With more than 80 nominations this year, narrowing down our slate of 20 Under 20 honorees was more difficult than ever. But we think you’ll agree that this year’s honorees – along with runners up – are doing extraordinary things to make 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.
This year, we noticed a trend among many of the honorees – their interest and passion for the environment and social justice causes. Many of the students are actively working at school and in the community to combat climate change and homelessness as well as mentoring refugees and underserved minority communities around the city. There has been an incredible uptick of students creating nonprofits to help raise funds not only from the community, but from corporations as well.
We hope these uplifting stories will inspire you to find ways to give back to the community.
Noah Daly, 17
Dunwoody High School
Noah was studying late one night at a local restaurant when he saw employees loading unsold bakery items into a company truck. He went online and discovered that at the end of each day, the restaurant donated unsold baked goods to local hunger relief and charitable organizations. Other restaurants, he discovered, threw away perfectly good unsold food because they had no way to transport it to food pantries. He decided to do something about that.
Once Noah could drive, he contacted a couple of restaurants and offered to transport useable food they otherwise would toss out to the Community Assistance Center in Sandy Springs. Since 2018, Noah has been responsible for the donation of 11,400 pounds of bakery and other food items to the CAC, reported Deanna deRoux, a school counselor at Dunwoody High, where Noah is a senior.
Francesca Grossman, 18
The Weber School
Francesca, who goes by “Frankie,” says she got her first taste of community service when she was in the eighth grade and joined Creating Connected Communities, an organization the provides ways for teens to volunteer with children in need. “Doing something for people I didn’t know made my heart feel whole,” she wrote.
So, she kept volunteering. She stayed with CCC and branched out into other forms of service. At The Weber School, where she’s now a senior, she and a friend formed the Green Team, a club that pushed for recycling of utensils and plates in the school cafeteria. She has raised money for the Georgia Ovarian Cancer Alliance and traveled to the Dominican Republic for a marine and coastal conversation program. Last summer, she said, she helped restore a school building in a village in Fiji.
“I truly love helping my community and I find it rewarding,” she wrote. “Through community service, I want to make an impact on the world. Though I feel that I have been on this journey of helping through community service for a long time, I do not see an end in sight. I think when given the opportunity to help, one should take advantage and lend a helping hand.”
George Corbin, 17
The Westminster Schools
The junior has created a project called Technology Opens Doors that addresses the technology needs of men transitioning out of homelessness with the guidance of GivingPoint’s Social Innovators Academy. After a visit to GeorgiaWorks! and observing men seeking employment, but without adequate technology, tools and training, George knew he could help.
He surveyed the men at GeorgiaWorks!, met with the director and men to listen to their needs, but also to understand their capacity and skills they already possessed. Using this information, George started involving his peers, his school community and others to work with him to fulfill his project goals. George plans to apply for nonprofit status for Technology Opens Doors so that he can obtain funding and continue to provide assistance to those in need. He’s also found time to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity, Salvation Army Bellwood Boys and Girls Club, and more.
“Age is not a barrier when it comes to helping improve peoples’ lives,” George said. “I learned to always keep looking for different ways to find a solution. If your first idea does not work, approach it from a different angle but never give up.”
Kennedy Elise Walls, 17
Kennedy is founder and CEO of Aid the Journey, a nonprofit she started with money from her tutoring work to provide medical supplies, hygiene kits and educational materials to refugees. She also made time to volunteer more than 100 hours at Emory St. Joseph Hospital and this summer Kennedy is participating in the Harvard Medical Science program and the Hispanic Scholarship Fund Youth Leadership Institute at the University of Chicago. She also will participate in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Disease Detective Camp, and attend an Inspiring Girls Expedition for 12 days in Anchorage, Alaska.
“Although I feel perpetually tired, every time I hand deliver one of my medical kits to a refugee I am energized,” Kennedy said. “Maya Angelou’s quote was right: ‘People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’”
Spencyr Aronson and Maya Kaplan, 18
After participating in a Covenant House “Sleep Out” to raise funds to combat youth homelessness, the seniors were so moved by what they witnessed, that they applied for and were accepted into the organization’s Scholars in Service program. For four months, Spencyr and Maya learned about philanthropy, fundraising, conducting service projects and developing their voices to speak about homelessness. They approached local businesses and large corporations alike to educate others about youth homeless and solicit donations.
