Meet our eighth annual 20 Under 20 honorees. We asked public and privates schools along with universities and service organizations to nominate students who have gone above and beyond to give back to the community.
Like every year, we are astounded at much time and effort these students put into their charity work. Thousands of volunteer hours, traveling to other states and countries, creating nonprofit organizations and being role models to other students were hallmarks of their service.
We noticed that the nominees seem to get younger and younger – from a 10-year-old on a mission to save endangered rhinos to an 18-year-old who survived a brutal beating to lead a charge against bullying, we think you’ll agree these students are exceptional. Like last year, there were so many students we thought deserved recognition we also selected five finalists.
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.
Sir Dalvin Holloman, 18
Georgia College & State University
Sir Dalvin has been the driving force behind the Boys & Girls Club of Metro Atlanta’s anti-bullying and suicide prevention campaign. A victim of bullying himself where he was beaten by a gang, Sir Dalvin has taken his experience and worked with kids to change behaviors and offer support where it is needed. His efforts earned him the Auburn University Anti-Bullying Hero Award. As a member of the Boys & Girls Club since he was 7, he has gone on to become a counselor at Camp Kiwanis, a year-round residence camp run by the club, and has volunteered as a caregiver to the elderly. Sir Dalvin, the son of Cederic Holloman, said delivering meals to homeless people living under the I-20 bridge opened his eyes to how important giving back to the community is. “The sight of seeing people struggle to this magnitude seemed immeasurable to my young eyes,” he said. “From that moment on I found myself with the sudden urge to constantly make efforts to serve those who needs it the most. It is through this experience that has led me to ultimately dedicate my life to the service of others.”
Evan Mercer, 18
The Lovett School
Evan has single-handedly run Lovett’s six-week Habitat for Humanity build for the past two years – volunteering himself and getting his peers involved. Evan became interested in Habitat for Humanity after going on a Lovett service trip to New Orleans, where he worked on housing restoration projects. “Habitat has opened my eyes to a lot of things,” Evan said. “I have been able to work with families and help them attain one of the basic necessities of life while gaining exposure to the technicalities of home construction. I have also been able to experience the communities I live around, which has familiarized me with the socioeconomic and racial divisions in Atlanta. Evan, the son of Claire and Todd Mercer, said the biggest reward is the dedication of the home. “At the end of each build, Habitat for Humanity dedicates the house and it’s great to see how appreciative the homeowner and his or her family are. It feels good to see our impact and the result of our hard work.”
Haley Hooper, 15
The Lovett School
Growing up with dogs, Haley has always loved animals. When she was 9, Haley decided she wanted to help homeless pets and created the Kingswood Fun Run to benefit the Atlanta Humane Society (AHS). With the support of her parents, Tim and Christy Hooper, the sixth annual run was held last August and raised $15,000. She has raised more than $25,000 for AHS since starting the run. When she went to turn in the 2015 event’s donations, she was honored by the AHS staff and told that her contributions had saved 70 dogs from a puppy mill earlier that same week. “Making a difference in an animal’s life is such a rewarding experience,” Haley said. “I knew along with my parents, that all the hard work and participation of dozens of people, was paying off to help improve the lives of hundreds of sweet animals. I cannot wait to start planning for next year’s race on August 13, 2016!”
Elizabeth Cohen, 10
The Children’s School
When she first realized, at the age of 6, that rhinos were needlessly being killed for their horns, Elizabeth announced that she intended to save them. For the past four years, she has dedicated herself to learning about and telling the world of these needless slaughters. Elizabeth organized her first fund-raising lemonade stand in kindergarten, and sent the money she raised to Save the Rhino International. She promoted programs designed by the Rhino Orphanage in South Africa and teamed up with Zoo Atlanta and organized a Rhino Booth at the 2014 Maker’s Faire, where she gave multiple presentations to adults and children about the dangers to rhinos. This past summer, Elizabeth met with leaders of the Save the Rhino International at their headquarters in London, where she discussed new fundraising ideas for her school. On the horizon is a community-wide service day at her school to raise awareness about rhinos. An active runner with The Atlantic Track Club, Elizabeth hopes to organize a Run for the Rhinos” soon. “I save the rhinos because they need help and I like helping others,” the daughter of Dan and Jenny Cohen said.
