The following stories have been pulled together from current applicants' real-life peacemaking projects.
Eleanor Ann, 9
Inspired by an article in the El Paso Times about homeless animals, Eleanor Ann founded Pennies FUR Pets to help animals “find FURever homes.” She started collecting pennies and spare change at local events and businesses and in one month raised $2,600. After compiling a team of 60 peers, Pennies FUR Pets has raised over $16,500 to donate to the Animal Rescue League and has saved over 3,100 homeless pets’ lives. Eleanor Ann hopes to continue and expand her project, and reminds us that, “even the smallest person could make the biggest difference."
As a tutor in high school Khalil touched the lives of many young children struggling with math. He noticed that one of his students struggled with math but was an exceptional basketball player. With this realization, Khalil knew he had to do something to bring academics and sports together. Khalil’s first step was to start integrating basketball into the math problems his students were having trouble with. He saw an immediate change in his students’ attitudes towards math. He thought that, “If we could bring the NBA into the classroom and make math feel like a basketball game, millions of kids across the country…could learn to love math and their overall life outcomes would improve.” That’s when he started NBA Math Hoops, a program partnering with the NBA and Hasbro® to create a supplemental math curriculum for middle and high school students centered around a basketball board game. The program has been piloted and has shown impressive results with students’ test scores improving by an average of 51% after the six-week curriculum. Since its start, the program has raised $100,000 through in-kind production from Hasbro® and plans to launch nationally, providing tool kits for classrooms and after school programs across the country.
Daniel is a gay student at the all-boys Catholic school he attends, Loyola High School in Los Angeles. Being gay was a taboo topic in his community and this left him feeling emotionally isolated and alone. Braving these feelings, Daniel found the courage to come out to his school community and has since become the school’s pioneer for gay rights. He started to meet with the administration and department heads to achieve his goals: to start a club or support group for gay students and to provide sensitivity training for faculty and staff. Daniel says, “No student should have to go through what I did, and I am going to work as hard as I can towards making sure every single student on Loyola's campus knows they are loved and welcome.” Through his efforts, Daniel’s mission is to set an example for all Catholic schools in the Archdiocese.
Sidney started CCChampions to connect professional athletes with children battling cancer. After seeing two close friends battle and then lose their fight with cancer, Sidney knew he wanted to provide more long term social support to cancer patients who often are forced to spend long periods of time in the hospital without the support of friends. Sidney recalls the inspiration for CCChampions when he saw his friend’s “eyes light up as he spoke about his favorite athletes.” He says, “I knew I had to harness that energy.” He decided to start reaching out to local children’s hospitals and professional sports teams to pair professional athletes with children battling cancer to create “long term, 1-to-1 friendships.” To date, Sidney has built a team of over 6,000 professional athletes, 150 student volunteers, and many partner organizations, sports teams, and hospitals. At CCChampions, he says, “we inspire children to beat cancer and feel like champions.”
After watching her mom pack boxes of food to deliver to homeless and hungry families in her community, Kyra became inspired to help the marginalized populations in her hometown. As she describes, “I was moved to take action by actually seeing people laying on benches and under bridges downtown in my own town. I felt really sad seeing people laying by the street. And I wanted to help them right away.” But Kyra also wanted to come up a way to reach more people. With the help of her mom, her sister, and one of her aunts, she started fundraising. Thus far, Kyra has raised over $1,000, packed 10 boxes of food by herself, helped pack over 200 bag lunches, and has given away over 50 fully stuffed book-bags at back-to-school events to children in need. Kyra’s goal is to expand her work so she can “help feed so many more people” because “if I cannot end homelessness, I can at least feed more people, more often.”
At a young age, Amit’s speech impediment made him acutely aware of the harm of bullying. To spread the message of empathy, Amit started My Name, My Story, a movement of school clubs and leaders, stories of inspiration, and live events. Amit feels that the key is to have youth show other youth the support systems they have available. The movement’s motto is “Hope, Believe, Succeed, and Inspire” and so far, 33 stories have been shared, 6 school clubs have been created, and more than 150 youth have volunteered to help lead the movement. As Amit says, “In the fear ridden society we live in today, the lack of empathy is the root of all evil. My Name, My Story has a simple plan to inspire empathy within the community.”