In the end, they raised more than $50,000 for Covenant House Georgia, won the $2,500 Scholars in Service scholarship award, and presented one of CHGA’s college-bound youth with a matching $2,500 scholarship. Three weeks later, the girls reached out to say that they decided to donate their scholarships back to Covenant House to launch the Post-secondary Education Fund fulfilling a long time dream of CHGA’s program staff to have funds dedicated to helping young people overcome their barriers to accessing college.
“No matter how big or insurmountable any problem seems, there is always something that can be done to help find a solution,” Spencyr said about her work as a volunteer. Maya echoed that sentiment: “Through my work with the Covenant House, I have seen how even a little bit of help can make a huge difference in someone’s life, from giving someone a roof over their head to providing them with the opportunity to access an education.”
Neha Devineni, 17
Riverwood International Charter School
Neha is the founder of nonprofit ASA (Aspire, Serve, Achieve), an organization that helps support and raise funds for underprivileged children. Her inspiration for the organization came after a trip to India and after she discovered there were also exorbitant levels of child poverty in Georgia. The organization has grown to 100 ambassadors and chapters in Georgia, Texas, Michigan, and India.
Currently, Neha is working to help a group of children in Michigan who are impacted by the Flint Water crisis as well as a school in India for blind children in need of Braille books. Local initiatives that ASA is currently organizing include a donation of food to the Community Assistance Center and support for the Sandy Springs Mission. At school, she developed the Riverwood United alliance to bridge the gap between students of distinct cultures.
“My volunteer work has made me aware of the little things in life that make the biggest difference, the vitality of uniting a community to pursue a cause that makes a difference in peoples’ lives, and the significance of receiving emotions that can be cherished for a lifetime.”
Ruthie Reid, 18
Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School
Ruthie started a Culture Club at school and volunteers with the Agape Youth & Family Center, but found her volunteer calling working with immigrant children in DeKalb County. After completing a project on Syrian refugees for her 10th-grade history class, Ruthie laid out a plan to work with young immigrants in Clarkston, the DeKalb County community where scores of refugees have settled. For her Girl Scout Gold Award, Ruthie put together a program through the Clarkston Community Center. In summer 2018, refugee children at the center drew and wrote in “Journey Journals” Ruthie created to share their cultures, to document things they found important and to improve their English writing and speaking skills.
“In light of the local, national and global plight of refugees, I wanted to make a difference and felt this organization and community was a good place to start,” Ruthie wrote in her final project report. “Using my talents in art and education, I wanted to develop a program to give these children respect and a voice through a project that could be shared with other refugee centers.”
Amanda Houston, 12
When she was 7, Amanda was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disease in which the body doesn’t produce enough insulin and that requires regular injections of insulin for blood-sugar control. But she hasn’t let the disease slow her down. Soon after her diagnosis, she wrote thank-you letters the nurses and doctors at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta who treated her. She also wrote letters offering hope and comfort to other children diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes and to their families. She has continued writing those encouraging letters to patients and their families every year on the anniversary of her diagnosis.
She also has helped raise thousands of dollars for JDRF, a charity that funds research into diabetes and provides support for people dealing with the disease. Amanda’s Army, her JDRF One Walk team, has raised more than that $45,000 for the charity over the past five years. In addition to her One Walk team, Amanda has introduced speakers at the JDRF Type One Nation Summit, attended a research event and lab tour at Georgia Tech as part of a JDRF-funded research update, and, since 2015, has volunteered as a Youth Ambassador for JDRF.
Lizzie Joiner, 17
Greater Atlanta Christian School
Lizzie works to help disadvantaged people both in Atlanta and abroad. She teaches Vacation Bible School, has assisted in New Birth Missionary Baptist Church’s community services initiatives, and helped distribute more than 5,000 shoes through a back-to-school drive. She also helped create more than 50,000 meals for families in Kenya. This fall, Lizzie and a fellow student created a campaign to collect donations of necessities such as canned goods for victims of Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas.
