The same question arises every year as we consider the nominations: how do these students find the time to give back to the community? As you will see, our 11th annual 20 Under 20 is filled with youth who somehow manage to juggle their busy lives with doing extraordinary things to make Intown and the world a better place to live.
As in previous years, 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. These 20 students have accumulated thousands of hours of volunteer time, traveled to other countries, created nonprofits and worked with the underprivileged as part of their service.
This year, we noticed a trend among many of the honorees – their interest and passion for social justice causes. You’ll see that many of the students’ passion lies with working with refugees and underserved minority communities around the city.
Picking just 20 honorees becomes more difficult every year, so this year’s runners-up list has 26 names who we feel deserved recognition for their hard work in the community.
We hope these uplifting stories will inspire you to find ways to give back to the community. And, as always, thanks to the businesses and schools whose advertising support makes this section possible every year.
Aniyah Ragland, 17
Benjamin E. Mays High School
A senior a Mays High School, Aniyah’s passion is working with animals, and that shows in the countless hours she has volunteered at local humane society shelters and with the Detroit Zoo. She’s also been involved with the Project Engage Program facilitated by Atlanta Public Schools and Georgia Tech spending four and five days a week in a laboratory on a research project on using micro-needles to prevent blindness. At the end of the summer, Aniyah won first place with her research presentation board at Georgia. She plans to study animal science and pursue a career in veterinary medicine. “One of my favorite things about volunteering at the humane society is the amount of time I get to spend with the dogs. I’ve been trying harder to make a dog’s day brighter by spending a little more time and giving a little more affection. I love to volunteer at the shelter because I like making a difference in those animals’ lives.”
Aliza Abusch-Magder, 18
The Weber School
Aliza volunteers weekly with Friendship Circle where she works with a developmentally delayed young adult, visiting her at home, taking her on outings and engaging in her favorite activities. Aliza also volunteers with Friends of Refugees, tutoring elementary aged refugee children in English, math and social studies in Clarkston. She serves on the advisory board of Peace by Piece, an interfaith alliance connecting Muslim, Catholic and Jewish high school students in Atlanta. She also leads workshops for her peers about sexuality and body image. Aliza recounts a story of seeing three women weighted down with groceries waiting for the bus in the cold: “I popped the trunk and I handed a sweater of mine to one of the women who was wearing only a t-shirt. Driving home, I began to process what had just happened and recognized that I could have, if only for a moment, bridged the gap of inequality that I had just witnessed. I turned around and came back to the three women and drove them each home, losing an hour of study time but gaining an immeasurable understanding of community, growth, and God.”
Roshni Shah, 17
Roshni serves on the My Mind Matters leadership board, an organization that helps high school students that are struggling with mental challenges, and volunteers regularly with The Nicholas House, which provides dinners to women who are domestically abused, and at Northside Hospital. For the past four years, Roshni has worked with Blessings in a Backpack, which provides meals to underprivileged children. She also makes time for the local Indian community, teaching culture and dance to young Indian children. “My most memorable moments come during my time at The Nicholas House and as a volunteer at Northside Hospital. The Nicholas House gives me an opportunity to have a small impact and help the women and children there with something as simple as cooking and serving dinner. At Northside Hospital, my job was simply to transport patients out of the hospital. Although from an outside perspective it seems like a routine task, it gave me the opportunity to talk to the patients and brighten their day in any way possible.”
Hannah Hagenau, 18
Mount Vernon Presbyterian School
Hannah began her service work in the seventh grade when she raised money to purchase soccer nets for a girls soccer tournament in Zambia. Once in high school, she began a scholarship fund for high school students in Lusaka, Zambia raising $3,000 in the first year to cover tuition costs for 18 students. During the past two years, Hannah has raised over $5,000 to pay tuition for 22 students. She has also been active in helping to feed and provide necessities for the homeless and with Family Promise, an organization that houses homeless families in religious communities until they can get back on their feet. “My most memorable moment was when I got to meet the first graduate of the scholarship program for high school students in Lusaka, Zambia. He just received a full ride scholarship for college and started his own clothing line. His name is Steven and he is an incredible artist and very nice.”
