet charities like Furkids. Malini also has interests in mentoring and tutoring younger students, which she does currently as co-president of Galloway Girl Talk, and as co-leader of Lead to Learn, a mentorship and tutoring program pairing Galloway high schoolers with Sutton Middle School students. She was selected to be part of Giving Point’s social innovators academy and was recently recognized through that organization with a Presidential Volunteer Service Award.
Aliza volunteers weekly with Friendship Circle to work with a young adult who is developmentally delayed. Aliza visits the girl at her home, takes her on outings and engages in her favorite activities. Aliza also volunteers with Friends of Refugees, tutoring elementary-aged refugee children in English, math and social studies in Clarkston. She serves on the advisory board of Peace by Piece, an interfaith alliance connecting Muslim, Catholic and Jewish high school students in Atlanta. She also leads workshops for her peers about sexuality and body image. Aliza recounts a story of seeing three women weighted down with groceries waiting for the bus in the cold: “I popped the trunk and I handed a sweater of mine to one of the women who was wearing only a T-shirt. Driving home, I began to process what had just happened and recognized that I could have, if only for a moment, bridged the gap of inequality that I had just witnessed. I turned around and came back to the three women and drove them each home, losing an hour of study time but gaining an immeasurable understanding of community, growth and God.”
Inspired by a 3-year-old cousin born with Down syndrome, Brooke in 2017 started a chapter of Play Unified, a national organization through Special Olympics that encourages people to work with those who have disabilities. In 2017, the Westminster club attracted 54 members. It expanded to 62 members in 2018. Club members have joined with Top Soccer to play soccer with kids with special needs and volunteered with the North Atlanta High School Unified Basketball team to help at practices; with GiGi’s Playhouse, a development center for kids with Down syndrome, to teach science classes in the STEM program; and with Blaze Sports to play indoor sports games with special needs students. One of the club’s projects was to build three portable bocce courts for Atlanta Public Schools. “I was able to see the kids use the courts in a citywide bocce competition,” Brooke said. “It was so exciting to see that all of our hard work was bringing happiness and excitement to those that were competing. The athlete’s oath for the Special Olympics is: ‘Let me win. If I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.’ In my eyes, every athlete was a winner that day.
Carson, a soccer player himself, realized that many talented and deserving children couldn’t afford the fees associated with club soccer teams, so he set out to change that. Building on a partnership The Lovett School has with Agape Youth and Family Center, Carson created the Golden Goal Soccer Camp. He has run the camp for three years, pulling together volunteers, resources and equipment to provide students aged 8-11 with soccer clinics that teach fundamentals, teamwork and character. He has also established a plan for the camp to continue after he graduates from Lovett. Carson was recently honored as a Teen Volunteer of the Year Award by the Atlanta chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. Carson recounts working with a young student at the camp who managed to score a game-winning goal. “She had the biggest smile on her face and you could see how much it meant to her,” he said. “You could tell that she’d be telling everyone she knew about that goal for weeks. It was really incredible to see such a small thing made everybody so happy, and it capped off a fantastic end to the week and was a fitting conclusion to an incredible three-year journey for me with the camp.”
Last fall, Bailey earned her Girl Scout Gold Award for her Edgy Veggie project. She led workshops around Buckhead for kids, teens and adults to teach about healthy eating and body image. Through fundraising, she was able to distribute printed reusable canvas bags to encourage environmental sustainability with her workshop attendees. She created a Clean Eating Club at North Atlanta High School and used leftover funds raised to donate to the Peachtree Road Farmers Market for supplies from their wish list. Bailey was honored as a 2018 Teen Volunteer of the Year by the Greater Atlanta Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals during National Philanthropy Day. “Throughout my Girl Scout Gold Award Project, I taught people about the importance of eating healthy food and treating your body right, and hearing about the way people were impacted was very meaningful to me,” she said. “On more than one occasion, people shared that they were struggling with eating issues and that my workshops helped them to develop a new mindset. Hearing that I had struck a chord with these people had a definite impact on me, and I’m so thankful that I could give back to them through volunteering.”
Hannah began her service work in the seventh grade, when she raised money to purchase soccer nets for a girls’ soccer tournament in Zambia. Once in high school, she began a scholarship fund for high school students in Lusaka, Zambia, and raised $3,000 in the first year to cover tuition costs for 18 students. During the past two years, Hannah has raised more than $5,000 to pay tuition for 22 students. She has also been active in helping to feed and provide necessities for the homeless and with Family Promise, an organization that houses homeless families in religious communities until they can get back on their feet. “My most memorable moment was when I got to meet the first graduate of the scholarship program for high school students in Lusaka, Zambia,” she said. “He just received a full-ride scholarship for college and started his own clothing line. His name is Steven and he is an incredible artist and very nice.”