“Viewing everyone as equal, volunteering becomes an act that improves the lives of those who may be in need,” Lizzie wrote. “True volunteers do not help because others have less; they volunteer so that everyone can obtain exactly what they need to survive and thrive. I have learned that a true volunteer serves best when combined with deep respect, encouragement and motivation. That is what I strive to offer each time I volunteer.”
Sophie Lettes, 17
Sophie’s passion is the environment. As a sophomore, she travelled to Ghana, where she watched women craft beads out of recycled materials to support their families. Upon her return, Sophie was selected to serve on Pace’s Isdell Center for Global Leadership Council, a student group that works to improve Pace’s environmental practices, lower its carbon footprint and educate the student body regarding waste reduction in their daily lives. Through that organization, Sophie led an initiative to redirect Pace’s cafeteria waste through composting, an effort that has kept thousands of pounds of food waste out of landfills.
In addition, Sophie has helped coordinate hands-on activities ranging from making homemade toothpaste and fabric food wrap, to charting the lifecycle of items from orange peels and laptops, to hosting a bulk “candy shop” for Halloween. Sophie is now one of four students who spend the school year diving deep into the ICGL annual global theme. This year that theme is “waste.”
“My passion for the environment is a great start, but I cannot hope to influence others unless I combine that passion with knowledge,” she says. “Hopefully, this venture will lead me toward similar programs in college and beyond and even help shape my career.”
Caroline Sellers, 17
Atlanta Girls’ School
With Los Niños Primero (LNP), a kindergarten readiness program for Latinx preschoolers, the senior has logged over 300 hours of service. As a fluent Spanish speaker, she has been actively involved in the program for four years. She has been selected for three years as one of 10 Teen Ambassadors who reflect the values of LNP within the organization as well as in their community. As part of her Girl Scout Gold Award project, she created a campaign to address the issue of organ donation with teen drivers at Atlanta Girls’ School and beyond.
“Through my volunteer work in and out of my local community I have developed empathy and respect for intellectual and cultural differences in regard to race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status,” she said. “Throughout my time with Los Niños Primero, the students constantly show me the power of forgiveness and inclusion. Watching them put these practices into action at such a young age reminds me to employ them in my own everyday life, and gives me hope for the future.”
Channing Stall, 16
As a ninth-grader, Channing was nominated to participate in a leadership development and philanthropy program run by the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Over a seven-week period, she managed a team of nine students and raised over $64,000 for the charity. She coordinated a lacrosse clinic for Wesleyan students and asked friends, family members and local corporations to help her meet her goal. Now a 10th-grader, Channing has continued her involvement with LLS. She serves on the organization’s Student Leadership Team in Georgia and mentors other students on how to raise money for LLS. She has worked with the national LLS team and helped develop training materials for students nationwide. Channing also is a member of the National Charity League and has received awards for significant levels of volunteer work in her community.
Kendall Greene, 17
The Lovett School
The senior’s focus on activism, sustainability, and citizenship has seen her serve as Georgia’s representative for the Student Worldwide Sustainability Protest, which organized last year’s Youth Climate Strike. Kendall also curated a nonprofit art gallery at the Center for Civil and Human Rights to unite performers, painters, sculptors, and poets to discourage the idea that young people need to be isolated from one another. She worked on this project for months in partnership with the City of Atlanta. In terms of future projects and endeavors, she is integrating her love of community gardens and sustainable initiatives with yet another partnership with Atlanta native musician and artist, Raury, to create a community garden and art center in Stone Mountain. This long-term project will inform her Lovett senior capstone project in the spring as well.
“Through volunteering, I’ve learned the importance of showing up consistently. I’ve found strength in compassionately serving others and following through on my commitments, regardless of how tired I may be from school. I have learned to prioritize volunteer work and creating opportunities for people to come together. The service work that I have had the ability to do has exposed me to not only the realities and injustices of the world, but the solutions.”
Ty Thompson, 17
Riverwood International Charter School
On the volleyball court, Ty is known to be as a team player. Off the court, she’s helping lead the way to better awareness and positive change in her community. The senior’s list of community service projects includes working with Hands on Atlanta and founding and serving as president of the Riverwood Black Student Union, a group that encourages minority students to take leadership positions at the school. She’s also co-founded RICS United, which works to improve race relations at Riverwood, and founded an organized called Building Relationships in Dialogue Gets Everyone Speaking, or BRIDGES, to promote communication among teens.