Temple Lester, 11
Midtown International School
Temple is the creator of STEM Girl Swag where she advocates for girls and minorities to gain exposure to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics related-fields. At age 9, she created a website (justtemple.com) to encourage her friends, especially girls, to get involved. She volunteers at schools and community events by speaking and conducting science demonstrations. In 2017, she won the Georgia Science Teachers Association’s STEM-Talk Competition where she had the opportunity to go to UGA and speak to science teachers across the state of Georgia about filling the gap in STEM. She also held a book drive and collected 2,500 books for Columbia Elementary School and Sheltering Arms – East Lake. Temple was recently selected out of 38,000 Girl Scouts in Metro Atlanta to deliver the keynote speech at their Second Century Luncheon. “A memorable moment for me was when I spoke at E. Rivers Elementary School. I was the keynote speaker for their S.T.E.A.M. Day. When I came in on my hover board, the students and staff all cheered. They were just as excited when I shared with them my story in science, boundaries that I want to break and limitations that I am already exceeding. I loved showing my peers that you don’t have to be an adult to make a difference, but you can make a difference at a young age and start now.”
Bailey Diamond, 16
North Atlanta High School
Last fall, Bailey earned her Girl Scout Gold Award for her Edgy Veggie project, where she led workshops around Buckhead for kids, teens, and adults about healthy eating and body image. Through fundraising, she was able to distribute printed reusable canvas bags to encourage environmental sustainability with her workshop attendees. She created a Clean Eating Club at North Atlanta High School and used leftover funds raised to donate to the Peachtree Road Farmers Market for supplies from their wish list. Bailey was honored as a 2018 Teen Volunteer of the Year by the Greater Atlanta Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals during National Philanthropy Day. “Throughout my Girl Scout Gold Award Project, I taught people about the importance of eating healthy food and treating your body right, and hearing about the way people were impacted was very meaningful to me. On more than one occasion, people shared that they were struggling with eating issues and that my workshops helped them to develop a new mindset. Hearing that I had struck a chord with these people had a definite impact on me, and I’m so thankful that I could give back to them through volunteering.”
Charlestavious Brooks, 16
Frederick Douglass High School
For the past two years, Charlestavious has been an ambassador for L.E.A.D. (Launch, Expose, Advise, Direct), an organization created to empower at-risk youth to lead and transform the City of Atlanta. He has completed over 150 hours of community service with a focus on poverty and homelessness. In the future, he wants to invest in homeless shelters, schools, and hospitals for the community. “My most memorable moment of volunteerism was when L.E.A.D. Ambassadors and I served food and shared life stories with homeless and disabled men that are in recovery from drugs and alcohol who live at Trinity House. I want to solve homelessness, so making the connection with the men at Trinity House made we aware of the circumstances that caused their current state, how it could have been prevented and how I can help solve it for millions of people in the future.”
Caden Harris, 8
DeKalb Academy of Technology & Environment
Caden is a young entrepreneur who wants to inspire children of all ages by teaching them about science, engineering, technology and finances He is the CEO of Daddy Did You Know?, an educational program that teaches children of all ages through books, flashcards and YouTube tutorials. He recently was a guest speaker at DeKalb Academy of Technology and Environment’s career day where he shared all about his business with this peers. The birth of Daddy Did You Know? began as Caden started to research and learn new things on his own. When he learned these new things, he would excitedly run to his Dad and ask, “Daddy, did you know…?”, and a business was born. “My most memorable moment giving back was when I recently entered a business-pitching contest similar to Shark Tank. I won the contest winning $25,000. I will be using the money towards my business. I will also hire five employees so that a portion of the money goes back into the community and helping other families. Being able to give back is exciting for me.”
