A decade ago, INtown was looking for a way to bring awareness to young people who were giving back to the community through volunteerism and philanthropic work. With the publication of our 10th annual 20 Under 20 this month, we will have profiled 200 local students doing extraordinary things to better the city.
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. As always, we are astounded at how much time and effort these students have put into their volunteer work. The 20 students you will meet here have collectively donated thousands of hours of their young lives, traveled to other countries, created nonprofits and worked with the underprivileged and disadvantaged as part of their service.
And we are, once again, delighted that the spirit to give back starts at such a young age, like Lilah Didier-Sober, a 9-year-old who conceived a bake sale to help refugees, and Cayden Edwards, a third grader who already has his own foundation that helps furnish the rooms of underprivileged children. You’ll also meet Will Milling, who created a senior class project to build prosthetic hands for landmine victims, and The Scalise Sisters, three young women dedicated to raising money to help breast cancer survivors.
As usual, picking just 20 honorees each year is an incredibly difficult decision, so we have also selected 18 runners-up because we felt their service also deserved recognition.
We hope these uplifting stories will inspire you to give back to the community. And thank you to the businesses and schools whose advertising support makes this section possible every year.
Adele McLees, 17
Ben Franklin Academy
A senior in Ben Franklin Academy’s Work/Study Program, Adele works with the children of the refugee community in Clarkston, Georgia. She volunteers several days a week at the Willow Branch Apartments’ free after-school program and summer camp. She helps refugee children, many of whom have parents who speak little or no English and have fled violence from around the world. Because of her dedication to her volunteer work with this refugee community, Adele was awarded the International Relations Scholarship by the Kiwanis Club of Atlanta. She was also selected for participation in the ACLU’s summer advocacy institute in Washington, D.C., where she was able to learn new skills to support, and advocate for refugee communities. “One of my favorite memories is of a Congolese girl. She spoke little, probably because she was not very fluent in English, but I helped her and her friend with their homework fairly often. When Valentine’s Day came, she presented me with a beautiful Valentine and gave me a hug. That day showed me just how big of an impact I can make on someone through actions as simple as helping with homework or spending time together.”
Albert Zhang, 17
The Westminster Schools
A nationally recognized competitive table tennis player, Albert created the Student Table Tennis Activists Foundation (STTAF) to address health and educational issues in the community through ping pong. With the help of friends and family, Albert raised more than $2,000 and attracted 66 players to a recent tournament. Along with mission trips, tutoring, taking part in Relay For Life, and creating public art, Albert has won a raft of awards including a Congressional Gold Medal and the Teen Ink Service Award. He likens the success of STTAF, which he hopes to take national, to creating a work of art. “Like clockwork, we register entrants, collect donations, arrange matches. I never thought it possible until drawing it out. STTAF, our elaborate conception, generates $2,200 we use to buy tables and 150 paddles for the children’s center. Composition becomes a way of creatively modeling visions into reality.”
Barry Major, Jr., 18
Maynard H. Jackson High School
Barry has participated in shoe drives, has helped build a playground for an elementary school, and volunteers in Grant Park for cleanup days. “One moment that greatly impacted me was when I volunteered with my cousin and his friends at a shoe drive known as “A Foot in the Right Direction.” While there, my mom and I were fortunate enough to be able to donate 24 pairs of shoes. The moment that will stay with me forever is how excited one of the boys got over my shoes. I was confused at first and didn’t understand why he was so excited – to me, they were just my old shoes. But I came to realize that to him they were much more. That moment made me realize how lucky I was to have a stable family and that many other kids are not as fortunate. That moment was bittersweet – I was happy I could help him, but I felt guilty that he had to wear my old shoes. That moment made me want to work harder for my community and those in need.”