Vajraang Kamat, 18
North Atlanta High School
During the past four years, Vajraang, the son of Samir Kamat and Bindu Balakrishnan, has volunteered more than 2,000 hours in local, national, and international projects for Embracing the World, a United Nations recognized international humanitarian organization. Locally, he volunteers in the Atlanta chapter, participating in park cleanups, shelter kitchens, and fundraisers. He’s also the coordinator of the southeast chapter of Ayudh, the youth wing of Embracing the World. Nationally, Vajraang tours the U.S. every summer and Thanksgiving break, travelling to 14 cities to participate in various humanitarian activities and fundraisers. Internationally, he shadows Ammachi labs in south India, which focuses on technological humanitarian projects. As chief designer for the North Atlanta Robotics Team, he merged his work in Ayudh with the robotics to design and build a tree-planting robot. Vajraange and his teammates leave their computers to help clear Standing Peachtree Park along the Chattahoochee River. “Once our robots are built, we hope to bring them to the park and put them to good use here,” he said. “Though what we do is small, we plan to keep it alive. We hope to keep working on and maintaining this park, and, with the help of our robots, show how technology and service can go hand in hand for the betterment of society.”
Will Epperson, 17
Holy Innocent’s Episcopal School
A Type 1 diabetic, Will has not let that define him. Instead, he has worked hard to raise money for JDRF (Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation), and to help make HIES the top-grossing school in the nation for seven years in a row in the JDRF Fall Walk. As captain of this year’s walk, HIES raised $93,000 for JDRF. When HIES began collecting bottles of clean drinking water for victims of flooding in South Carolina, Will was one of a handful of students who not only helped to load two trucks and a bus, but also went to the state and helped unload the water. He also volunteered at Camp Hope, a weeklong camp for the children of those who are incarcerated, and AYUDA Inc., a nonprofit that delivers diabetes education to those in the Dominican Republic and other countries. Will, the son of Natalie and Tom Epperson, has been a volunteer, fund-raiser, mentor and camp counselor for AYUDA, planning and running campus this past summer for three weeks, raising $7,000 for the program, and being promoted to mentor for the summer of 2016. One of his most memorable moments was spending last summer in Latin America to educate those living with diabetes. “I was thanked by people who I had never seen before nor spoken to,” he recalled. “It really showed me how much it meant to the campers and their families that we were there teach them about how to live with diabetes.”
Julie Street, 15
The Westminster Schools
In 7th grade, Julie found the perfect outlet for her love of serving in the National Charity League (NCL), a mother-daughter service organization committed to community service and leadership. Through NCL, she has volunteered hundreds of hours to help organizations such as Operation Gratitude, Agape, Furkids, Buckhead Christian Ministries, Ronald McDonald House, Hospice Atlanta, Atlanta Food Bank and Atlanta Botanical Garden. Julie, the daughter of Randy and Holly Street, is a particularly devoted volunteer for Operation Gratitude, which sends care packages to veterans and active duty military personnel. Over the past 18 months, Julie has devoted over 150 hours serving Operation Gratitude, and has been involved from the beginning of the partnership between NCL Buckhead and Operation Gratitude. Julie researched paracord bracelet materials, determining where they could be sourced most economically, and created hundreds of ready to assemble paracord kits so that the local members of NCL could weave bracelets for the care boxes. She personally wove over 300 bracelets. Speaking about Operation Gratitude, Julie said: “This organization sends over 150,000 care packages a year to active duty military. Reaching out to them was really meaningful for me because four generations of my family have served the US forces in the past century, including my own uncle who has spent five years in both Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Saachi Datta, 16
The Galloway School
Saachi was chosen as a Giving Point Institute member this year because of her work creating an organization called Man?na, which collects donations to throw birthday parties for underprivileged kids. When asked about her most memorable moment giving back, Saachi said: “It is hard to choose just one memorable moment because the last two years with Man?na have been unforgettable. However, there was one event, the memory of which I will always cherish. Walking into the Agape Center to set up for our second celebration, the volunteers and I were excited to surprise the children who did not know that we were returning. When they realized that we had come back, their shrieks of delight were piercing and their enthusiasm was infectious. A little girl, barely 5-years-old, came flying up to me, nearly knocking me over, and gave me the tightest hug she could: ‘I remember you! I’m so happy! I just turned five!’ That one large smile on her face went straight to my heart. It made me appreciate that we do have the power to affect others, whether it be one smile or many smiles. I realized then that Man?na’s mission – to celebrate children’s lives – had come to fruition, and my commitment to the cause was sealed.” Saahi is the daughter of Jaydip Datta and Sarita Kansal.
