2012 National Winners
Brianna Moore, 15, Detroit, Michigan
After attending a leadership conference where she learned about the importance of giving back to the community, 15-year-old Brianna Moore created "Operation Warm Up/Heart" in 2011 to help those in need. Through "Operation Warm Up/Heart," Brianna petitioned local businesses to donate food items to feed disadvantaged families over the holiday season. Brianna collected, decorated and delivered food baskets that fed more than 400 families in her community. Through "Operation Warm Up/Heart," Brianna also collected hats and gloves for approximately 320 local school children to keep them warm during the harsh Detroit winter. The organization is currently partnering with a local congregation and the community to collect nonperishable food items and personal hygiene products to send to military personnel and is also organizing a penny drive to provide clean bottled water to residents in Haiti.
Saajan Bhakta, 17, Wichita, Kansas
At a young age, Saajan Bhakta witnessed the crippling effects of poverty while visiting India and wanted to help. To better the lives of those in need, Saajan created "PovSolve," an organization whose goal is to send $10,000 worth of support and goods each year to those suffering in India. During a recent trip to the area, "PovSolve" purchased and distributed blankets and other necessities to more than 700 individuals in need. To help meet his annual goal, Saajan, now 17, dedicates his time to writing grant proposals, publicizing the organization, recruiting volunteers and organizing charity events. In his community, Saajan hosts dinners at homeless shelters for local disadvantaged families. To date, "PovSolve" has positively impacted the lives of more than 3,000 people and has inspired more than 600 volunteers to aid those in need.
Gabrielle Levy, 9, Centerville, Virginia
Nine-year-old Gabrielle Levy wanted to give back but could not find volunteer activities for young children. She decided to take matters into her own hands and created "Caring Kids Cards," a nonprofit organization that sends cards and care packages around the world to firefighters, police officers, senior citizens, people in the hospital, military personnel, veterans and children who have lost their parents. To date, "Caring Kids Cards" has sent more than 10,000 cards and care packages. Gabrielle inspires others to volunteer with her message, "You are never too young or old to make a difference," through her public speaking, published online articles and the "Caring Kids Cards" Facebook page, www.facebook.com/CaringKidsCards. In addition to "Caring Kids Cards," Gabrielle sits on the Adopt a Soldier Advisory Board.
Garrett Neville, 18, The Woodlands, Texas
After meeting a homeless man who had his feet amputated due to frostbite, Garrett Neville, now 18, wanted to help provide the basic essentials of shoes and socks to those in need and created "Good Soles Montgomery County Shoe and Sock Donation Center" in 2008. Those who visit the donation center receive two clean pairs of shoes and socks at no charge. Under Garrett's leadership, the organization has collected more than 10,000 pairs of shoes, recruited volunteers, created a 24-hour drop box for donations, established a shoe repair lab and distribution showroom, enlisted corporate sponsorships and marketed the organization through print and radio advertisements. Within the past year, "Good Soles" went beyond helping those in the United States and provided shoes to churches aiding people in need in Central America.
Aunjanna' Million, 18, Middletown, Ohio
Aunjanna' Million founded "Love You Like a Sister," a leadership academy with the goal of raising self confidence and combating the negative affects of bullying for elementary-age girls. Since the academy began in 2009 when Aunjanna' was 15 years old, "Love You Like a Sister" has brought together more than 100 young girls from diverse backgrounds. The academy has collected more than 16,500 pounds of food for Feeding America, 1,000 baby items for a local pregnancy center that serves mothers in need and 500 backpacks for a local program that donates school supplies to disadvantaged children. To celebrate the yearly accomplishments of the "Love You Like a Sister" academy, Aunjanna' has organized the "Party Like a Princess Ball." Aunjanna' has raised money to purchase a crown and plaque for each young girl to commemorate their service and in turn help improve their self confidence. Aunjanna's efforts have been recognized by the President of the United States as well as other local, national and international officials.