Cayden Edwards, 9
Beecher Hills Elementary
Inspired by his uncle (former NFL all-pro running back Warrick Dunn) and his mom, the fourth grader has founded his own charitable organization, Cayden’s Way, which is dedicated to supporting the dream of homeownership and helping to furnish the rooms of children in need. The organization has raised more than $23,000 and Cayden received the Community Angel Award for his efforts. Instead of receiving birthday gifts, Cayden accepts donations for the charity. He said seeing a child’s excitement of having his own room for the first time has been his most exciting moment. He says the quote, “when you know better, you do better,” has been instilled in him and makes him strive harder to help the community. “I want to help people get food, shelter and a job,” he said.
The Scalise Sisters: Emilie, 13; Lauren, 15; Samantha, 17
The Galloway School
After their mother battled with breast cancer, the sisters decided to organize a fundraising walk called Strides for Survivors. The event supported TurningPoint Breast Cancer Rehabilitation, where their mother received treatment. Nearly 150 people participated in a fundraising walk last year, which raised over $6,000. Another walk is planned for February. “Spending this tremendous amount of time with my family to support something that hits so close to home was the best feeling that you could imagine,” Emilie said of organizing the walk. “Knowing that the donations of the participants of the Strides for Survivors walk helps more women rebuild their strength during their battle with breast cancer drives my sisters and me to want to grow our organization and to raise more money for TurningPoint,” Samantha said. “Other kids just like me could look into their mother’s eyes and see them as the strong confident woman that they are and it would be because of our donations,” Lauren said.
Daniel S. Stern, 17
The Weber School
After volunteering with Friendship Circle, an organization that provides companionship to children and adults with special needs, Daniel created Serve It Up Tennis Camp. He collected tennis rackets at his school and raised more than $1,200 for the camp, which was held last summer at donated courts at the Sandy Springs Tennis Center. “I was excited about organizing the tennis camp this past summer for children with special needs but what I did not realize until the camp was over was the impact the camp had on the campers’ entire families. I knew the special needs kids were having a great time, as we (the volunteers) all were, but when the parents came up to us afterwards and told us how much the camp meant to them seeing their kids so happy, I realized how being involved impacts more than just the people you are directly working with.”
Kathleen Pahl, 17
Mount Vernon Presbyterian School
Starting her freshmen year, Kathleen completed a yearlong project called Happiness in a Bag where she collected donated necessities like toiletries, gloves, and granola bars for homeless people in Atlanta. During her sophomore year she started an anti-bullying club at the high school called No Place For Hate. Last year Kathleen helped created and promote the Hurricane Harvey Relief fund, which raised more than $3,000. Kathleen is also working on a year-long project where she volunteers her time every Thursday at the Mount Vernon Towers assisted living home. “My most memorable moment occurred during my sophomore year collecting donated items from the community to be given to the homeless. For me the most gratifying part of the experience was meeting with individuals and hearing their stories as they thanked us for the bags full of necessities that we shared.”
Matthew Celecia, 16
North Atlanta High School
Matthew is a current member of the Teen Leaders program at the Carl E. Sanders Family YMCA. He volunteers weekly in the childcare department where he interacts and engages with the children. Matthew helped to spearhead a teen-led clothing drive and is currently working on a survey project gather feedback and provide a consistent way to measure the growth, progress, and impact of the YMCA’s programs. “One of the most memorable moments I have had while volunteering was my first day in the playcenter at the YMCA. When I first decided to help, I had no clue what to do or how the children would react to having me in their room. Upon walking in, the staff directed me to ‘go play with the kids,’ so I chose to sit at a large table towards the back of the room. Amazingly, several of the children began to surround me, asking me questions and giving me toys to play with. When I was asked to read, they sat quietly and gave me their full attention. Now they are excited to see me. Overall, this has taught me how to relate and understand younger children.”
