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20 Under 20: Honoring students who give back to the community – Reporter Newspapers

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Reporter Newspapers & Atlanta Intown
Hyperlocal News and Information for Metro Atlanta
Our annual recognition of students who give back to the community in extraordinary ways returns after a pandemic pause. Frankly, we are in awe of the ingenuity, resilience, and time management skills this group of honorees brings to the table. From creating nonprofits and fundraising to mission trips and mentoring, the 2022 class of 20 Under 20 are a beacon of hope in our troubled times. This year, Atlanta Intown and Reporter Newspapers joined forces to select the honorees from our coverage areas, which was no easy task. But we think you’ll agree that these students deserve all the accolades for their efforts to help better their communities.
Ariana Jones | Darren Chase | Zoe Van de Grift | Tatiana Plummer | Carly Appel | Madeline ‘Maddie’ Lamm | George Wray | Sarah Dowling | Ben Foster | Sheridan Stevens | Kira Berzack | Jennifer Van Par | Zach Gardner | Elijah Grant | Charlie Edward McAdoo III | Kara Stevens | Curtis Harris | Taylor Leslie | Emmanuella Buteau | Catherine Friedline | Thomas Fennell | Asha Nadig Ahn
In the midst of the pandemic, Darren Chase and Ariana Jones started Socializing for Senior Citizens, a non-profit organization that aims to connect teens and young adults with senior citizens who have experienced physical and emotional isolation during the height of the pandemic. The students recruited classmates to check in and connect with seniors using Zoom, phone calls, FaceTime, emails, cards, and more. As of November, Socializing for Senior Citizens had held 169,915 minutes of calls and sent 9,734 emails and cards. The duo also served on the student committee that helped Galloway earn a No Place for Hate School designation two years in a row. “When my friend Ariana and I decided to start our non-profit, we had no idea the impact we would have on both the community and our own lives,” Darren said. “One of my favorite experiences with the non-profit was how close I got to one of my seniors. I soon started calling him twice a week and eventually took socially distanced, masked walks with him.” Ariana said the disregard for senior citizens had always angered her, and the pandemic motivated her to act. “While I have been and still am a part of many organizations and movements to fight for change, I had never started one myself. Starting this non-profit and seeing its success helped me realize that I am much more capable of being a leader than I thought I could be.”
Zoe has volunteered at Sandy Springs Mission (SSM) in person, on Zoom during the pandemic, and at their summer camp. To help with her tutoring at SSM, she went through structured literacy training to teach her how to better teach reading. Zoe is also part of the ESOL (English as a Second Language) tutoring program at Riverwood and a tutor in the school’s writing center, where she leads the virtual tutoring program. “Through my volunteer work, I have become a kinder and more patient person,” Zoe said. “I have learned to remain grateful for everything in my life, and I have also grown my passion for education.”
This year’s youngest honoree may not have her driver’s license yet, but she is already giving back to the community by volunteering at the Center for Puppetry Arts and at Zoo Atlanta. At the zoo, she answers visitor’s questions about the animals and recently applied for the high school volunteer program where she’ll commit a minimum of 160 volunteer hours at the zoo over the course of a year. “I have learned to be willing to assist others no matter how small it seems because you never know how much of a help it is to the other person,” Tatiana said. “There were times in my volunteer work that I was asked to do things that I thought were insignificant because they didn’t take me a lot of time or effort to do. And many times, I would find out later how much of a help it was to someone and how grateful they were for my assistance.”
In 7th grade, Carly’s dad was diagnosed with a rare occurrence of breast cancer. The experience heightened her interest in medicine and research, leading her to intern for three summers with the at Houston Methodist Hospital’s ALS and Alzheimer’s research lab. In 10th grade, she was asked to participate in the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Students of the Year competition and raised over $7,000 as a team member. Her junior year, she co-led a Secure the Cure team that raised over $233,000, the most in metro Atlanta. Carly personally raised over $62,000 and funded the Evan Appel Immunotherapy research grant in honor of her father. Last summer, she spent a week shadowing doctors and nurses at Whiteriver Indian Hospital and making home visits on the Ft. Apache reservation in Arizona. “Through my involvement at Pace and my work with LLS, I learned that adaptable leadership is the key to success,” she said. “I discovered that motivation isn’t a one-size-fits-all affair, and as a leader it’s necessary to understand what motivates each of your team members.”