Matt is deeply involved in his community. He is in his second year as a member of the student board advising State Superintendent of Education Richard Woods, meaning he represents more than 100,000 DeKalb County students in discussions at the state Capitol on education. “The Georgia [Department of Education] is really good at listening to us,” Matt said, “and they even passed a couple bills last year in response to collaboration with this board.” Matt also has served as the youngest senior patrol leader of Troop 764 at St. Luke’s Presbyterian Church. For his Eagle Scout project, he planned and oversaw construction of the “Wildcat Pride” gazebo at Dunwoody High School.
In the spring of 2016, Brett co-founded the Community Outreach Club at Holy Innocents’. The club organizes opportunities for students to volunteer their time in helping others. It has attracted more than 75 members and is one of the most popular clubs on campus. Members accumulate from 10 to 50 total hours of community service on a monthly basis. Brett also worked with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and most recently raised $1,800 for research. He also serves as a Peer Mentor, counseling and providing advice to freshman in weekly organized meetings, as well as in informal encounters whenever students need guidance. Brett has served as a camp counselor with the Dunwoody Nature Center and YMCA Camp High Harbor over the past three summers, and he is a three-year starter on the HIES varsity baseball team, playing a significant role in the team’s success during the past two seasons.
These three Westminster juniors created START, Inc. (Science to Action Road Trips), a nonprofit that offers experiential learning opportunities to students who might not otherwise receive them. Instead of the traditional method of teaching, Anup, Daven and Zander embrace hands-on learning and ask kids to connect math and science with their own lives, building positive connections between science and fun in their brains. Last year, they took 70 students from Scott Elementary to Sky Zone, where they bounced on the trampolines and embraced Newton’s laws of physics. The group looks to build on that success this year with five field trips — involving more than 320 elementary school students — to places such as Sky Zone and iFLY to bring science to life for the students they work with. Daven said it has been “heartwarming” to how excited the young students are to connect having fun with learning about science. “The fact that kids can learn for fun fascinated and continued to drive my passion for my volunteering,” Zander said.
When her mother successfully battled breast cancer in 2014, Caroline decided she wanted to do something to help others facing the illness. She paired with Sharsheret, a Jewish organization that provides support to women with breast and ovarian cancer, and to their families. Caroline co-chaired Pink Day, a nationwide two-day event designed to raise awareness and funding for Sharsheret. She also started a health-conscious food drive at her school to provide healthier options for people in need. After the food drive showed great success, she decided to continue this project into her senior year, and paired with a Jewish food donation organization, continuing her efforts to bring healthy food to those in need. “After the end of my first food drive, as I started packing the food into bags for each family, I was so incredibly happy,” she said. “I had spent countless hours planning the drive and hoping loads of healthy food would be donated, and my dream came true. Each bag was packed with a healthy meal and a fun greeting card. As I passed out the bags, I felt an extreme happiness, and I knew I had to continue doing this!”
Sofia has positively impacted young students through her work with Aprendiendo Inglés Sólido, an organization that reaches out to support underserved Latin and Hispanic students. As one of the largest student service organizations at Atlanta International School, Sofia coordinates a group of 50-plus tutors who work with local public school students. She also works as a counselor at TEC Camp, offering attendees an introduction to technology, engineering and computing. Sofia was instrumental in bringing in female engineering professors to talk to AIS’s middle school students about the disparity between men and women in STEM fields. “The reason why I love leading the Aprendiendo Inglés Sólido service group alongside my peers at my school is because I get to witness the impact that a connection makes for the students that we tutor,” she said. “I believe that everyone, no matter their background, should have access to a high-quality education; by volunteering for this group, I have the opportunity to share my knowledge and excitement about education with other students.”
Simone’s goal is to showcase the importance of swimming as a life skill, not just a sport. As a lifeguard and competitive swimmer at The Galloway School, she started a group called A Swimmer in Every Girl to help girls aged 10 to 18 have a support system and the resources to get the basic skills of swimming. Last fall, participants in the Learn to Swim program received private lessons at a reduced rate and she helped girls begin the year-long training session with her swim team. She does a monthly session to help prepare girls to transition into the swimming world. Simone plans to change the social norms of swimming “one stroke at a time.” She also is active in volunteering for other causes, having earned a Presidential Volunteer Service Award for service at Hands on Atlanta, Action Ministries, Social Change Foundation, Atlanta Community Food Bank and other volunteer organizations. Simone particularly remembers a volunteer event with Action Ministries when she was helping to collect food for Feed the Hungry. “The atmosphere of everyone wanting to give back to their community was uplifting,” she said. “This was the time when I truly became invested in giving back and helping others in any way.”