Sarah W., 21
After reading Hope’s Boy, a memoir by Andrew Bridge about growing up in the foster care system, Sarah was inspired to help California’s 80,000 foster children. She remembered the simple fleece blanket that she had made with her volleyball team and decided to engage all 800 students at her school make a blanket as a Christmas gift to local foster children. Not only did she reach her goal, but she also founded Creative Kindness, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping foster children. To date, Creative Kindness has distributed over 20,000 fleece blankets and 2,000 pairs of shoes, and has engaged over 40,000 people in the process. As Sarah puts it, “I want to continue helping this country’s foster children who are brave enough to do their best on their own. These children have inspired me and humbled me and set me on a path of service that I intend to follow throughout my life. ”
Regan started Young Performers Against Bullying, to address bullying in elementary schools. As a child actor, Regan never “followed the pack” and was the victim of bullying because of it. With the help of his family, he worked through his challenges and decided that he wanted to help other victims. He created an anonymous survey for students who had been bullied to assess what techniques really worked in communicating with kids. He also created a Young Performers Against Bullying Facebook page as a platform for kids to talk about their experiences with bullying. By selling custom pencils and soliciting donations, Young Performers Against Bullying has raised over $2,000 to combat bullying. Regan’s goal is to “make it cooler to be kind than it is to be a bully.”
Maryam started Tie-Dye Teens in the fall of 2011 after volunteering at a local Mud Run for MS, a disease her mother suffers from. She says watching her mother struggle “inspired in me a passion to help others” and gave her the motivation to found Tie-Dye Teens, an organization that has quickly blossomed with the mission of “empowering teens to help the world.” Focusing on connecting teens across boundaries, in communities, and around the globe, Tie-Dye Teens mobilizes youth “to help people less fortunate and in circumstances such as disaster, disease, and poverty.” With their newest project, Operation Comfort, Tie-Dye Teens is working to provide comfort packages to kids affected by disaster with an estimated impact of 20,000 kids for the year. Maryam affirms, “I want to be able to inspire other teenagers and positively affect the world” and hopes to continue to grow her work in the future.
Avalon is the founder of Conserve It Forward, a non-profit organization that leads environmental booths, presentations, videos, and events to raise awareness about the environment and the health of animals in the wild. Avalon loves animals, frogs in particular. She has spent much of her time learning about frogs as an indicator species, one that can tell us about the health of the environment, in regards to pollution, pesticides, littering, and habitat loss. Frogs are dying out at a rapid pace but Avalon and her organization have many ways that everyone can help with amphibian conservation. She connects Avalon has been able to share her message with over 50 TV, radio, and newspaper interviews across the country and hopes to continue to help her organization grow through “a chain reaction of connection and action.”
Shear Avory, 15
Shear Avory is aiming to break the mold and catalyze a global conversation concerning the LGBTQ community. He is the founder of an emerging internet network, StepUp, whose aim is to “expose matters, issues, and concerns affecting the LGBTQ community that have otherwise been overseen and considered taboo in main stream media and society.” With this international network, Shear Avory’s goal is to make people see that minority groups are important to society but often get overlooked. StepUp creates a way to overcome stereotypes through education, experience, and community advocates by connecting people of all backgrounds and beliefs around the globe. As Shear Avory says, “I created the StepUp Network because I see the direction the world is headed in. I see how we treat one another…and I see the stereotypes that we put on each other. I see the suffering of all walks of life and I can feel their pain. The StepUp Network is a prime example of unifying the world.”
Several years ago Kelly was diagnosed with epilepsy. She was hesitant to tell her friends for fear of being treated differently so she had few people to talk to about her challenges. This led her to rely on the only outlet she felt she had - writing. Kelly wrote and published a book, Rain at Midnight, about a young girl dealing with epilepsy. All proceeds from the book go directly to the Epilepsy Foundation of New Jersey (EFNJ) where Kelly volunteers regularly. She has also expanded her efforts to raise awareness and funds by selling hand-made purple bracelets with information about epilepsy. And for younger people struggling with epilepsy, Kelly started a teen mentoring program in her community. She explains that “I wanted to make a difference and be able to prove to everyone that I could be strong even with something holding me back.”