Josie Barton, 17
Holy Innocent’s Episcopal School
Ever since she was a young girl, Josie has been a volunteer at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. In 2012, Josie became part of girlFriends, a volunteer group of ninth-to-12th-grade girls dedicated to fundraising throughout the school year for Children’s. She is now co-president of girlFriends, which raised more than $30,600 last school year. Josie, the daughter of Jim and Diane Barton, also creates cards for sick children through Holy Innocents’ Send-a Smile Club, tutors at-risk students at Sandy Springs Mission, and serves as an acolyte and vacation Bible school counselor for St. Martin’s Episcopal Church. “One of my most memorable moments was a few years ago while I was volunteering at the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Heart to Heart Christmas party,” she said. “I was running the Build a Bear station, helping the heart patients stuff their animals. There was a little girl and her grandmother having trouble, but none of the other volunteers could help them. None of the other volunteers could help because the girl and her grandmother only spoke Spanish. I was nervous at first, but once I began speaking to them in their native language I could see a wave of relief wash over them. As I helped the little girl stuff her bear, I spoke to them and learned she had received a heart transplant as an infant and had had multiple surgeries since. I was so grateful I was able to use my Spanish to help her, especially after everything she had been through.”
Max Rubenstein, 15
The Galloway School
As well as being active at school – including creating a mentorship program, working on an anti-bullying campaign and working as a teaching assistant in the elementary school music program – Max also serves on the 21st Century Leadership Youth Council and created a charity called Game Givers that delivers video games to sick children at hospitals throughout Georgia. He also mentors youth to host gaming tournaments to raise funds and awareness. He is also a board member for the non-profit E.P.I.C Kids Foundation, a non-profit that provides children with opportunities for personal development. He also served on Teen Jam board for the Atlanta Jewish Community Center, leading and implementing community service projects around the city. The son of Ali and David Rubenstein, Max said a special memory is meeting a patient named Davis who had spent 21 months at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta as part of Game Givers. “After spending some time with him, I was able to really understand the impact that my charity had,” Max said. “Davis and I will be getting together soon at one of my upcoming charity video game tournaments, and I look forward to getting to know him better. There are many days I feel grateful that I started Game Givers, but on that day I know I truly lived my mission: helping sick kids in the hospital.”
D’Anthony Morrow, 17
Benjamin E. Mays High School
D’Anthony hopes to be heading to the University of Georgia to play baseball, a talent he honed while an ambassador for L.E.A.D., a local nonprofit organization that uses sports to help students succeed at school and teaches them how to give back to the community. D’Anthony, the son of David Morrow and Katrina Johnson, has been an ambassador for the group for six years. He said a memorable moment came during a L.E.A.D. clinic at Turner Field with elementary and middle school students form Atlanta Public Schools. “As the students walk into the stadium, you see the excitement on their faces and all throughout the day, you see how excited they are to be on the field running around the bases, having live batting practice, and simply happy to be on the same field where the Atlanta Braves play,” D’Anthony said. “What made the day so memorable was when an elementary student came up to me after the clinic and said, ‘I am going to be like you one day.’ That made me feel like a champion! It showed me that what I was doing is affecting kids in a positive way.”
James Pastan, 18
The Westminster Schools
James is the founder of Trading Smiles, a nonprofit organization that seeks to spread happiness and a sense of comfort to homeless kids through trading cards. He collects old trading cards, either from donations from other kids or by buying them in bulk online, and he repackages the cards and donates them to the Atlanta Children’s Shelter (ACS). Since the inception of Trading Smiles, Jamie has donated more than 4,000 cards to homeless children in Atlanta. The organization was presented at a Yale Young Global Scholars information session in Vietnam as an example of what Yale Young Global Scholars do in their communities. Since then, he has received emails from students in Vietnam who are interested in getting involved. James, the son of Stephen and Elizabeth Pastan, hopes to reach 10,000 cards donated before he graduates in May and is working to establish a relationship with a trading card manufacturer or sports team in order to always have a consistent supply of cards and to expand the organization national and internationally. James said meeting and playing with the kids at ACS is a reminder of why he started the nonprofit. “Every time I drop off a donation at the ACS, I look at the playground and remember why running Trading Smiles is so rewarding: every card is an invitation to play.”