The seniors can’t escape the pull of the Dominican Republic city of Puerto Plata and an organization called Project Esperanza, which provides education, social aid and community development for the city’s Haitian immigrant population. Abigail and Davis participated in study tours in 2015 and 2016 and were so taken that they planned their own summer camp session in 2017 to teach vocabulary and music. They remained connected to Project Esperanza throughout the school year by sponsoring a student through the organization, and they returned once again in 2018, this time incorporating STEAM and robotics into their camp’s curriculum. “Our time with the children in Puerto Plata has broadened our horizons, helped to put our lives into a global perspective and taught us to better understand cultural differences,” they said.
When Lindsey Reina was a sophomore, one of the speakers in a course she was taking called Leadership and Society told of his work in the fight against human sex trafficking. During the same term, Marist students held a civil discourse day that provided more information about the topic. Lindsey was inspired and decided to create her own nonprofit, called Stop the Madness HST, to raise awareness among youth and to combat human sex trafficking in Atlanta. Proceeds from sales through her website, stopthemadnesshst.org, go to Wellspring Living, an Atlanta-based organization that seeks to transform the lives of human trafficking victims. She has raised more than $6,000 so far. In addition to starting her own nonprofit, Lindsey has been involved in athletics, the arts, student government and campus ministry. This year, Lindsey was selected to be a Teen Court volunteer for the DeKalb County Juvenile Court.
This past summer, Cynthia held an art exhibit titled “To Seek” in her hometown of Shenzhen, China, to support the World Wildlife Fund. She and a friend who lives in Boston curated the exhibit with their own work, paintings and photographs with themes of nature and wildlife. Through sales of prints on postcards and bookmarks, Cynthia raised $1,000 for the fund. The idea for an art exhibit to support WWF stemmed from her frequent visits to Zoo Atlanta, a place she feels is “personally important to [her] for inspiration.” She’s gone to the zoo with her art class and on her own to photograph the animals for study and as the basis for paintings. In the future, she hopes to work in city planning or landscape design. This past summer, Cynthia interned in Beijing with the China Architecture Design and Research group to create a design guideline for the Beijing waterfront, taking into consideration the surrounding ecosystems and communities. She also attended a three-week summer program where she visited hospitals and assisted living facilities to analyze their operating systems. For her final project, she created a design for a shower spa for those who cannot shower by themselves.
Prompted by her own experience, Isa Williams decided to address the deterioration of self-esteem in middle-school girls for her Girl Scouts Gold Award project. Isa created a mentoring program for girls transitioning to middle school at Agape Youth and Family Center. The program proved successful, so she translated it into Spanish for five schools in Latin America. Isa said that each day of the week-long program, she and a group of other high school girls she selected and trained would lead activities and share personal experiences with the younger girls. “The goal of the program was to discuss solutions to problematic situations surrounding friendship, bullying, social media and stress ahead of time, in order to minimize future conflict,” she said. “By the end of the program, the girls developed meaningful connections with their mentors and skills to successfully navigate middle school.”
Isabelle’s personal commitment to social justice and service to others has culminated with the creation of her own nonprofit called Cycle of Change, which raises money to purchase bicycles for the low-income children at Tongabezi Trust School in Livingstone, Zambia, who must walk for hours to get an education. She also started a new service project — called Books to Prison — at AGS to collect books and school supplies for inmates and children of inmates at the Arrendale women’s prison. “For me, the most memorable moment of giving back to my community was delivering over 400 books and coloring sets to the Arrendale women’s prison for the inmates and their children,” she said. “I have always been passionate about criminal justice reform and this was an amazing way to put a face to an issue that has meant a lot to me.”
Julia has successfully channeled her love of art into creating and directing Art for Art, a nonprofit that supports the arts in both developed and underdeveloped communities. Julia raised money by selling her own art and partnered with an international charity to provide art classes for over 100 children in underserved communities in Africa. A strong environmentalist, Julia also founded Action for Clean Tap Water in America (ACTWA.org) to address the health threat posed by specific chromium levels in tap water. Julia has gained recognition from the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards and the U.S. President’s National Volunteer Service Awards programs. “In creating Art for Art, I hoped to use my love of the arts to help communities in need around the world,” she said. “I am very proud of the work we have done and the funding we have been able to provide for positive, esteem-building art classes for children who live in poverty in communities without running water, electricity or sanitation.”