Anup Bottu, 16; Zander Kasabian, 17; and Daven Yadav, 16
The Westminster Schools
These three Westminster juniors created START, Inc. (Science to Action Road Trips), a nonprofit that offers experiential learning opportunities to students who might not otherwise receive them. Instead of the traditional method of teaching, Anup, Daven, and Zander embrace hands-on learning and ask kids to connect math and science with their own lives, building positive connections between science and fun in their brains. Last year, they took 70 students at Scott Elementary to Sky Zone where they bounced on the trampolines and embraced Newton’s laws of physics. The group looks to build on that success this year with five field trips – involving more 320 elementary school students – to places like SkyZone and iFly, making science come to life for the students they work with. Daven said it has been “heartwarming” to see how excited the young students are to connect having fun with learning about science. “The fact that kids can learn for fun fascinated and continued to drive my passion for my volunteering,” Zander said. Anup described meeting a mischievous student at Scott Elementary who had trouble with tests, but was passionate about learning. Anup recognized that the student’s desire to learn was being squashed by punishment and said it gave him a clear view of the current educational system he hopes to correct.
Caroline Garfunkel, 18
Atlanta Jewish Academy
When her mother successfully battled breast cancer in 2014, Caroline decided she wanted to do something to help others facing the same challenge. She paired with SharSheret, a Jewish organization that provides support to women with breast and ovarian cancer, and their families. Caroline co-chaired Pink Day, a nationwide two-day event designed to raise awareness and funding for SharSheret. She also started start a health-conscious food drive at her school to provide healthier options for people in need. After the food drive showed great success, she decided to continue this project into her senior year, and paired with a Jewish Food Donation Organization, continuing her efforts to bring healthy food to those in need. “After the end of my first food drive, as I started packing the food into bags for each family, I was so incredibly happy. I had spent countless hours planning the drive and hoping loads of healthy food would be donated, and my dream came true. Each bag was packed with a healthy meal and a fun greeting card. As I passed out the bags, I felt an extreme happiness, and I knew I had to continue doing this!”
Carson Calahan, 18
The Lovett School
An avid soccer player, Carson realized that many talented and deserving children couldn’t afford the fees associated with club soccer teams, and he set out to change that. Building on a partnership The Lovett School has with Agape Youth and Family Center, Carson created the Golden Goal Soccer Camp. He has run the camp for three years, pulling together volunteers, resources, and equipment to provide students ages 8-11 with soccer clinics that teach fundamentals, teamwork, and character. He has also established a plan for the camp to continue after he graduates from Lovett. Carson was recently honored as a Teen Volunteer of the Year Award by the Atlanta chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. Carson recounts working with a young student at the camp who hadn’t been involved, but then managed to score the game-winning goal. “She had the biggest smile on her face and you could see how much it meant to her. You could tell that she’d be telling everyone she knew about that goal for weeks. It was really incredible to see such a small thing made everybody so happy, and it capped off a fantastic end to the week and was a fitting conclusion to an incredible three-year journey for me with the camp.”
Julia Stahlman, 18
Riverwood International Charter School
Julia has successfully channeled her love of art into creating and directing Art for Art, a nonprofit that supports the arts in both developed and underdeveloped communities. Julia raised money by selling her own art and partnered with an international charity to provide art classes for over 100 children in underserved communities in Africa. A strong environmentalist, Julia also founded Action for Clean Tap Water in America (ACTWA.org) to address the health threat posed by specific chromium levels in tap water that impacts millions of Americans. Julia has gained recognition from the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards and the U.S. President’s National Volunteer Service Awards programs. “In creating Art For Art, I hoped to use my love of the arts to help communities in need around the world. I am very proud of the work we have done and the funding we have been able to provide for positive, esteem-building art classes for children who live in poverty in communities without running water, electricity, or sanitation.
Sofia Eidizadeh, 17
Atlanta International School
Sofia has positively impacted young students through her work with Aprendiendo Inglés Sólido, an organization that reaches out to support underserved Latinx and Hispanic students. As one of the largest student service organizations at Atlanta International School, Sofia coordinates a group of 50-plus tutors and their work with local public school students. She also works as a counselor at TEC Camp, offering attendees an introduction to technology, engineering and computing. Sofia was instrumental in bringing in female engineering professors to talk to AIS’ middle school students about the disparity between men and women in STEM fields. “The reason why I love leading the Aprendiendo Inglés Sólido service group alongside my peers at my school is because I get to witness the impact that a connection makes for the students that we tutor. I believe that everyone, no matter their background, should have access to a high-quality education; by volunteering for this group, I have the opportunity to share my knowledge and excitement about education with other students.”