Maddie is passionate about the environment and social justice issues. As co-president of the Environmental Club, she helped organized a clean-up of Nancy Creek, which runs through the Marist campus. She’s also extensively involved with the Campus Ministry program, leading retreats, as part of the Peer Leader program, and volunteering in the community. “Inspiring people to care about the environment requires not expecting them to agree with me on everything, but rather meeting them where they are,” Maddie said. “In order to accomplish things like an improved recycling program at my pool, I learned to work together with others, many of whom held differing opinions. Experiences like this one taught me the importance of teamwork in all aspects of my life.”
George is a member of Youth Leadership Sandy Springs, a program that develops the next generation of leaders. Over a 10-month period this year, George is working with local leaders to learn more about service, local businesses, government, and citizenship. As a member of the Young Men’s Service League, he has packed lunches for MUST Ministries, served meals for Feeding the Homeless, completed a recycling and outdoor equipment cleanup with Keep North Fulton Beautiful and the Chattahoochee Nature Center, and spent time with seniors at Mount Vernon Towers. At Holy Innocents’, George serves as executive president of student council and is president of the UNICEF Club. “Through my volunteer and charity work, I have learned to identify and respect the unique situations of people in my community and to specifically target their needs,” he said. “In addition, I have realized that collaboration with others is crucial to problem solving and that even small acts of kindness can have a major impact. “
Sarah and Ben co-founded PRISM, an initiative designed to challenge Lovett’s curriculum, programming, and leadership decisions to be more inclusive for all things LGBT+. They visited department heads to discuss opportunities in the curriculum, presented a program on National Coming Out Day, and are formalizing the initiative so that underclassmen can take the reins when they graduate. Ben was honored with the Nancy Fraser Parker Citizenship Award to honor well-rounded students who are actively involved in school-sponsored program, while Sarah leads the Student Diversity Leadership Council and Girl Talk Club and was named the state leader of March for Our Lives, the student organization against gun violence. “Through my work in PRISM and March for Our Lives, I’ve definitely learned the importance of taking things one step at a time,” Sarah said. “The big end goals of comprehensive education about LGBTQ+ topics and stopping gun violence will only be achieved at the end of each “climb,” and I’ve come to realize just how important each small step is (meetings, events, assemblies, emails, you name it) to reaching those goals. No effort I’ve worked on could have been accomplished without the help and support of other people with a shared passion for equity.” Ben, who also served with Sarah on the Student Diversity Leadership Council said, “I have learned how to navigate conversations with individuals holding differing opinions than my own. After having countless conversations on race, sexuality/gender, and other forms of diversity, I feel confident expressing my own opinions and beliefs, but I am also aware that my personal experiences do not apply to every conversation on diversity.”
Whether it’s responding to a call on NextDoor to help clean up her community, gathering donations for the Friends of Disabled Adults and Children thrift store, collecting reading material for Books for Africa, volunteering at animal shelters, or her devotion to Girl Scouts, Sheridan has been giving back to the community since she was a child. She was accepted into the UPenn Social Innovators Entrepreneurship program and is working on starting a non-profit that assists the needs of the senior community “Charity and volunteer work provides so many valuable lessons, but the most rewarding lessons are lifelong in the relationships that I have built by engaging in these activities,” Sheridan said. “I have always been an extrovert, the more people I get to know within my community, the more I learn about life and myself. My goal as I continue on this journey is to be strong, optimistic, faithful, caring, and open to new experiences and points of view as I share my own.”
As a freshman in high school, Kira got involved with Friendship Circle and Gigi’s Playhouse where she helped a young girl with Down Syndrome to enter mainstream classes. She also teaches music and dance therapy classes for adolescents with Down Syndrome. Helping the underprivileged in her ancestral home of South Africa included donating clothes, cooking dinner for an all-girls shelter, and bringing dinner to homeless individuals while on family visits. She also volunteers at the Breman Jewish Home, helping serve meals, playing bingo, and reading to residents. Kira also worked with Am Yisrael Chai to plant daffodils around the world to honor those that perished in the Holocaust. Each year, she runs an annual 5k to remember those who perished and assists Holocaust survivors to light candles at the annual Holocaust Remembrance Program. “I’ve noticed that when you shift the focus from yourself to serving others, you are able to experience a more gratifying form of joy,” Kira said. “The experiences, love, relationships, and skills I have gained through my volunteering will stay with me forever and will continue to influence my actions.”
