Press Release

America’s Promise Announces 10 ‘Power of Youth Challenge’ Winners

Students to receive $1,000 grants to expand their service projects in communities

WASHINGTON – This Thanksgiving week, America’s Promise Alliance announced 10 winners in the Power of Youth Challenge, which provides $1,000 grants to young people to identify a challenge in their local and/or national community, devise a solution, and carry out their service projects.

The Power of Youth Challenge is part of America’s Promise’s ongoing work to channel the rising tide of youth leadership in this country, as well as its long-standing commitment to connecting young people with opportunities to serve their communities. This work includes promoting the voices of young people at the national and local levels.

“From bringing ‘blue smiles’ to children in hospitals to raising awareness of the psychological impact of cancer to helping make information about healthy ways of managing stress for high school students more readily available, I’m blown away by all the service projects of the Power of Youth winners,” said John Gomperts, president and CEO of America’s Promise Alliance. “These 10 winners have shown exceptional passion, creativity, empathy, and determination to make their communities a better place. What’s more, they’re not only helping their communities, but they’re empowering other young people to go out there and do the same.”

The competition, which launched in December 2018, posed a challenge to young people to pinpoint an injustice in their community and propose a creative idea that engages others to make an impact. The winners were selected from among 86 applicants who responded to the challenge and received initial $250 grants to carry out their projects over six months.

The 10 winners selected to accelerate their progress with an additional $1,000 grant were chosen by a team of youth leaders at Peace First, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping young people around the world become powerful peacemakers. They looked for youth who had deepened their understanding of the root causes of a problem; demonstrated perseverance, compassion, and understanding for others’ perspectives; and were having a significant positive impact for and with the people who were affected by the community issue they chose to tackle.

The challenge was made possible by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, which supports projects around the world that promote a just, equitable and sustainable society and believes young people themselves are the key to solving some of our communities’ most pressing problems.

The 2019 Power of Youth winners and their projects are:

The Blue Lollipop Project; Riley Damiano, Patterson, N.Y.

The Blue Lollipop Project aims to share “blue smiles” with children in various hospitals and to bring attention to the psychological impact of childhood cancer. The project also raises funds for awareness of pediatric cancer research with the goal of finding better treatment options for kids with cancer in a way that gets more youth involved. Youth project leader Riley Damiano began this initiative in 2014 in honor of pediatric cancer warrior Ty Louis Campbell and his love of blue lollipops. Over 200,000 individuals have been affected by this project to date, with 20,000 blue lollipops being sent to pediatric cancer warriors and other children in hospitals and $20,000 raised to fund pediatric cancer research through The Ty Louis Campbell Foundation. Over three million people alone have watched the video about The Blue Lollipop Project. Today, students across the country hold their own Blue Lollipop Fundraisers while helping to spread the magic of a blue lollipop.

DFW Youth Success; Isaac Espinal and Hannah Sturgill, Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas

Isaac and Hannah sought to find a solution to the lack of guidance and mentoring in schools for low-income seniors in their college search process within the Dallas-Fort Worth Independent School District. The project aimed to create a community that serves young adults for the duration of high school to aid them with professional development, academic, and civic support. It also encompassed a full-year curriculum which included a summer session that reached 40 individuals within various area high schools. Led by a youth leadership team, the project has the goal of spreading to surrounding areas of Texas.

Leaders in Lowell; Bridget Provost, Lowell, Mass.

Bridget P. noticed the lack of access that ordinary people have to top-tier inspirational leaders who offer a wealth of experience and knowledge in an important field. On a grassroots level, youth leaders sought to provide direct access to thought leaders through their Leaders in Lowell program, which hosted free leadership events that educate, inspire, and connect. With the assistance of the Greater Lowell Community Foundation on a local level and America’s Promise Alliance on a national level, the project’s first speaker was Rena Finder, a Holocaust survivor. From the event, an advisory board was created made up of various business leaders, nonprofit leaders, educators, and others to meet and discuss issues, ideas, events, and funding. This project partnered with local schools and community organizations and impacted approximately 120 individuals.

Calm Kits; Kaitlyn Tollefson, Berthoud, Colo.

More than ever before, today’s teens are experiencing high levels of stress and physical and emotional pain but lack the tools and knowledge to manage it. In response, Calm Kits were created by youth leader Kaitlyn T., with the goal of providing information about healthy non-pharmacologic ways of managing stress and pain for high school students. Various students, teachers, and staff were selected as “Calm Kit Champions” (CKCs) at 10 area high schools with the intention to train students to make Calm Kits. All CKCs were provided educational materials with resources for stress- and pain-management to share with others. To manage the process, monthly Zoom meetings were held to evaluate the progress of the Calm Kits and to discuss ways of expanding the program. In total, nine CKCs were selected.