Robert Weir, 17
St. Pius X Catholic School
Through the Young Men’s Service League, Robert shares his time and energy with all sorts of people. He volunteers with senior citizens, cancer patients, at-risk elementary school students and teens with disabilities. And during each of his four years with the YMSL, he’s contributed 50 to 100 hours of volunteer time in the community. He’s helped develop the organization, too, by serving as its president, secretary, chairman of philanthropy and historian.
“He is very proud of these accolades,” St. Pius X counselor Arline Umpierre wrote. “However, this is not why he remains enthusiastic about giving back to his community. He truly enjoys calling bingo games for his senior friends, making and serving meals for cancer patients at the Hope Lodge, working with at-risk elementary school students and playing basketball with the Titan [wheelchair team] teenagers.”
Kaelyn Bannon, 15
Holy Spirit Preparatory School
Through book drives organized as part of her Silver Award service project for Girl Scouts, Kaelyn collected reading material for children who might not otherwise have ready access to it outside school. She contributed nearly 1,000 books to the Cobb County Juvenile Court System, and she and her dad made two brightly colored bookshelves to hold the material. “Some kids who end up in the waiting room may not have [books] at home,” she said, “and these bookshelves can serve as a distraction from their reasons for being there.”
When delivering the books, Kaelyn told a crowd of judges and other court staff members: “Our hope is that children will have the opportunity to find interest in literature, and be able to read and learn, even in the most unlikely places, no matter their circumstances.”
Isha Perry, 17
North Springs High School
Isha works with the Community Assistance Center’s food bank and thrift shop to help families in need in Sandy Springs and also is involved in many school-based leadership positions, including the North Springs Be The Voice anti-bullying campaign and in the North Springs Principal/Student Advisory Committee. She takes part in the North Springs “High 5 Friday” program, through which student athletes go to Woodland Elementary and cheer their students on for making positive choices. She also volunteers as part of the Student Association of Sandy Springs, a collaboration between the students of North Springs High and Mount Vernon School to strengthen the community through service and to build a bond between public and private schools.
Emily Demps, 16
North Atlanta High School
Emily began helping others in the seventh grade when she organized a clothing, book and toy drive for students at Lomas del Rio school while serving on a mission trip to Costa Rica. Since then, the junior has logged more than 500 volunteer service hours as a tutor and mentor at Buckhead Church, Los Ninos Primavera, Camp All American and Woodson Park Academy. Emily participated in GivingPoint’s Social Innovators Academy, where she started a group called Smart Brown Girls at Woodson Park Academy. Through the club, she mentored a group of fifth grade African-American girls focusing on issues of self-esteem, self-image, leadership and challenges associated with living and learning in underserved communities.
She also raised money to purchase clothes, toiletries, school supplies and backpacks for students at the Academy. She also recently organized a volunteer project with her volleyball team to raise money for St. Jude’s Children Research Hospital. For her volunteer work, Emily was recently awarded the President’s Volunteer Service Award.
“A person shouldn’t volunteer because they have to, but because they want to serve someone else in their community,” she said. “The love to serve others makes the service more impactful and has a greater impact on the people or organization you are serving.”
Tali Feen, 17
Atlanta Jewish Academy
A busy senior at AJA, Tali’s list of volunteer initiatives and efforts would never fit this space, but highlights include sitting on the board of the Leadership Development Program for nonprofit Creating Connected Communities (CCC), which serves underprivileged children around Atlanta. Tali oversees CCC events including spring and fall festivals and afterschool programs. She’s also a member of the Teen Leadership Council for the Atlanta Ronald McDonald House (ARMH), where she raised enough money through school and synagogue fundaisers to host a family at the ARMH for an entire week. Tali also volunteers at the Childrens Hospital and at the Jewish Food Bank. She was selected to participate in the MLK ADL Summit, which educates high schoolers on tolerance, acceptance and non-violence.
With plans to become a pediatric cardio-thorasic surgeon, Tali’s advice for others who want to volunteer is simple: “Even the smallest acts of kindness make the biggest difference.”
