Y’know … sometimes I think we don’t pay enough attention to the young people in our communities these days. They are, after all, the next generation of nurses, doctors, lawyers, laborers, builders, senators, governors and … well, everything! And much of today’s youth have, I believe, looked at our society today and said to themselves, “I want to do better … I can do better … I will do better!”
Let’s take a look at a few of these young people who will shape our future …
Meet Samika Agarwal …
Samika is just 16 years of age but has long been a volunteer at the Saratoga Retirement Community in her hometown of Saratoga, California. In the pre-pandemic days, Samika taught art classes and served meals twice a week, coming to bond with the elderly in the retirement community. She was devastated when she found she would no longer be able to visit those she had come to cherish. She worried that the forced isolation would lead to loneliness and depression among the elderly, and she set off to figure out a way to help them.
Well, it didn’t take her long to figure something out, and soon she started Say Smile, an organization that helps facilitate contact between seniors and youth through letters, phone and video chats, emails, and even online multiplayer video games! The project has grown and today 230 volunteers have supported residents at over 30 care centers from California to Finland.
Through Say Smile, Samika, her cohort of volunteers, and the seniors they help have worked together to raise one another’s spirits and adjust to life during quarantine. By connecting people from different backgrounds and generations, life-long friendships have been fostered and the legacy of thousands of seniors have been shared with people who can continue to tell their stories. And all because one young lady cared enough to do something!
And then there’s Jae Yoon from Winterville, North Carolina …
Following in the footsteps of his older sister, 16-year-old Jae Yoon joined a youth group at Love a Sea Turtle (LAST), a youth-led organization “dedicated to creating a community for environmental sustainability through youth leadership development, service learning, conservation, nutrition education and nature-based outdoor programs, reducing food insecurity, and providing a platform for youth voice.”
Jae served as a Junior Counselor for their summer programming while volunteering and supporting their other engagement opportunities. Throughout his experience, Jae fostered a desire to resolve the issues infringing on the environment. Concerned about the excess of single-use plastics in his community—32% of the 78 million tons of plastics produced are thrown into the ocean every year—Jae was inspired to create his initiative, Better Bag Solution.
Jae’s goal is to spread awareness for green solutions that would mitigate the plastic pollution crisis. This has involved Jae distributing reusable bags to several vendors, sparking interest in his community. With the support of numerous environmental organizations, including Sustain ECU, their local Sierra Club, and Bye Bye Plastic Bags NC, Jae was able to speak to 800 students during World Water Day, voice his concerns to the Greenville City Council—calling on them to have the “political will and courage to ban plastic bags”—and inspire hundreds of environmentally-conscious changemakers!
After being featured in the newspaper alongside local news stations, Jae’s slogan, “Keep the GREEN in Greenville!” emerged and has since become widely known in North Carolina; his work has also led to July 18th being proclaimed “Keeping the GREEN in Greenville” Day. In addition to expanding his mission of tackling plastic bags, he now serves as a state representative for Project Green School’s National Youth Council and mentors other youth leaders working on initiatives to identify and solve environmental issues. Jae plans to continue his work and instigate positive environmental changes across several businesses, organizations, and neighborhoods
And last, but certainly not least, are Aditi and Anirudh Sengupta, ages 18 and 13, from Charlotte, North Carolina …
Aditi and Arnirudh are young scholars, passionate about math, science, and the arts. The pandemic and associated restrictions turned their world upside-down, as it did for the rest of us. They realized the full effect when they thought about they and their fellow students missing friends, being unable to participate in sports and other school activities, and now having to participate in school through a computer’s webcam. They realized that many families did not have the resources to provide the academic support their children would need, so they came up with a plan.
In June 2020, Aditi and Anirudh launched Xcelerate NC, a nonprofit aimed at accelerating the growth of young minds through fun and interactive youth-taught online classes. Xcelerate NC offers free courses in math and public speaking to students between kindergarten and 8th grade. They also offer summer camps, competitions, and speaker events to help youth better understand these subjects and explore how they can implement what they learned to the world around them. But that’s not all!
Aditi and Anirudh took it one or two steps further, fundraising and hosting drives for food banks, cancer research, and international sustainable development. Over the last two years, Aditi and Anirudh have taught approximately 70 students from across the U.S., India, Sierra Leone, and Tanzania. For both Aditi and Anirudh, helping youth express themselves and learn about advanced math techniques has given them the opportunity to see students gain confidence and thrive despite the challenges of the pandemic.
It occurred to me as I was researching and writing this post that … these young people are expending their energy and engaging their minds toward positive goals, goals that help people. What a wonderful world it would be if we all did that, if politicians focused on helping the most people they could, preserving the environment, and more, rather than the ways they spend their time today. We could all do better … we just need to look at these and other young people and take our cues from them!
My hat is off to these young people and others who are helping to make this world a little bit better place for us all. It’s encouraging to know that the planet is in such good hands, yes?