Sarah C., 20
“Over five million students with disabilities attend public schools in the United States; yet, most school sports and activities are not designed to accommodate these students. Not surprisingly then, students with disabilities are left sidelined – excluded from high school sports and the critical social opportunities they offer.” This is why Sarah says she founded The Sparkle Effect, an organization giving students the resources to build and lead cheerleading squads and dance teams that are inclusive of students of all abilities in middle schools, high schools, and colleges across the country. Having grown up with a brother with a disability, Sarah witnessed this injustice first-hand and wanted to find a way to positively impact the students at school, who, like her brother, had been excluded. To date, 89 inclusive teams have been established through Sarah’s efforts, engaging over 2,000 students nationwide, fueled by her belief that, “the lessons of inclusion are more important now than ever before.” The Sparkle Effect is expanding rapidly as it combats the root of bullying by teaching young people to be compassionate and excepting of peers.
“As a military dependent, the outpouring of support my family received during my Dad’s deployment truly ignited my desire to volunteer,” says Peace First Prize applicant, Simone, a devoted advocate of helping young people access volunteer opportunities in her home and college communities. As a young person, Simone realized it was challenging to find opportunities to volunteer so she wanted to find a way to make it easier for others. She created VolunTEEN Nation, “a website for youth to easily find volunteer opportunities throughout the nation.” Over 8,500 youth have been able to find volunteer opportunities through the website and have contributed to projects such as Serve to Remember on 9/11, Making Music Matters, and Score for Autism. Simone says that through her work, “youth volunteers gain skills with an understanding and an appreciation of the world and are empowered to take action and create and implement positive changes.” Simone is determined to continue to show organizations that young people have the power and skills to make lasting contributions to their communities.
Levi wrote and published his book, The Good, the Bad, and the Bullies, to share his experiences being bullied in 5th grade. With the support of his family, he was able to turn his fear into inspiration to help others. Since publishing his book, Levi has led workshops to give young people coping with bullying a forum to speak up and get help. He has also spoken at schools and other organizations about his experiences. Levi says, “I want to go to schools [to] share my story; but more importantly, the stories of those who are no longer here who can't speak for themselves because they have taken their own life because of bullying.” Levi’s next steps are to bring his message to Congress. He had the opportunity to meet with Congressman Ron Barber, of Tucson, Arizona, who is working to get an anti-bullying bill before Congress. Levi hopes that he will be invited to testify in support of the bill later this year.
“Picture a school where there is ‘good gossip’ and students use their words to build each other up rather than tear each other down.” This is what Tyler wants to see after hearing that a young boy committed suicide because of bullying. This motivated him to act and he began by making an anti-bullying video to show at his school. The project took off and grew exponentially when other schools in the area heard about the video and wanted to screen it to their students. Soon Tyler and his friend, who partnered on the effort, were invited to speak out about the effects of bullying at camps, conferences, on the radio, and even on nationwide talk shows such as the TODAY show. Tyler believes that “since we [are] teenagers speaking to other teenagers, the message is really strong and students listen…” What fuels his work is the realization that the more exposure they get, the more their message can create change.
Yasmine created ScholarCHIPS (Children with Incarcerated Parents) to award college scholarships to high school seniors who have a parent, or parents, in prison. Growing up, Yasmine personally experienced “the emotional and financial struggles of having a parent in prison.” She also realized “that adolescents and teens in my neighborhood with parents in prison become a marginalized group in the community” and weren’t expected have accomplishments or graduate college but rather to “end up behind bars”. Yasmine wanted to break this negative cycle, and believed that providing these youth with mentorship and financial support to continue their education could be the beginning of a real change. Today, ScholarCHIPS has awarded tens of thousands of dollars to recipients. Yasmine hopes to grow her work vowing, “I know circumstances do not determine who you are, but make you a smarter and stronger person, and I want to give young people like me a chance to succeed.”
Jessica started the We Care Bear Project to bring stuffed animals to scared and injured children being helped by firemen and police officers. Adopted at the age of 5, Jessica says “I know I felt so safe and not scared when I got my very first bear, so I thought if it could make me not scared, it could help a lot of kids”. She decided to hold a “bear drive” at her school, and through the collaborative effort of her peers, they have put a bag of teddy bears on every fire truck and ambulance in San Diego, have donated more than 300 bags of stuffed bears to fire departments across southern California and Nevada, and have given more than 500 bears to Ronald McDonald Houses in San Diego and Las Vegas. Jessica’s dream is to take her project to New York City where she knows there are many brave firemen and many children in need.