Courtney Copeland, 17
The Galloway School
In 2015, Courtney created the nonprofit “Supply Circle” after visiting her mother’s family home in Jamaica and seeing how difficult it is for children there to learn without school supplies. She organized a drive to collect supplies for the Heartsease Primary School in Mandeville, Jamaica such as pencils, notebooks, backpacks, and pencil sharpeners and they were delivered last September. Courtney was inspired to help underprivileged children in Jamaica because she says, “education is important and the key to success. We have to focus on the youth of the future and realize that every community is affected by another. I believe when those students feel confident, then they will succeed in and out of the classroom.” In addition, Courtney is a 2018 GivingPoint fellow, and she is participating in entrepreneurial training that teaches students about launching community projects and nonprofit organizations.
Jamil Atkinson, 17
The Lovett School
Jamil visited Lovett’s 825-acre cloud forest property in Ecuador, called Siempre Verde, for the first time two years ago. Struck by the beauty and challenges facing the people of the region, he gathered a group of Lovett students, organized a trip to Siempre Verde last summer, and met with local residents to talk about their successes and failures in selling their products. The goal was to figure out a way to sell their goods at Lovett on a long-term basis. During the trip, Jamil and his group made a documentary to market the products the local farmers and artisans grow and make. They brought back enough of the products to make 50 gift baskets to sell containing coffee, raw sugar, honey, soap, and aloe moisturizer. The baskets sold out and all monies will go back to the local famers and artisans in Ecuador. More baskets will be made in 2018 with new items collected by students who visit Siempre Verde. “It was interesting to see how labor intensive it is to produce the goods that are so commonplace to me. In our everyday lives, we don’t really think about how something on our dinner table got there, and it was fascinating to see the process.”
Kaylan Jones, 18
Atlanta International School
As part of her internship with the Center for Civil and Human Rights last summer, Kaylan became engaged with work of Back on My Feet and still regularly meets at the Inman Park MARTA station at 5:45 a.m. to run with local area homeless residents. She has continued to stay engaged in her work from the internship, single-handedly initiating and leading a human rights program at Atlanta International School last fall. In December, she returned to the Center to plan a program for elementary students in the Atlanta area. Kaylan’s memorable moment as a volunteer came while organizing a cheering section during a recent Back on My Feet race. “While cheering, I started talking with an alum of the Back on My Feet program who, not too long before the event, was recovering from being struck by a car on the sidewalk. His story humbled me because the least I could do was be there to support Back on My Feet by waking up early, while he was there shortly after a shocking incident. His story encouraged me to give back and not allow any excuse to hinder me from volunteering in the future.”
Miles Jackson, 14
Maynard H. Jackson High School
The freshman has created The Books For Miles Foundation, which collects and donates used books to local organizations. Through his foundation’s literacy events, Miles has donated over 8,000 books to local enrichment centers, day care centers, elementary schools, and shelters that serve disadvantaged children and families. He has assisted over 300 families through the Southwest Ecumenical Emergency Assistance Center (SWEEAC) by providing at-home libraries, children’s book bags for back-to-school, clothing for men in transition and food for needy families. “My ambassadors and I have served over 300 families through my partnership with SWEEAC. The most memorable experience was the “SWAG for a Cause” fashion show I planned and hosted for the purposes of filling the Men’s Closet at SWEEAC. We filled a room to capacity with clothes and my parents had to rent a storage truck just to transport the clothes to SWEEAC. Our efforts helped to put smiles on the faces of men in need and promoted dignity and confidence for them when going on interviews to enter the work force.”
Kira Harris, 18 & Nicole Pozzo, 17
The Paideia School
Bothe Kira and Nicole focused their service on the residents of the Edgewood Court Apartments. As leader of the Spread Science Club, Kira made regular visits to the community to spread science learning and enrichment as part of an afterschool program for the children who are residents at the complex. After attending the Atlanta Community Food Bank’s Youth Summit on Hunger and Poverty, Nicole created a community garden and fruit trees at the apartment complex. The recent sale of Edgewood Court saw the new owners shut down the afterschool program. Kira said one of the children thanked her by coming to quietly sit in her lap. “It was a very bittersweet moment. I knew I was going to really miss teaching these kids, I was sad about their program closing, and I was thankful to think that I had been able to be a part of their lives,” Kira said. Nicole said watching the children learn about growing their own food would remain with her. “From their excitement at finding green cherry tomatoes on the vine to their surprise at the sour taste of the unripe tomatoes captured the simple joy shared by all.”