Liah Lawson, 16
Henry W. Grady High School
Liah works with ARROW as a teen advisor to provide education and opportunity to combat racism in society to high school students. Working with Exceptional Kids Athletics Inc. has allowed her to work with disabled children teaching motor skill and social skills to those who do not have adults in their lives to assist with those skills. Continuing her work with children, she also volunteers at Urban City Fresh, a farm to fork lunch and after school program for low-income kids, and is the founder and president of the American Sign Language Club at the school. She uses the media to amplify young voices by developing social media content, blog posts, and activism activities for youth through AMP Global Youth. She plans to become a civil justice lawyer. “My most memorable moment as a volunteer has been working with Exceptional Kids Athletics. A mother thanked me for helping engage her daughter and show her that she could trust someone else other than her parents. It really meant a lot to me and geared me to the life of helping others. Not that I needed any acknowledgment, but just knowing how much of an impact on this girl and her family’s life was a phenomenal feeling.”
Ava Wong, 17
Academe of the Oaks
Ava participates in the Hope Education Project that connects high school students to the refugee community. For the third year in a row, she works every Sunday with refugee children, helping them with school work and making them feel welcome. She also holds a leadership role in the Green School Initiative, where she works with a group of students on energy conservation, and participates in the Global Nomads Program, which connects students around the world through video conferencing. Recently, Ava founded the school’s news blog (The New Street Journal) and acts as chief editor. This past summer, Ava volunteered at the nonprofit Mountain Learning and Retreat Center in North Carolina, where she did everything from farm work to helping children. “When people take the time to help others, they discover something that’s so much more rewarding. Through the volunteering that I do, I’ve realized how helping one another is bigger than a couple hours from my Sunday.”
Regina Munoz, 18
Holy Spirit Preparatory School
For her Girl Scout Gold Award, Regina chose to address problems with self-image and self-esteem in young Latina girls. She created the program En La Amistad Nos Encontramos, or In Friendship We Stand, that offered 12 classes to middle-school-aged girls, focused on health, beauty, and professional development. Regina hopes to keep the program going once she graduates. “I was very blessed to have worked with these girls because they taught me to appreciate what and who I have in my life. At the final meeting, one of the girls proudly told me that she had stopped inflicting self-harm and that she was in a happier place in her life. Another girl, who had been shy from the beginning, hugged me and thanked me for helping her move on from depression. These girls will forever hold a special place in my heart. My goal for my project was to help these girls avoid depression and not become another story on the news. After completing my project, I have a sense of how much can be accomplished by helping others, individually and in a community setting, and I will move forward in life knowing that I have the power to create social change.”
Ahalya Ramgopal, 17
The Paideia School
Ahalya has been a tireless advocate for refugees in the Atlanta community since she was 14 when she began volunteering at the International Rescue Committee. As a volunteer, she teaches English, civics and history to newly arrived refugees to help prepare them for the citizenship test. During her junior year, she interned in the IRC Communications Department, working on social media advocacy and marketing. As the only high-school intern, she won the Intern fundraising competition at the end of the fall semester, raising over $750. In total, she has worked over the 500 hours for the IRC. She also volunteered for the Jon Ossoff campaign to try and enact change through Congress. “During my first summer volunteering with the IRC, I worked with a young man in his 20s from Iraq. We worked together through the class for two-and-a-half hours; I taught him new words through drawing photos on the whiteboard or acting them out. When the verb singing came up, he told me that he in fact, was a winner of Arab Idol!”
