We hear much negativity about the youth of today. In reality, it has always been this way, for I remember hearing my parents say they just didn’t know what the world would come to when this next generation was in charge. They shook their heads at the love beads, Beatles music and bell-bottom pants. And even I am guilty of shaking my head and sighing a deep sigh when I see a young man with the waist of his pants midway to his knees, or a young woman who seems intent on “letting it all hang out”. But, as with most anything else, the negative examples seem to be the ones we see, the ones getting all the attention. Today, I would like to introduce you to some young people who are truly doing good things and making our future look just a little brighter..
Melanie Delgado’s parents emigrated from Peru to the U.S., determined to find greater opportunities. Her father, who owns his own painting and construction company, along with her mother, who helps with secretarial and outreach work for the company, have sacrificed for years to allow their daughter to have more than they were given. Melanie wants to honor her parents’ determination, and she is certainly doing just that.
Melanie attends the American University in Washington, D.C., where she is scheduled to graduate next year … at age 20 … with a degree in Public Health. Her ultimate goal is to earn a medical degree and open a medical clinic in a low-income Hispanic neighborhood. During her senior year at the Academy of the Holy Cross, she had an internship at National Institute of Health (NIH), a program typically reserved for college students. All of which is admirable, but not what earned her a slot in this Good People post.
Melanie is a consummate volunteer. She started while still in middle school, volunteering at Ardens Court nursing home in Kensington, visiting elderly residents there who have Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. “I love the people there. They’re so kind. They’ve seen me grow since I was young. I’ve grown a connection with each one of them… They call me their grandchild.”
On Saturday mornings, she volunteers as a tutor with the Latino Student Fund, teaching young children science, English and math, and helping them learn how to read. As a member of an immigrant family, she can relate to them. “When I’m working with them, when I see them catch onto a concept and just conquer it, I can see myself in their eyes.”
She also volunteers at the Next Step Public Charter school, working with immigrants who want to do everything from finish their G.E.D. to learn English. Melanie’s desire to give back centers on the needy Latino community. She knows the pressure Latino students feel to start work as soon as possible, and she wants them to know that college is possible, that they can achieve their loftiest goals. “A lot of the Latino community question themselves: Is it important to go to college? Or should I get a job? The Latino Student Fund showed me that Hispanics have the resources to go to college.”
Most recently, Melanie spent a semester working with HIV and AIDS patients in a slum in Kenya. This is a young woman whose heart is in the right place, whose energy seems to know no limits, and who is giving of herself every day.
Marco Nandalal may be only 17, but he and his brother Mario have made real differences in their community of Belcamp, Maryland. They collected books & book related “buddies” like stuffed toys, plastic animal figures, etc., and delivered them to hospitals and homeless shelters. Last Easter, they prepared Easter baskets for delivery to homeless, sick and foster children to show them that they have not been forgotten, that someone cares. Marco’s goal is to work with like-minded youth who embrace community service as a means of building a better world for everyone. Marco realizes that each project, whether addressing literacy or hunger, empowers the youth-filled group and makes small positive changes in his community.
17-year-old Avni Patel of Pleasanton, California, was inspired by the stories her grandfather told her about his life and the hardships that people faced in Zambia. These stories made her aware of the tremendous need for health care in remote areas of the world. Avni discovered that the Mambalima Hospital had several volunteer orthopedic surgeons, but lacked the orthopedic instruments needed to complete essential surgeries.
Initially, Avni thought she would petition hospitals to donate their used surgical instruments, but she soon discovered that hospitals are not allowed, by law, to donate used equipment. So Avni went on a massive fund-raising mission, contributing most of her own paycheck from her job as Pleasanton City Youth Commissioner. With teamwork and coordination among various individuals and organizations, Avni was able to raise the money to purchase and donate 96 sets of stainless steel instruments that will enable the surgeons at Mambalima Hospital to perform much-needed surgeries.
Juli Ennis of Kennebunk, Maine may only be 16 years of age, but she is already doing much to help the elderly in her community. Along with two of her classmates, Juli started a community service project in 8th grade that has continued through their sophomore year in high school. They connect generations through music and provide seniors with dementia or Alzheimer’s music therapy via customized playlists of their generation. Part of Juli’s mission is to help patients by triggering memories, bringing joy, and engaging people who might otherwise be completely withdrawn.
Juli and her two classmates, Jason and Colby, founded Project Playback with the goal of bridging the gap between today’s youth and seniors through music. Not only does this project help patients with dementia, but it also allows today’s youth to connect with a population and era that they may not have had a relationship with before. They visit a local nursing home 2 or 3 times a week to help them out through music. Juli is looking to enter the field of music therapy as a career and help others, as she has received such personal rewards from this project.
This is but a small sampling of young people whose compassion and humanitarianism know no bounds. Granted, they may not be rescuing hurricane victims, building houses or adopting special needs kids, but they are, in their own way, moving mountains. Give them time, and these kids are going to do their part to make this world a better place.