This past summer, we asked teens across the country to tell us how they were spending their vacation months to make a positive difference and “do the right thing”— in their communities, in their families, in their own personal lives and in the broader world. The responses truly impressed and inspired us, and we identified five do-gooders in particular whose efforts were really making a difference, awarding each $500 to donate to the nonprofit organization of their choosing. We recently caught up with the winners to learn a little more.
Winner #1: Meganne Shady, 17, Fond du Lac, WI
Meganne is a member of S.T.A.A.N.D. (Students Taking Actions Against Negative Decisions), a group that brings substance-abuse awareness to local high schools and surrounding communities. For much of the summer, she helped organize a youth summit where teens from nearby areas could come and learn more about S.T.A.A.N.D. and replicate the program’s efforts in their own communities. Her donation will go towards further funding for the program. “We want to do more campaigns to spread info around the community, so that will help,” Meganne says. “It will help us advertise and get things we need.”
The summit will be held in the coming weeks, and Meganne feels this will be the catalyst to further inspire her peers. “After our youth summit, I hope more schools get a group like S.T.A.A.N.D,” she insists. “We’re the only one in Fond du Lac County I believe, and I hope more students are wanting to make a change in their schools.”
Winner #2: Jack Michel, 17, Alamo, CA
“At FUNDaFIELD we’re always looking for new ways to raise money and this is a great way, so I was really excited when they called to let me know,” Jack says about the moment he learned he was a winner.
FUNDaFIELD builds soccer fields in impoverished areas, and on the occasion of South Africa hosting last summer’s World Cup, Jack and his friends traveled there to hold a soccer tournament for the local youth of Utah, South Africa. The project was a huge success, as they handed out over 300 jerseys and provided lunches for all the players throughout the tournament. And while the World Cup has long since finished, Jack’s work with the program certainly hasn’t.
“I’m hoping to continue with FUNDaFIELD and maybe start a FUNDaFIELD club at whatever college I attend,” Jack, a high school senior, says. Asked to describe the organization’s core mission, he puts it simply yet effectively: “We’re just kids helping kids. We’re trying to raise money to build soccer fields to help the youth of Africa.”
Winner #3: Rachel Collins, 15, Tyngsboro, MA
What if every teen rounded up a few close friends and pledged to do 1,000 hours of community service together before their high school graduation? Rachel didn’t just imagine it – she’s already making it happen with Four Friends, Four Years, For a Difference.
“Volunteering is easy and anyone can do it,” she explains. “Be a role model, it just takes one person, or in this case four friends, to help somebody out.” In less than a year, Rachel and her friends have already logged over 360 hours of community service. Now in her sophomore year, she plans to apply her $500 donation to the Wish Project’s Beds for Kids program.
Describing the moment she first heard she won, Rachel recalls, “I was really, really surprised. I didn’t think that out of the whole nation I would be one of the finalists.” But with her commitment to community service and desire to serve as a role model for others, it’s easy to see why.
Winner #4: Rebecca Robinson, 14, Burlington, WI
In only four days, Rebecca and her fellow Vacation Bible School attendees refurbished the entire exterior of a church – and community – in need. And although the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation in South Dakota was a 16-hour car ride away from her home in Wisconsin, Rebecca never thought twice about helping out. From sanding and painting to replacing windows, her team completely transformed the façade, and in turn the Lakota people transformed Rebecca.
“Everybody out there is so nice and so close together and very welcoming,” she says, reminiscing on her trip. “That’s where I want the donation money to go.”
Winner #5: Danielle Roethlein, 18, Georgetown, PA
As a high school junior, Danielle successfully established her school’s first-ever science club. Among her early accomplishments, she hosted a series of labs for fellow students and organized lectures by visiting college professors. Now in her senior year, her goals have expanded accordingly.
“We’re talking about how to make the school more green, which is a huge thing I hope we can really work on,” she says. “It’s one of my main hopes for this year. We’re in a really rural area where that’s not the main focus, so I’m hoping to bring more green technology into the school.”
Danielle plans to use her donation either for materials and transportation costs for the club or for a local Girl Scout program at a school her cousin attends. She has already been accepted to Penn State and hopes she might inspire a love for science in others. “I’d like to get kids interested in things like this, to start a science club at their school and to make their schools more green,” she explains. “And I’d love to get kids interested in hands-on activities and maybe even look for careers in science in the future.”