Lilah Didier-Sober, 9
Oakhurst Elementary School
Lilah first visited Friends of Refugees, a Clarkston-based non-profit, in the fall of 2016 with her second grade class as part of an expedition inviting her class to “walk in the shoes” of a refugee. A few months later, as the debate over allowing refugees into the United States came to dominate the news, she felt called to take action to help those fleeing to this country. She decided to have a bake sale on the Atlanta BeltLine to raise funds to donate to Friends of Refugees. This first bake sale was a success, yielding over $600, while a second one brought her total to $2,000. More bake sales and fundraising events for local organizations are planned this year. “During one of our bake sales, an elderly guy came up to our table and said that he had come to America a long time ago as a refugee and that he was happy to see that people were still supporting them. I also was happy that we raised so much money for Friends of Refugees.”
Jeremy “Rem” Hellmann, 17
The Weber School
As early as his bar mitzvah, Rem chose to have guests buy One World Futbols (indestructible balls made for any kind of surface), rather than get him gifts, and partnered with Atlanta’s Soccer in the Streets to distribute the dozens of balls to refugee kids in Clarkston. He was chosen by the National Center for Civil & Human Rights and the Museum of History & Holocaust Education at Kennesaw State University to participate in a four-part dialogue titled “Changing Landscapes: Conversations on Human Rights.” Rem was also selected as a member of the Fulton County Youth Commission, and to participate in Morehouse College’s Coca Cola Pre-College Leadership Program and The Great Jewish Books summer program at the Yiddish Book Center in Massachusetts. He said his time on the youth commission has been life-changing. “I remember the first time being in a van with my fellow youth commissioners, driving from place to place for the sole purpose of connecting with the homeless, providing them with the basics for their holidays, and inviting them to our Thanksgiving meal. Despite their obvious hardships, the gratitude we received was palpable. This taught me that although it’s important to give charity, just reaching out and interacting with others is often equally appreciated.”
Samantha Delman, 17
Samantha is working towards her Girl Scout Gold Award on a project that would provide an educational curriculum regarding testing for sexually transmitted diseases to teen girls in low-income communities. She has partnered with Spelman College, the Hope Education Project, and the Westside and Peoplestown communities to get the project off the ground. Her goal is to create a sustainable program that would provide “health equity” throughout Atlanta. She was inspired to launch the initiative as a result of her work as tutoring and mentor at the Rick McDevitt Community Center in Peoplestown neighborhood. In her role, Sam recruits students to participate in the program and tutors three afternoons per week throughout the school year. She also serves as a tutor and counselor for Keeping Pace, an academic summer program at Pace for underserved youth from Peoplestown and other neighborhoods. Among other organizations, Samantha also helped launch The Universal Language, a group that collects equipment for Kick4Life, which uses soccer as a forum for HIV/AIDs education. “Working at Keeping Pace led me to become engaged and passionate about the issues in the Peoplestown community, and I am so thankful for the opportunity.”
Sydney Ragland, 17
Benjamin E Mays High School
Sydney has been an active member of the Maynard Jackson Youth Foundation Leadership Program since her junior year, as well as 1st Tee of Atlanta and Grady Hospital’s Each One Reach One Program, an intensive program for high-performing students from underrepresented backgrounds who are interested in pursuing medical careers. A memorable moment came at Thanksgiving when she was volunteering at Trinity A.M.E. Church to help feed the needy. “As I walked around ensuring everyone had condiments, napkins, beverages or any items they needed, I felt more connected to community and experienced a deeper sense of gratitude in giving back. Watching people enjoy food probably not often accessible was a very humbling and satisfying experience. I also appreciated having conversations with different people, and I made the most of that time being present and listening to them.”