As leader of her school’s community service club, Jennifer organizes projects for students, including helping Atlanta’s homeless community in Atlanta with food and clothing drives. She’s also the leader of the Green Club, which, under her guidance, is growing vegetables for people who do not have access to healthy food. Her other volunteer work includes hurricane relief, Medshare, American Red Cross, tutoring students, and is a principal member of the school’s Amnesty International chapter, which advocates for human rights. “Volunteering to me is a way of expressing gratitude towards those who have shown me kindness and passing that kindness forward to others,” Jennifer said. “As a volunteer, I’ve learned how a small act of kindness can have a big impact on someone’s life. Volunteering is full of self-discovery, developing new skills, creating friendships, and bringing joy to peoples’ faces.”
As a member of Woodward’s Service Leadership Board, Zach helped organize care packages and created a performance recording to send to the elderly residents at a local nursing home during the pandemic to help them feel connected to the outside world. He also initiated and spearheaded the Prison Library Book Drive and hosted a letter writing event to support veterans. “To me, service is not just an act, it is an attitude, it is a way of life,” Zach said. “Every day, I try to think of ways I can help others. It can be as simple as holding the door open for someone or asking them how they’re doing, and it can be as complex as organizing a drive or volunteering at a service initiative. Service to me is placing the interests of others before my own. It is the image of Jesus washing the Disciples’ feet.”
Elijah has been a L.E.A.D. Ambassador for four consecutive years. L.E.A.D. (Launching, Exposing, Advising, Directing) has partnered with Atlanta Public Schools since 2010 to empower an at-risk generation by using baseball to teach Black boys how to overcome three curveballs that threaten their success: crime, poverty and racism. Elijah leads baseball practices and is co-creator of a signature Adidas shoe and cleats. He also serves as a mentor for over 200 boys in the L.E.A.D. Middle School Character Development League and has helped increase the number of high school recruits to join the organization from his school. “A personal lesson I’ve learned from volunteering is that the small things that I contribute could impact someone’s entire day, and their smile will let me know I did my part,” Elijah said.
Charlie is busy at school, (marching band, student government, named Mr. Sophomore at homecoming, to name a few), but he’s also active in the community. He’s a volunteer in the Princeton Way Neighborhood Association, where he assists in neighborhood activities and special preparation for community events. Charlie also serves as a Youth Lay Delegate for the Atlanta College Park District of the North Georgia United Methodist Church Annual Conference and serves as Senior Teen Chaplin for the Atlanta Chapter of Jack and Jill of America Inc. “Through serving others, I have learned that being kind is its own gift,” Charlie said. “Just by showing kindness, I can make someone’s day better and then, suddenly, my day is better, too. You never know what kind a day a person may be having, so it’s best to lead with respect and kindness.”
Kara’s cousin, Logan, was born with Down’s Syndrome. Inspired by him, Kara and her older sister, Brooke, started volunteering with Special Olympics and became interested in Unified Sports programs, where able-bodied athletes compete alongside individuals with disabilities.  In 2017, the sisters founded the Play Unified Club at Westminster to promote the social inclusion and acceptance of individuals with disabilities by providing opportunities for students to engage in sports, music, and STEM activities with them. Kara has been the president of the Play Unified Club since 2020. In 2021, Kara was selected for a mentorship summer program sponsored by KPMG and Special Olympics. She’s also actively involved GiGi’s Playhouse, a Down Syndrome Achievement Center that provides free programming and services to families, including creating a lending library of multi-sensory therapeutic equipment. “I learned that I could make a much greater and deeper impact by focusing on one cause in our community,” Kara said. “Because I am passionate about helping people with disabilities, I was motivated to partner more closely with Atlanta organizations to make a difference.”