Isabelle Balaban, 18
Atlanta Girls’ School
Isabelle’s personal commitment to social justice and service to others has culminated with the creation of her own nonprofit called Cycle of Change, which is responsible for raising money to purchase bicycles for the low-income children at Tongabezi Trust School in Livingstone, Zambia who have to walk for hours to get an education. She also started a new service project – Books to Prison – at AGS to collect books and school supplies for inmates and children of inmates at the Arrendale Women’s Prison. “For me, the most memorable moment of giving back to my community was delivering over 400 books and coloring sets to the Arrendale Women’s Prison for the inmates and their children. I have always been passionate about criminal justice reform and this was an amazing way to put a face to an issue that has meant a lot to me.”
Simone Dixon, 16
The Galloway School
Simone’s goal is to showcase the importance of swimming as a life skill, not just a sport. As a lifeguard and competitive swimmer at Galloway, she started a group called A Swimmer in Every Goal to help girls ages 10 to 18 have a support system and resources to get the basic skills of a swimmer. Last fall, she helped girls begin the year-long training session with her swim team, and Learn to Swim participants receive private lessons at a reduced rate. She does a monthly session to help prepare girls to transition into the swimming world. Simone plans to change the social norms of swimming “one stroke at a time.” Simone is also active in volunteering for other causes, having earned a Presidential Volunteer Service Award for service at Hands on Atlanta, Action Ministries, Social Change Foundation, Atlanta Community Food Bank and other volunteer organizations. Simone says a volunteer event with Action Ministries stands out when they were collecting food for Feed the Hungry. “The atmosphere of everyone wanting to give back to their community was uplifting. This was the time when I truly became invested in giving back and helping others in any way.”
Abigail Lund, 18, and Davis Mathis, 17
The seniors can’t escape the pull of the Dominican Republic city of Puerto Plata and an organization called Project Esperanza, which serves the city’s Haitian immigrant population, providing education, social aid and community development. Abigail and Davis participated in study tours there in 2015 and 2016, and were so taken that they planned their own summer camp session in 2017 to teach vocabulary and music. They remained connected to Project Esperanza throughout the school year by sponsoring a student through the organization, and they returned once again in 2018, this time incorporating STEAM and robotics into their camp’s curriculum. “Our time with the children in Puerto Plata has broadened our horizons, helped to put our lives into a global perspective and taught us to better understand cultural differences,” they say.
Baird Kazazian, 18: A senior at The Westminster Schools, Baird founded the Atlanta Junior Chapter of The Society for Orphaned Armenian Relief, serves on the executive committee of the UNICEF Southeast Youth Board and received the Congressional Gold Medal for his volunteer efforts in 2018.
Alana Mermin-Bunnell, 17: The Paidea senior is a peer tutor, has traveled to Uganda to teach English and art, and volunteers at the Frazier Center and helped support research for a lab at Emory addressing racial disparities in the kidney transplant process.
Alex Allen, 17: An active volunteer at the Center for Civil and Human Rights, the Pace Academy senior helped lead the creation of new teen programming at the facility.
Nathan Posner, 18: Nathan serves as a volunteer photographer for the Human Rights Campaign and Atlanta Pride to document events and program. The Weber School senior has also worked on anti-bullying efforts at the school.
Elye Robinovitz, 18: He started the Weber Vols, a student volunteer organization to engage in service projects around Atlanta. He’s also worked with Breast Cancer Awareness, the Anti Defamation League and volunteered at Aurora Day Camp.
Brooke Stevens, 17: A junior at The Westminster Schools, Brooke started a chapter of Play Unified, a national organization through Special Olympics that encourages people to work with those who have disabilities.
Olivia Kovacs, 17: The Grady High School senior is passionate about theatre and has not only worked building sets for student productions, but also at the Center for Puppetry Arts. She’s also volunteered to help feed the hungry and with her church community on various projects.
Alex Burgess, 18: Alex has been instrumental in shaping Woodward Academy’s Service Leadership Board, a select group of students who are chosen to design, market, and implement the service projects. He’s also worked with Habitat for Humanity and traveled to Zambia to work with Woodward’s sister school, The Terranova School.
Mary Elizabeth Marquardt, 18: Passionate about social justice, the Atlanta Girls’ School senior logged 330 hours campaigning for Stacey Abrams, interviewed Sen. Cory Booker for Facebook Live and is co-founder of the school’s Committee For Social Justice and Equity.