Tallulah Grace Schley-Ritchie, 18
Atlanta Girls’ School
Tallulah has been an active member of Scouting Bridges: Uganda, an affiliation of co-ed Venturing Crew 370 of the Boy Scouts of America. She has been to Uganda three times to learn much about medicine and mental health. She is particularly interested in women’s health, and has assumed an active role in the Menstruation Matters initiative, which educates young Ugandan women on the importance of safe monthly hygiene. She has participated in educational clinics in Uganda, and has helped with the distribution of re-useable sanitary kits to women who have little or no access to appropriate supplies. “As a person interested in scientific disciplines as well as women’s education and health globally, participating in a project that so directly helps girls my age has been rewarding to such an extent I find it hard to fully articulate.”
Wesley Hardin, 17
The Galloway School
Wesley has been volunteering with MedShare, the nonprofit that distributes medical supplies and equipment around the world, since 2015. He started his service by sorting donations, but has since participated in fundraisers, compiled a cost-saving summary that wound up in the organization’s annual report and created a report on building new partnerships with volunteers. Wesley said the everyday experiences at MedShare are what keeps him engaged. “After my 20th visit I decided to retake the orientation tour of the facility, a simply awesome warehouse full of ready-to-be-shipped medical supplies and equipment. During the tour, Alvaro, the perpetually smiling volunteer manager, mentioned offhandedly that over half of the warehouse was powered by the solar panels on the roof. Wow. I had been going to MedShare for months and they still continued to surprise me. While yes, Medshare’s mission to both help those in need and reduce landfill waste is what brought me in, it’s their constant dedication to doing what’s right that brings me back every Saturday. With all the divisiveness around the world, it’s very humbling to help with a non-profit like MedShare.”
Will Milling, 17
Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School
Rather than the usual senior orientation, Will Milling proposed something dramatically – and philanthropically – different. He developed and raised money for a team-building program called Build-A-Hand, which resulted in the senior class building 35 prosthetic hands that are now being delivered to landmine victims around the world. “After the class had learned about the project and been working on assembling the hands in teams, I had each person place a koozie over their dominant hand. This resulted in each student only being able to construct a prosthetic hand with one hand – simulating the physical situation of someone who has lost a hand. Although this can be viewed as a serious teaching moment, it also created some awkward moments, even leading to some laughs. It was difficult for some of the students and some struggled with some of the smaller pieces, but they all seemed to learn about something bigger than themselves. We were all very proud of helping the victims around the world in such a life-changing way.”
Lauren Hutson, 17
Lauren, a senior at St. Pius X Catholic High School, formed a charity foundation called People Not Projects, which provides complimentary framed family portraits to the refugee community of Clarkston. Lauren has framed and hand-delivered over 150 family photos to families who have none, and cannot afford the luxury of framed photography of their growing children and families.
Bridget Silvert, 17
In the wake of a Woodward Academy teacher losing her young son to mitochondrial disease, the senior created a new service project in the child’s honor, Graham’s Grams. Bridget led the donation drive of toys, gift cards and art supplies to be donated to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.
Analla Reid, 18
Beyond spending over 200 hours in the elementary classrooms at The Paideia School as part of the Cross Age Teaching program, Analla also volunteers at Cumberland Academy, a private autism school in Atlanta. While at Cumberland Analla served students there as a basketball coach but more impressively, she successfully introduced the practice of mindfulness to help prepare her students for games and practices.
Alexandria Jordan, 17
The Booker T. Washington High School student has committed her high school career to the Army JROTC program. As a fourth year member, she demonstrates her leadership skills daily when guiding and training the younger cadets.