Curtis has spent countless hours sorting thousands of donations for the homeless at the Atlanta Mission, but it’s the interaction with the people he’s met there that has left the lasting impression. “Obviously, donations for the homeless are important, but so is sitting with them and having a conversation,” Curtis said. “Many of them sit all day being ignored by almost everyone who passes by, while we talk to dozens of people every day. Some are so deprived of human interaction that a simple conversation can be worth just as much as any amount of money someone can hand out their car window.” Along with his volunteer work in Atlanta, Curtis also travelled to Ecuador to help build a school and interact with the students. “Building a new school is amazing, but what is the point if the kids in the school are not happy. Little kids are far more likely to remember their first kickball game, rather than those who put the last brick on their school.”
Taylor volunteers at the Hi-Hope center, which cares for adults with developmental disabilities, and packs Operation Christmas Child boxes for less fortunate families with her mom every holiday season. She’s also been a student ambassador for two years, volunteering to lead new and prospective students around campus. She’s also an active participant in the school’s marching band, which she calls her second home. “Among the most profound lessons I have learned during my time serving are the importance of humility and gratitude,” Taylor said. “Ultimately, the greatest gift obtained through service is the inevitable joy it brings to the community. Seeing how these acts bring so much joy to people who have so little makes me significantly more grateful for the blessings I have been given in my life.”
Emmanuella’s interest in her own family history led her to serve at the Haitian Institute of Atlanta—a mission focused on helping Haitian immigrants transition into American life. There, she helps run educational seminars and workshops for families on a wide variety of topics, from coping with trauma to community problem-solving. In Haiti, she served as a counselor at a children’s camp, while also teaching science classes and assisting with health checks. “I was raised by a deeply rooted Haitian immigrant family living in the United States, emphasizing education and supporting the people around you,” Emmanuella said. “Through my volunteer work, where I spent countless days in Haiti working with the kids, I connected to Haiti. I gained a love for my country and its people. I realized that immigrating to a new country does not mean completely erasing the country of origin. I learned never to forget where I come from.”
Catherine spent three years creating Troop Hope, a web-based program launched last winter allowing girls of all ages undergoing long-term medical treatments in the hospital to participate in Girl Scouts and earn special badges. Started at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta hospitals, Troop Hope has expanded to 10 hospitals in six states, with others expressing interest in offering the program once pandemic regulations ease. With Troop Hope, Catherine earned her Gold Award, the highest achievement in Girl Scouting, completed by only 6% of Scouts. In addition, she received the Scouts’ highest honor as Woman of Distinction. “Volunteering and giving back to my community has given me so many opportunities to expand my horizons and has always made me feel empowered knowing that my efforts are making a positive impact on someone else’s life,” Catherine said.
Thomas has been a L.E.A.D. Ambassador for four years, transforming himself into a dependable leader, including serving as senior class president at Booker T. Washington High School. He also serving as a mentor in the L.E.A.D. Middle School Character Development League, regularly attends formal galas with the organization’s director, and assists with donor relations as a part of L.E.A.D.’s fundraising efforts. “My personal lesson learned from volunteering is how good it feels to be really helpful to someone else,” Thomas said. “Waking up every day knowing that someone else is happy makes me feel joyful.”
Every week for the past three years, Asha has been a volunteer tutor at New American Pathways (NAP) working with middle school students in DeKalb County. During the pandemic, she increased those hours to help students struggling with academics, specifically math, while trying to learn from home. Students constantly calling Asha outside of her tutoring time to ask questions and no matter how busy she is or what time of day she always stops to help them. Asha is also a longtime UNICEF volunteer, creating multiple fundraisers for international humanitarian efforts specifically for COVID vaccinations and to support Afghanistan refugees. She recently completed a fundraiser called “Trick or Treat for UNICEF” where she sold candy grams at school where she raised almost $1,000.  “I sincerely value the friendships I have made with the students at New American Pathways, gaining both perspective and understanding of the challenges they have overcome,” Asha said. “I have a deep respect for their perseverance and work ethic, qualities that I hope I can emulate.”
Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.
Amy Wenk is Editor of Reporter Newspapers. She can be reached at editor@reporternewspapers.net

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