She started BBH to carry out this mission and so far the organization has planned multiple college tours for the young girls, conducted educational workshops with expert speakers, and as a group, has completed numerous community service projects, while aiming to get the parents involved in the process as much as possible. Jasmine resolves that
Brooklyn was just 7, when she came up with the idea of being Earth Saver Girl. She wanted to get the environmental club at her school to focus on something besides the three R’s, recycle, reduce, and reuse, but became discouraged because “I was the youngest in the group and they would not listen.” So Brooklyn wrote a book about an environmental super hero, Earth Saver Girl. She then began dressing up as Earth Saver Girl and reading her book at local schools. Her popularity soared. As Brooklyn explains,“so many of my friends and other kids were interested in my mission that my mom and I decided to start a nonprofit and add more Earth Savers.” Brooklyn has presented at over 100 schools, libraries, and other public events and has written her second book. She vows, “I will never stop fighting for our one and only Earth”.
Over the past four years, Gabrielle has been working to create a "safe haven for LGBT teenagers" in her community. Afraid of bullying, she started a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) with the support of her high-school counselor. Two years later she has succeeded in providing a safe space for LGBT students and successfully organized campaigns such as “No Name-Calling Week”. Her success has also led her to serve as a board member with the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network. With her work Gabrielle believes, “If I make one student feel safe, if I help one student find the nerve to build an honest relationship with their parents, it is enough.”
As Christopher puts it, "I have been fighting since before I was born." Although his childhood was plagued by health problems and physical disabilities Christopher held on to his dream of helping others with disabilities. After receiving a service dog in 2010, Christopher decided to start a foundation that could provide other people with disabilities access to the loving companionship he found in his dog, Bronx. He founded 1Boy4Change, which provides iPads and service dogs at no cost to disabled people and their families. Christopher also raises awareness about living with a disability through public speaking engagements at schools, churches, civic organizations, and hospitals. Christopher’s goal is to "show everyone how to pay it forward, to educate, and to be kind to realize that we can all make a difference in at least one life!"
In 2010, Karim founded Practice Makes Perfect, an intensive summer program that pairs struggling inner city middle school students with high achieving high school students in the same neighborhoods for academic help and mentorship. Looking back on his experiences as the son of Egyptian immigrants, raised on government aid by a single mother, Karim explains that “Where I am from, most poor minority children forfeit their dream because they have difficulty marshaling the resources they need to succeed in the classroom.” In the last two years, Practice Makes Perfect has helped over 200 low income students across New York City, and has raised over $50,000. In 2012, it was named one of the top 16 most dynamic commitments worldwide at the 5th annual Clinton Global Initiative University Conference. In May, Karim will be the first in his family to graduate from college and states that Practice Makes Perfect is “nothing short of my purpose.”
At 6 years old, Axil started working for peace when his mother showed him shocking images of starving children after he came home saying he was “starving.” At that moment, Axil vowed he would “try to help every unfortunate child on Earth, and decided to start to make a goal for World Peace Before 2021.” With 15 years to accomplish it, Axil began singing his song “World Peace Before 2021” at local events, distributing buttons and bumper stickers with his message, and launched a website to raise awareness. He recently won the “Little Humanitarian of the Year Award,” awarded by Senator Roz Baker in his home state of Hawaii. To date, Axil has distributed over 200,000 stickers and buttons and estimates he has reached 2 million people online thus far. Axil will continue to work for world unity in the belief that “there is no reason that we can't all live in peace.”
During the summer of 8th grade, Paloma started Simply Women Ohio to “inspire young women to participate in sports and other healthy activities.” Her first activity was organizing a female only 5k run. Four years later, Simply Women Ohio has expanding to include sponsoring athletic programs, uniforms, and equipment for local schools, providing an annual $500 scholarship to female leaders, and planning the Girls’ Night Out events, in which girls grades 7-12 “build bonds by doing activities together and talking about issues such as bullying, social isolation and identity issues with the support of local health professionals.” As Paloma says, “it is the women and their stories that make this work so meaningful and push me to go further each year.” By combining her love of athletics and women’s health and fitness, she is “able to engage in a genuine way and create awareness about things I care deeply about.”