Travis Harper II, 17: He has volunteered much of his time as Mock Trial Team Captain at Atlanta International School to recruit, mentor and coach younger members. He’s also been on the Student Council since 9th grade and currently serves as co-president.
Christian Porter, 17: Christian is a leader within student government and Atlanta International School organizations like the Student Culture Club and Science Olympiad. He is co-captain of the varsity swim team, serves as an acolyte in his church, and teaches local children how to swim.
Katherine Atkinson, 17: An actress, singer and director, the North Atlanta High School senior works with Sutton Middle School students on theatrical productions, including co-directing a recent production of “Mamma Mia!”
Thuan Tran, 18: The Paideia School senior has spent more than 250 hours coaching and judging debate students, registered voters as part of Asian Americans Advancing Justice, has built homes in Nicaragua, and volunteers in the lab at Emory University on a neurosystems study.
Craig Love II, 15: The Grady High ninth grader is passionate about sports and works with younger children in the community to bring athletics to the community. He recently volunteered at a football camp in Tennessee and will be coaching basketball this spring.
William Schulman, 15, and Christian Rubio, 15: William and Christian created the Classics Club at Centro Catolico, a subsect of Holy Spirit Catholic Church that serves the Latino communities in Sandy Springs. The duo teaches about Latin and Greek language, mythology, and culture to students age 4 to 15.
Colette Blackmon, 18: The Atlanta Girls’ School senior teaches aerial dance and choreography and uses her talent to raise money for local organizations such as Grant Park Conservancy, Paint Love and Horizon Theatre.
Elinor ‘Ellie’ Munson, 18: The Atlanta Girls’ School senior has traveled to Honduras for the past five years to help doctors with medical exams and volunteered with the Georgia Epilepsy Foundation, Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, Children’s Healthcare Explorer’s Program and Decatur Youth Council.
Albert Liang, 17: The Westminster student created Chess Buddies Foundation, a nonprofit that teaches the game in both English and Spanish. He’s also traveled to Guatemala to build homes and regularly volunteers to help tutor and mentor in Spanish.
Malini Desai, 18: The Galloway School senior has logged hundreds of hours volunteering at Zoo Atlanta and local veterinarian practices, is a counselor for the Girl Scouts horseback riding program, and is also a mentor and tutor with several programs at school.
Kendall Seefried, 17: The Paideia senior has volunteered with Meals on Wheels, American Red Cross, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and taught autism education at Hirsch Academy.
Aaron Yu, 16: The Westminster sophomore has volunteered with Meals on Wheels, tutors in mathematics, performs music at local retirement homes, and helped students hone their debate skills.
Jessica Lao, 17: She co-directs the student-run nonprofit Circle of Women at Westminster that increases access for secondary education for girls around the world. She served as director of fundraising last year and helped the organization collect $15,000.
Isabella ‘Isa’ Williams, 17: The Lovett senior created a mentoring program for girls transitioning to middle school at Agape Youth and Family Center. The program proved successful, so she translated it into Spanish for five schools in Latin America to reach the international Latinx community.
Sydney Pargman, 17: The Riverwood senior received the Princeton Prize in Race Relations in 2018 for his RALI (Race Across Lines Initiative) Project. His goal was to better understand and ultimately improve race relations.
Trinity Lewis, 16: After starting a No Place for Hate club at Grady High, Trinity was invited to serve on the Atlanta Public Schools Equity Board because of her passion for equality within the school system. She also leads a small group Bible study before school each week.
Nadera Herbert-Bey, 17: The Atlanta International School senior works with A Better Chance (ABC), a national leadership program that places and supports high performing students of color in independent schools. She mentored prospective ABC students while she was in grades 9 and 10, and was selected to be a leader this year with ABC New Student Orientation.
Yannie Tan, 17: A gifted pianist, the Atlanta International School student has performed at multiple benefit concerts, including one to support the children of St. Jude’s Hospital. She also uses her music talent to give motivational speeches hoping to inspire students to appreciate classical music. She has spoken at many different conferences and music camps in the United States and Europe, reaching over 10,000 students and counting.