Love Letters for Literacy; started by Jordan Grabelle; Voorhees, N.J.

Five years ago, Jordan G. founded Love Letters for Literacy. Love Letters for Literacy promotes childhood literacy by enabling children to have fun while learning the letters of the alphabet. By recruiting volunteers in 45 states and in 16 other countries, this project helps to engage families in the process of teaching their children the letters of the alphabet while also empowering young children to learn how to read. Love Letters for Literacy focuses on global literacy, helping children in various places around the world including a small rural village in Fiji, an orphanage in Bosnia, a refugee center in Toronto, and a nursery school for children exposed to abuse in Philadelphia. To date, over 3,500 youth were impacted by this project. Volunteers use paper and markers to create 26 flashcards from A-Z, and then present literacy packets to children along with notes to encourage reading, and instructions explaining how to play games with the flashcards. 

Project Exchange; Ashley Lin, Vancouver, Wash.

Ashley L., creator of the Project Exchange, witnessed a lack of cultural understanding in the United States and wanted to provide students with opportunities to learn more about the cultures of the world. Thus, the idea of the Digital Exchange Program was born. The goal of this project was aimed at assisting young people in expanding their worldview, eradicating stereotypes, and promoting tolerance. In schools, it’s not always common for teachers to devote time to teaching classes about diverse cultures, sometimes resulting in overt displays of cultural imperialism. The Project Exchange sought to increase multicultural education and cross-cultural leadership development opportunities. This cross-cultural exchange created quality global education opportunities for youth service projects completed by Project Exchange Chapters. To date, over 64 youth have been impacted.

Pathways 2 Power (P2P) Focus Group; Lauryn Renford, Washington, D.C.

The Pathways 2 Power (P2P) project co-created by Lauryn R. seeks to address the generational cycle of violence in Washington, D.C. P2P is a student activist group that was created in the midst of the grief of two of Lauryn’s classmates. P2P looked at the key factors of violence in the city including poverty, lack of self-esteem, toxic communities, gentrification, racism, and lack of education. To discuss violence within their communities, P2P held the “Pass the Vision” focus group, which consisted of a round table discussion with community-based activism groups. Thirty students were joined by supporting staff and current Pathways members to discuss how to change the toxic mentalities that deem violence normal. The project aims to hold monthly focus group meetings.

Project O.C.E.A.N.; Dyson Chee, Honolulu, Hawaii

After researching the environmental threat pollution poses to the world at large, Power of Youth finalist Dyson Chee decided to address this social injustice. In an effort to reduce the use of single-use plastics contributing to plastic pollution in Hawaii, Dyson created a project to lessen society’s dependence on plastics. In total, more than 1,800 people took up Dyson’s challenge to not use single-use plastic straws and instead use stainless steel straws that the project distributed. By regularly visiting classrooms and community events, Project O.C.E.A.N. addressed a lack of education on why plastic pollution is a problem. So far, Dyson has presented to over 2,000 people, and give out over 1,900 stainless steel straws. Dyson plans to expand and reach out to communities outside of the island of Oahu this school year.

Serving Impoverished Children in Indiana; Luke Gilligan, Fishers, Ind.

To address the issue of students living in poverty, Luke G. created a program to serve impoverished children in the state of Indiana. The project looked to address childhood hunger and the lack of necessities for some students within the Hamilton County School District. The goal was to provide schools and organizations with bags containing food items which were distributed to children who would benefit the most. Through various food drives and the hosting of community-oriented project packing events, around 1,500 bags were created for underserved youth in the local community.

Where Our Kids Empower (WOKE); Darlene Folas-Ella, West Orange, N.J.

The Where Our Kids Empower (WOKE) project sought to expand youth activism by increasing youth engagement in the community for the purpose of creating positive social change. To drive this movement, WOKE focused on issue-oriented activism after project creator Darlene Folas-Ella became concerned about rising political apathy. Darlene witnessed firsthand the lack of teens participating in their local, state, and national political systems. After seeing how political apathy affected disenfranchised groups in West Orange, N.J., WOKE addressed the lack of political allies and spaces for minority youth by using seminar discussions to educate and create safe spaces for youth. The seminars helped to invite youth to develop and discover their own political identity and encourage teens to participate in the political process by registering to vote and contacting local officials. Youth participants also created banners and posters to spread political awareness in their respective schools.

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America’s Promise Alliance is the driving force behind a nationwide movement to improve the lives and futures of America’s youth. Its work is anchored in the belief that every young person deserves to succeed, and every adult is responsible for making that happen. By bringing together hundreds of national nonprofits, businesses, community and civic leaders, educators, citizens, and young people, the Alliance does what no single organization can do on its own: catalyze action on a scale that reaches millions of young people. www.AmericasPromise.org