Disheartened by the increasingly frequent problem of bullying, Marcus wrote a children’s book called The Stop Bullying Club in 2011 to help start conversations about bullying amongst young children. Believing that, "the the best way to solve the bullying problem is to reach young children as early as possible," Marcus published the book and began distributing it to local elementary schools. From there, Marcus developed the theme of his book into a nonprofit organization. Since its inception, the Stop Bullying Club's members have visited numerous elementary schools to read their book, facilitated conversations, and provide students with anti-bullying activities in the community. Marcus hopes to expand across the country in the near future, saying, "It is my dream to continue educating young people about the dangers of bullying others."
Traveling to India frequently as a child, Sudarshan was acutely aware of extreme class differences and the lack of universal access to formal education. Realizing how privileged he was living in the United States, Sudarshan founded 121Reach, a nonprofit that supports struggling middle school students by providing them with a unique mentoring model: a high school aged tutor who also serves as a friend and peer role model for guidance and advice. By tutoring and mentoring middle school students, members of 121Reach directly contribute to creating smarter, more confident students. In sharing his motivation, Sudarshan says, "It seemed only reasonable that I should give a little back to the society that has given me so much."
When Nicolas was 5 he began visiting homeless shelters with his mother, where he was shocked to find that so many children lacked proper footwear. Seeing how this seemingly small problem prevented many of children from going to school, participating in sports and activities, and having positive self-esteem, Nicholas founded the Gotta Have Sole Foundation. For the past three years Nicholas has spent his time mobilizing over 1,000 volunteers from elementary, middle, and high schools, as well as businesses and other organizations to raise money and donate new sneakers to over 7,400 homeless children in local shelters. In his words, “these children deserve the same opportunities as all other children, and without properly fitting footwear, they miss these chances. These children are just like every other child, but their families have fallen on hard times. I want them to be treated fairly, just like anyone else.”
While watching an Oprah Winfrey special on children living in sub-Saharan Africa, Kendall was moved by the disparities in living conditions she saw and “knew that I had to do something because I thought if not me, who?” Inspired by the children’s perseverance, Kendall founded Kids Caring 4 Kids whose mission is to inspire and empower children in the U.S. to provide basic human needs to children in sub-Saharan Africa. Kendall’s work has funded the construction of two community centers and a dormitory, and to provide indoor plumbing and clean water to over 7,000 Africans. “As a community of thousands of kids in the United States, from pre-schoolers holding lemonade stands to high school students holding dance marathons, we have united under the common goal of helping other kids like us be able to achieve their dreams.”
As a victim of bullying, Gerry resolved to never “see another child get hurt the way I did.” Gerry founded Kids Resource in response to the need for youth to understand the consequences and impact of bullying. Gerry decided to use Kids Resource to change the culture of how social issues are taught in school: from the approach of grown-ups lecturing to one of videos created by kids for kids. Gerry has effectively channeled his philosophy of “protecting future generations” into his short films and after school programs and clubs, where kids can ask for advice and help from their peers. One of Gerry’s films, “Day of Silence (DOFS)”, was awarded a Senate Resolution by the California State Senate and inspired a bill which named 12/12/2012 a Bulling Prevention Day when schools from six states and three countries engaged in a moment of silence to honor victims of abuse and harassment.
As a victim of severe bullying, Emily-Anne was compelled to start WeStopHate.org, a nonprofit changing the way teens view themselves through the power of online videos and social media. WeStopHate is more than just an anti-bullying program; it is a call to action to stop hate: to stop hating on yourself, stop hating others, stop letting others hate on you. WeStopHate is ranked the 27 all-time Most Subscribed Nonprofit YouTube channel and has created a dynamic community for expression and conversation for over 100,000 teens. Emily-Anne believes, "It is my life’s work to help others turn self-hatred into self-love."
Growing up in urban India and battling obesity, Vineet’s early experiences help define his passion for medicine. Taking a leave of absence from Stanford to volunteer in a free clinic in Texas, Vineet was struck by the countless patients he saw suffering from preventable illnesses. This experience fueled his passion to help low-income, uninsured patients suffering from chronic disease in America. In 2010, he co-founded Anjna, a nonprofit that creates technology-based solutions for healthcare providers in underserved settings. Today, that technology has been adopted by clinics and hospitals across California. With Anjna, Vineet is working towards reaching his goal of “leading impact-oriented initiatives focused on alleviating global health problems through the use of technology.”