Jordan Jones, 18
Jordan has participated in numerous service projects during his high school career, including “SING,” a Lovett School-sponsored inner-city volunteer activity. He also works with RAFT-Chattahoochee River Clean-Up, the Metro Atlanta Project, and Habitat for Humanity at St. Phillips Cathedral and at Christ School.
Shaun Mooney, 7
The Holy Spirit Preparatory School second-grader submitted one of his many jokes for inclusion in a book published by United Healthcare Children’s Foundation. Proceeds from the book support grants for children and their families who need assistance covering their medical bills. Shaun went on to become a promoter for the book, including appearing on local news shows.
Andrew Zach, 17
The Marist School works as a legal aid for the DeKalb County Teen Court. In this role, he helps minors who have committed a crime by providing an alternative to Juvenile Court. He hears and argues cases and makes recommendations for restitution, such as community service or referral to county programs.
Naima Turbes, 16
The Westminster student is a board member on the Fulton County Youth Commission, and is president of the organization’s health committee. She’s also part of Circle of Women, a student-run nonprofit dedicated to increasing access to secondary education for girls around the world.
Lauren Brown, 17
Lauren has been part of the Westminster Service Corps, a student member of the school’s fundraising committee, and community engagement team leader. She’s also volunteered with Odyssey, the nonprofit that provides education opportunities to disadvantaged kids via summer camps.
Stephanie Willock, 18
A senior at The New Schools at Carver, Stephanie is not only her class vice-president and parliamentarian, but also part of the district award-winning reading bowl team, a prolific speaker and poet who uses her writing to inspire other students.
Titus Carter, 17
Titus joined L.E.A.D. (Launch, Expose, Advise, Direct), the nonprofit that empowers at-risk youth through baseball, as an ambassador during his freshman year at Douglass High School, but was later removed for lack of commitment. However, Titus recommitted himself by becoming a mentor at Harper-Archer Middle School and was allowed to return to the L.E.A.D. program and is driven to become a better leader for the community.
Izzy Pitman, 17
The Paideia School senior is an accomplished ultimate frisbee player and has taken her love of the sport to the Middle East and coached for an organization known as Ultimate Peace. The nonprofit takes children from Muslim, Christian and Jewish faiths and has them participate together on the ultimate frisbee field.
Cate O’Kelley, 17
A senior at Holy Innocents’, Cate is with the director of the school’s Program for Global Citizenship and members of the leadership team to bring Refuge Coffee to campus to educate students and faculty about local refugee-led social enterprise initiatives. She is also working to create an organization enabling Atlanta students to collaborate on community engagement projects.
Sophie Green, 18
Sophie has pioneered a relationship between The Paideia School and The Connections School of Atlanta by piloting a program to teach the ball game four square, played on concrete within four quadrants with a player in each square. She saw four square as a great connecting tool for autistic teens looking to be understood by their peers and neurotypical students looking to expand beyond themselves.
Kat Labenski, 16
Kat is an active leader of the Green Club at Academe of the Oaks, where she also volunteers her time working with the school’s animals and dedicating her weekends to working with Syrian refuges in Project Hope.
Patrick Schulman, 18
Patrick, a senior at Holy Spirit Preparatory, created a new version of the school’s Classics Club that works with Solidarity School, a Hispanic mission and school for low-income families in Sandy Springs. Every Sunday, Patrick teaches classics to a devoted group of elementary students.
Andreanna Kitas, 13
An 8th grader at Annunciation Day School, Andreanna led the efforts of the National Junior Beta and National Junior Honor Societies to collect toiletries, blankets and essentials for Hurricane Irma victims. Because of Andreanna’s persistent efforts and leadership, the organizations collected enough items to fill the entire lobby of the DeKalb County police headquarters, plus an additional $500 to be donated to the Red Cross.
Olivia Silva, 17
For the past two years, Olivia has worked tirelessly and collaboratively to design, plan and execute Woodward Academy’s Canned Food Drive. From the theming of the drive to the educational programming involved, Olivia’s efforts have resulted in hugely successful drives.