Robert Luke Joseph, 17
Atlanta International School
The senior designed a video game called “Race,” creating the concept, characters and animations to highlight marginalized groups and promote inclusion in the video game industry. He was recognized for his achievements last spring when he received the Rochester Institute of Technology Creativity and Innovation Award. Along with his involvement at school, including serving on the Student Council and co-leading the Student Culture Club, Robert Luke initiated a project and has volunteered his time over the last year at Campbell-Stone Assisted Living Facility creating a fundraising calendar for the residents.
“It may seem counterintuitive, but once you really become a dedicated volunteer towards a specific program or project, it can often take real patience and perseverance to make the difference you are committed to,” he said. “There are no shortcuts or quick fixes, and the nuances to contributing to social change involve hard work, dedication, and resilience, inside of the honor of seeing a job through.”
20 Under 20 Runners-Up
Oliver’s passion is Spanish, both the language and the culture. Through Los Niños Primero in Sandy Springs, Oliver taught Latino youths to help them in school. Through the Spanish National Honor Society, Oliver participated in Hispanic-based community service and encouraged his peers to join him. As co-founder of the Riverwood International Charter School Spanish Club, Oliver spearheaded service projects, programs about Spanish politics and culture, and supply drives to benefit school and community Latino families. Oliver also co-founded the ESOL Tutoring Program at Riverwood and he has helped rebuild homes and facilities in Spanish-speaking countries.
As one of the top chess players in state, the Pace Academy junior co-founded Scholarly Chess, a non-profit organization to promote chess and host regular chess tournaments. He also co-created VEMS, an app designed to help track student volunteer hours that received the LexisNexis championship award.
Dev Joshi and Emaad Daya
The Westminster Schools duo educate people on the environmental crisis through their social impact project called The Carbon-12 Project, which raises money for carbon capture technologies and a variety of climate projects that reduce carbon emissions.
Sara, captain of Dunwoody High School’s fencing team, finds time for many local charities. She has organized her team to make sandwiches for the homeless, has taught fencing at summer camp and has volunteered to coordinate children’s activities through Creating Connected Communities. She also planted daffodils in a local park in remembrance of children lost in the Holocaust and made biscuits to be donated to Furkids Animal Rescue & Shelters.
The Atlanta International School senior captains the school’s iHOT Robotics Team and has been instrumental in leading the team to the quarterfinals in its division in the World Championships for three years in a row. He also plays bassoon in the AIS band and co-founded two tech startups.
Whether Chandler is serving as president of his class president or the student government, overseeing the Riverwood International
Charter School math tutoring program, serving as head tutor at the Raider Writing Center, teaching STEM to elementary school students, representing the school in both lacrosse and football, or representing the school as a Riverwood Ambassador, he is helping all of the students and future students at Riverwood. Chandler also volunteers at Hands Across Atlanta to feed the homeless; donates school supplies and toys; and organizes craft workshops.
An aspiring physician, the Westminster Schools senior created an outreach program, Gene Shorts, that exposes inner city students to the field of genetics. “When the students see me, a black girl who’s excited about biology, they realize that they too can become the future doctors, nurses, and scientists of the world.”
In 2017, Julia Founded Double Play ATL, a nonprofit organization developed to help underprivileged youth obtain the necessary equipment to play organized sports, which has since collected nearly 5,000 pieces of equipment and put 90
percent back into the community. Double Play has grown to involve sustainability projects as well. The Westminster Schools student also made time to volunteer her time at Threads, the Atlanta Food Bank, Agape, L’Amistad, Atlanta Children’s Shelter, My Sister’s House and many more.
The Westminster Schools junior has raised money and served more than 500 hours at organizations including LaAmistad, Operation Gratitude, Covenant House, Buckhead Christian Ministries, UNICEF, Changing Lives in Guatemala, PowerMyLearning, Hospice Atlanta, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, and City of Refuge.
The Holy Spirit Preparatory School 8th grader volunteers every weekday after school at Jacob’s Ladder Neurodevelopmental School and Therapy Center. His sister, Mae, has cerebral palsy, and he’s helped her and other students with communicating their needs and expressing themselves through art and yoga.
Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled the name of Maanit Madan.