Jenni Rogan, 18
A 2015 graduate of Grady High School, the daughter Elizabeth and Ed Rogan combined her love of reading with Girl Scout service projects that address literacy issues among homeless children. While in 6th grade, Jenni refurbished the library at the United Methodist Children’s Home in Decatur, arranging for a book drive at her school, a troop discussion of literacy, and a group tour of the facility. She also worked with infants, toddlers and pre-schoolers at the Atlanta Children’s Shelter through the creation of an audio library where the children can read along with popular children’s books while the story is read to them on a CD to help close the “word gap,” a documented lag in literacy for children born into poverty. She also volunteered regularly with Project Open Hand, MedShare, the Ronald McDonald House and the Atlanta Women’s Day Shelter. Now in college, Jenni is volunteering once a week at an elementary school in Northfield, MN. She said one of her most memorable moments was seeing the delight in the eyes of the young children at the Atlanta Children’s Shelter when she wheeled in a cart filled with audiobooks. “I hope I was able to pass along my love of reading to these children,” she said.
Prashanth Kumar, 16
For the past four years, Prashanth has travelled to Tirunelveli, India to volunteer at Galaxy Hospital and Kidney Care Center, where he translates for doctors during procedures and helps comfort patients. This work also led to hosting blood drives in the small town and other places in Inida. He also teaches at a local Tamil School every Sunday, teaching the Tamil language to children, and serves as a peer tutor for Pace’s Academic Resource Center. Prashanth, the son of Krishnan Kumar and Sundari Ganesan, is also a counselor for the Middle School MathCounts program and Lower School chess team. He said that his trips to India each summer have inspired his career path. “Going to volunteer in India solidified my aspiration to be a doctor, as it is clearly a job that would immensely change the lives of any community,” he said. “[The trips] nourish my internal drive to help make the world one in which all people, irrespective of what country they are in, have the same chance to thrive in.”
Qwantayvious Artez Stiggers, 17
The B.E.S.T. Academy at Benjamin S. Carson
Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Meria Carstarphen personally nominated Qwantayvious after becoming one of his mentors. He serves on the superintendent’s advisory committee for single gender school and is a member of Project ENGAGES at Georgia Tech – where he conducts research, sets goals, and explores possible career paths. During his 2015 spring break, he went to Costa Rica to perform community service work as part of the B.E.S.T. Boys Global Club and found himself working with children at an orphanage. Two young children he met at the orphanage left a lasting impression. “As we entered the orphanage two kids, a boy and girl named Gringo and Maria, ran towards me and hugged my legs,” he said, and spent the day playing, having lunch and tucking them in during nap time. “Before I left, both Gringo and Maria both hugged me tightly around my neck. The whole way home I was in deep thought about those two kids. It was kind of crazy how special connections could be made in such little time. The time I gave Gringo and Maria brought great happiness to my heart and theirs because I know they made impact on me and definitely I made an impact on them. I will never forget their names.” Qwantayvious is the son Kwanna Stiggers.
John Parker Stephenson, 18
The Virginia-Highland student has been giving back to the community since he attended Morningside Elementary and Inman Middle schools. Most recently he served as a “Volunteen” at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, where he helped with inventory and in the laboratory. The son of John and Debbie Stephenson, John has also been active building homes with Habitat for Humanity, processing and packaging meals with Helping Hand and planting trees along the Atlanta BeltLine with Trees Atlanta. As part of work with First Presbyterian Church, he’s been on a number of mission trips including helping those affected by Hurricane Sandy in New Jersey. One of his memorable moments was helping a homeless man who could not speak English during a church breakfast. The man wanted an orange, but John was unable to find one, but the homeless man smiled and thanked the teen for breakfast. “As my dad and I were leaving to go home and get changed for church services, I saw the man who asked for an orange out of the corner of my eye, a wide smile on his face and, surprisingly, an orange in his hand,” John said. “He waved at me and I waved back happily before going our separate ways. In all of my volunteer experiences, it’s the little things like a warm smile over such an ordinary object that imparts a binding sense of humanity and makes service extremely worthwhile.”
Casey Gentry, 16
North Atlanta High School
Casey has volunteered for Susan G. Komen Foundation, cleaned cages for FurKids, prepared and served meals at Ronald McDonald House, made paracord bracelets for military members for Operation Gratitude as well as volunteering at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Chastain Therapeutic Riding Program, City of Refuge and Northside Shepherd Senior Center to name a few more. Casey received the President’s Volunteer Service award for National Charity League (NCL), a mother-daughter service organization. The daughter of Kathy and Boyd Gentry, Casey said one of her cherished memories was one night when she volunteering at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta where she met a young patient who spoke no English and whose family had returned to Mexico. “I stayed with him for the rest of the night, learning about how his family went back to their home in Mexico and he wouldn’t see him for another month,” she said. “This experience opened my eyes to my affect on others and made me feel more useful than many other days in my life. Volunteering has shaped who I am and given me my identity that today, I can be proud of.”