Leyla Cook, 11, Garden Grove, California
After seeing the sacrifices that military families make in her community, Leyla Cook, age 11, created a volunteer program that provided a support system for military kids and their families. The program, "Project Soldier," started as a club at school but quickly developed into a much larger program. During the first year, Leyla created the "Holiday Card Drive," in which she arranged for more than 35,000 Hallmark-donated cards to be signed by those in her community and delivered to Operation Gratitude to be sent in care packages to military personnel overseas. Leyla had so much success with the program that she broke the Guinness Book of Records for a single day card signing. Leyla also arranged to work with Army Military Kids to make Veteran Quilts for Vets at the Long Beach Hospital. Currently, Leyla is working with the National Guard to put together a teen leadership program and launching the National Guard NASCAR Program featuring teen volunteers.
Kaitlin Riffel, 11, Fresno, California
Passion for helping those less fortunate led Kaitlin Riffel to form "Kids on a Mission" in June 2011. At just 10 years old, Kaitlin wanted to make a difference in her Fresno community and raise the necessary $75,000 to build a playground at the Rescue the Children Community center. Kaitlin currently leads a growing team of 14 kids and five adults in raising the funds through fundraisers such as lemonade stands, bake sales and by recycling glass, aluminum and plastic. Along with these fundraisers, Kaitlin and her team use water bottles to collect change for the cause and currently have more than 1,400 water bottles out in the community filling up with change. In the past eight months, they have raised approximately $27,000 and have the support of many local businesses. Kaitlin is confident they can meet their goal and plans on continuing their mission to help Fresno's kids in need.
Matthew Ferguson, 17, Hillsboro, Oregon
After helping his mom through her breast cancer diagnosis, Matt Ferguson became concerned when he saw cancer patients going through chemotherapy without support. Inspired to make a difference in these patients' lives, Matt developed a program called "Matt's Chemo Bags" that raises funds to purchase items such as custom-made pillows, fleece blankets, antibacterial lotion, warm socks, teddy bears and a personal letter. The bags are given to breast and ovarian cancer patients on their first day of treatment. Matt started the program in 2008 when he was 14 years old and initially did all the work himself, but in the past four years, numerous other students, businesses and 4-H clubs have shown their support and have become involved. The local Susan G. Komen for the Cure affiliate gave their support in 2009 and the Oregon Association of Student Councils helped support the program by using "Matt's Chemo Bags" as their first community service project at their spring conference, resulting in more than 800 students participating to make 875 chemo bags. This past spring, more than 1,600 students returned and made 925 bags. In the past four years, Matt has helped serve over 7,000 cancer patients and has just received final approval as a non-profit organization.
Sidney Ornstein, 6, Marlton, New Jersey
After attending an American Girl fashion show at the Ronald McDonald house, Sidney Ornstein was inspired to help make a difference for sick children. At just five years old, Sidney told her parents she was going to hand make jeweled pins in the shapes of butterflies and hearts and ask for donations for the Ronald McDonald House. Sidney began selling her handmade pins at family parties and quickly expanded to school events. In the past two years, Sidney has raised more than $1,000 for the Ronald McDonald house. She plans to continue selling her pins and participate in this year's American Girl fashion show to continue her support for the organization.
Cole Rasenberger, 11, Davidson, North Carolina
Growing up in North Carolina, Cole Rosenberger learned at a young age that thousands of acres of North Carolina forests are destroyed daily by large paper packaging mills that make packaging paper for fast food restaurants worldwide. At nine years old, Cole decided he wanted to make a difference to save the animal habitats of endangered species and plant species that live in the North Carolina coastal forests. In 2009, Cole started to make handmade postcards with drawings of animal habitats and send these postcards to national fast food restaurants in hopes of encouraging them to use post-consumer recycled fibers in their paper product, reducing the depletion of the coastal forests. Cole and 25 kids went around their school to gather kids' signatures on the postcards and sent them to a major fast food chain. A year later, the chain changed their bags to 100 percent recyclable fibers. Over the next year, Cole worked to organize seven additional schools and collected 6,000 postcards. In 2011, Cole hand-delivered these postcards to another fast food chain's headquarters and met with their executives. Cole is currently working on a kid environmental activist web page and plans to continue to work with fast food chains to encourage the use of more post-consumer recyclable fibers.