Ellie has traveled to Honduras five times in the past five years to help doctors with medical exams, dentistry and providing hearing aids. She also has worked with the Georgia Epilepsy Foundation to give presentations about neurological disorders such as epilepsy and to inform her peers about first aid procedures involving neurological medical emergencies. She participated in a Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Explorers Program that shadows doctors and nurses to learn about the professions offered in medicine; in The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Students of The Year program, winning the mission awareness scholarship; and in the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Circle of Hope Leadership Committee, which assists with youth programs. In addition to her medical-focused work, Ellie serves as a member of the Decatur Youth Council and serves on the United Way Youth Board.
20 Under 20 Runners-Up
Baird Kazazian, 18: A senior at The Westminster Schools, Baird founded the Atlanta Junior Chapter of The Society for Orphaned Armenian Relief, serves on the executive committee of the UNICEF Southeast Youth Board and received the Congressional Gold Medal for his volunteer efforts in 2018.
Alex Allen, 17: An active volunteer at the Center for Civil and Human Rights, the Pace Academy senior helped lead the creation of new teen programming at the facility.
Nathan Posner, 18: Nathan serves as a volunteer photographer for the Human Rights Campaign and Atlanta Pride to document events and program. The Weber School senior has also worked on anti-bullying efforts at the school.
Elye Robinovitz, 18: He started the Weber Vols, a student volunteer organization to engage in service projects around Atlanta. He’s also worked with Breast Cancer Awareness, the Anti-Defamation League and volunteered at Aurora Day Camp.
Mary Elizabeth Marquardt, 18: Passionate about social justice, the Atlanta Girls’ School senior logged 330 hours campaigning for Stacey Abrams, interviewed Sen. Cory Booker for Facebook Live and is co-founder of the school’s Committee For Social Justice and Equity.
Travis Harper II, 17: He has volunteered much of his time as Mock Trial Team Captain at Atlanta International School to recruit, mentor and coach younger members. He’s also been on the Student Council since 9th grade and currently serves as co-president.
Christian Porter, 17: Christian is a leader within student government and Atlanta International School organizations like the Student Culture Club and Science Olympiad. He is co-captain of the varsity swim team, serves as an acolyte in his church, and teaches local children how to swim.
Katherine Atkinson, 17: An actress, singer and director, the North Atlanta High School senior works with Sutton Middle School students on theatrical productions, including co-directing a recent production of “Mamma Mia!”
William Schulman, 15, and Christian Rubio, 15: William and Christian created the Classics Club at Centro Catolico, a subsect of Holy Spirit Catholic Church that serves the Latino communities in Sandy Springs. The duo teaches about Latin and Greek language, mythology, and culture to students age 4 to 15.
Colette Blackmon, 18: The Atlanta Girls’ School senior teaches aerial dance and choreography and uses her talent to raise money for local organizations such as Grant Park Conservancy, Paint Love and Horizon Theatre.
Albert Liang, 17: The Westminster student created Chess Buddies Foundation, a nonprofit that teaches the game in both English and Spanish. He’s also traveled to Guatemala to build homes and regularly volunteers to help tutor and mentor in Spanish.
Aaron Yu, 16: The Westminster sophomore has volunteered with Meals on Wheels, tutors in mathematics, performs music at local retirement homes, and helped students hone their debate skills.
Jessica Lao, 17: She co-directs the student-run nonprofit Circle of Women at Westminster that increases access for secondary education for girls around the world. She served as director of fundraising last year and helped the organization collect $15,000.
Sydney Pargman, 17: The Riverwood senior received the Princeton Prize in Race Relations in 2018 for his RALI (Race Across Lines Initiative) Project. His goal was to better understand and ultimately improve race relations.
Nadera Herbert-Bey, 17: The Atlanta International School senior works with A Better Chance (ABC), a national leadership program that places and supports high performing students of color in independent schools. She mentored prospective ABC students while she was in grades 9 and 10, and was selected to be a leader this year with ABC New Student Orientation.
Yannie Tan, 17: A gifted pianist, the Atlanta International School student has performed at multiple benefit concerts, including one to support the children of St. Jude’s Hospital. She also uses her music talent to give motivational speeches hoping to inspire students to appreciate classical music. She has spoken at many different conferences and music camps in the United States and Europe, reaching over 10,000 students and counting.