Max Harris, 18
The Weber School
Under his leadership, The Weber School Student Council adopted a year-long initiative of Active Inclusion – an ideal upon which the entire school community recognizes and embraces that every student is entitled to a welcoming school experience regardless of race, sexual orientation, gender identity, or any other human factor. Working with the Tikkun Olam Club and the Gay-Straight Alliance Club, Weber’s student council galvanized attendance at this year’s Gay Pride Parade. Max’s commitment to forging genuine connections between students can be traced back to his sophomore year. Through Weber’s Counseling program, he underwent training to become a student-leader for the Anti-Defamation League’s “Names Can Really Hurt Us” Assembly Program. The son of Ellen Zucrow and Bobby Harris, Max also led the student body in creating gift bags for the Sandy Springs Fire Department, to honor their service and to remember the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. “This initiative arose out of the necessity to appreciate the heroes of 9/11, the first responders, in a public and impactful manner,” he said “And the opportunity to make a difference through volunteerism represents not only the Jewish cornerstone value of Tikkun Olam, but also the moral commitment to one another to remember the legacies of those who sacrificed so much to ensure others’ safety; that is why this program was so impactful.”
Morgan Robinson, 17
Riverwood International Charter School
Morgan has always given of her time to her community by volunteering with many groups and organizations. Whether it’s helping to build playgrounds with Kaboom, traveling to Birmingham, Ala. for school cleanup projects, planting a community garden for the needy, or holding leadership positions with Sporty Girls, you can always find Morgan giving of her time. Morgan also volunteers with Alive Ministries, an organization whose mission is to eliminate hunger for at-risk students in local schools. She also participated in the Haiti Care Mission’s “Threads of Love” project, a 2011 initiative to collect and donate 5,000 pillowcases for the purpose of making “pillowcase dresses” for infants and young girls in need in Haiti. The daughter of Scott and Nathalie Brandon-Robinson, Morgan also collected knitted hats for donation to the neo-natal intensive care unit of Children’s Hospital at Egleston as part of the Middle Years Program Project. “As I toured the NICU and saw the precious bundles of joy to whom my hats would help, I believe my heart was warmed most of all,” she recalled. “Despite being hooked up to countless machines and tubes, the babies had so much life and strength in their little bodies. Ultimately, it was one of the best feelings to know that my actions were possibly adding a sense of comfort to a mother’s life, and most of all, showing them that they were not alone.”
Sarina Chalmers, 18
The Paideia School
Sarina’s strong interest in ecology led her to create the “Paideia Plant-Pollinator Project” two years ago. Her research has led to the installation of hundreds of native plants for pollinators, including more than 20 different species of native wildflowers and flowering herbs in the Druid Hills neighborhood, as well as in other school and community gardens in under-served neighborhoods around Atlanta. Under Sarina’s leadership, the Paideia Farms and Garden Sites are now certified Native Pollinator Habitats. Sarina also received a Monarchs Across Georgia Pollinator Habitat grant to continue this work. Her work also led to the development of a related AP Biology lab that focuses on the coevolution of pollinators and native plants. Sarina, a senior, is the daughter of Rebecca and Henry Chalmers.
Elizabeth Harvey, 17
A senior at The Westminster Schools, Elizabeth started her own philanthropic initiative Power of the Pencil Project (POPP), an organization that spreads awareness about education inequality. POPP creates and sells homemade soy candles to fund local education projects, such as the Children’s Restoration Network’s New Hope Scholarship Fund and supplies for afternoon art classes hosted by the Salvation Army.
Ryan Jackson, 18
The freshman at Howard University participated in the Atlanta Community Food Bank Summit, volunteered as a ServeHaiti delegate (where she delivered a baby), worked as an intern at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health and devoted over 500 hours to community service throughout her high school career.
Johnna Gadomski, 18
Johnna’s focus is on helping vulnerable children around the world and tutors at-risk kids at Sandy Springs Mission. She also founded the UNICEF Club at Holy Innocents Episcopal School this past year.
Austin Evans, 18
The Texas A&M freshman and New Schools at Carver graduate was an ambassador for L.E.A.D. (Launch, Expose, Advise, Direct) where he helped guide at-risk youth in Atlanta Public Schools. He plans to return to Atlanta to continue his work after graduation and has aspirations to be a senator.
Paige Overmyer, 17
The North Atlanta High School student has done volunteer work to rehab houses in low-income neighborhoods and is an active member of the North Atlanta Women’s Filmmakers Club.