December 14, 2018

8 young people who inspired us in 2018

These kids and teens are taking an active role in making their communities safer, stronger, and more inclusive.

The Berry siblings—Aaron, Willa, and older brother Peter—teamed up with an Allstate agency owner to teach young people about the dangers of texting and driving.

Throughout 2018, we came across incredible stories of young people whose volunteering and fundraising efforts became powerful forces for positive change. Here we take a look back at five of the most inspiring stories from the young philanthropists featured on The Renewal Project this year, from the three siblings who emerged from a tragic and debilitating accident with a mission to prevent distracted driving, to the 10- and 11-year-old nonprofit founders who joined forces for a cross-country giving tour.

Peter, Aaron, and Willa Berry

One of the most powerful stories of the year was Allstate agency owner Mark Tucker’s article about the Berry siblings, who were injured and lost their parents in a distracted driving accident. Tucker was so touched by the kids’ story that he and his wife joined them as co-founders of their One Life is Enough (OLIE) organization to help spread awareness about distracted driving. Together, Tucker and the kids—Peter, Aaron, and Willa—are actively working in schools to educate young people. The siblings even went door-to-door to help Texas lawmakers pass a statewide ban on texting while driving. It’s an inspiring story of young people motivated to spread positive change in the wake of a tragic accident.

Kevin Barber stands behind some of the men and women who participate in his nonprofit Wheels of Change. Photo courtesy of Kevin Barber

Kevin Barber

Vision and perseverance helped 16-year-old Kevin Barber turn an idea he first encountered as a TED Talk into a nonprofit that provides meaningful work opportunities for the homeless community in San Diego. Barber’s organization, Wheels of Change (WOC), was based on a similar program from Albuquerque, New Mexico. The premise is simple: A few times a week, interested homeless individuals can get picked up and assigned jobs around the city for $11.50 per hour. At the end of the workday, WOC offers to bring them to a shelter and connect them with social services. “Today, WOC is a nonprofit startup with a $230,000 annual budget that, after our pilot period ends, will eventually employ 200 homeless people monthly,” Barber wrote in May.

Fourth grader Henry Adelson has been a volunteer with Trash Hero New York. This year, he hopes his fellow classmates will join him in cleaning up the Hudson River. Photo courtesy of the Adelson family

Henry Adelson

Nine-year-old Henry Adelson made a big splash with his essay sharing his experience volunteering with Trash Hero New York. The organization is committed to cleaning up New York City’s Hudson River, and Henry hopes that one day their work will help make the Hudson a safe place for people to swim, fish, and enjoy other activities in and around the river. In the article, Henry talked about how his class oyster trap helped him learn about the river’s ecology, and why he’s excited about sharing his experiences with his teachers and classmates at school.

LearnServe fellow Britton Struthers saw a need in her community, and used her training as a social entrepreneur to deliver. Photos courtesy of Britton Struthers

Britton Struthers

When Britton Struthers saw TV footage of Hurricane Maria pummeling Puerto Rico, she immediately thought of her relatives living on island and started brainstorming ideas for how she could help. The high school student from McLean, Virginia, not only wanted to raise money for people affected by the hurricane, but she also wanted to do it in a way that honored her Puerto Rican heritage. The result was Wepa!Thon, a celebration of Puerto Rican culture overflowing with traditional foods, music, arts and crafts, and dance from the island. The event exceeded her expectations, with around 500 attendees and nearly $14,000 raised that went to a local charity and to purchase much-needed supplies for families in need.

Jahkil Jackson and Khloe Thompson celebrate the final stop on their six-city bus tour where they led service projects and youth leadership workshops. Photo courtesy of their families

Khloe Thompson and Jahkil Naeem Jackson

Our favorite collaboration of the year happened between two young nonprofit founders who joined forces for a coast-to-coast effort to help the homeless. Khloe Thompson and Jahkil Jackson kicked-off their cross-country volunteering tour, called Project Kares, in Los Angeles by packing 120 bags of necessities like shampoo and soap to hand out to homeless individuals. They then traveled to Las Vegas, Atlanta, New York, Washington, and Chicago. As the project came to an end, Khloe said: “It’s hard to pick just one moment that was my favorite because it was all so great. Who knows, you might see us again doing this in other cities.”

Travis Marshall

Travis Marshall is a Los Angeles-based freelancer writer who covers health, wellness, and lifestyle issues.
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