Every day, we rely on the advancements that have changed our lives—but how often do we take the time to appreciate the people who made these incredible milestones and developments happen?
We’ve put together this list of 16 young inventors, activists, and entrepreneurs who deserve recognition. These amazing teens are changing the world to make it a better place for all of us. Consider using their stories as an inspiration for an essay prompt or project for your students!
1. The teen who said, “Everyone should live in a world with books.”
Sarah Dewitz was inspired after reading about kids facing hardships in a nearby community. It saddened her to learn that they lacked some basic necessities like books. “It made me think how I would feel if my world did not have books in it,” she said. “With the hard times many families are facing, some might not even have a car to drive to the library.”
Sarah was just ten years old when she started Just 1 Book. To date, she’s collected around half a million books and even raised money for a bookmobile that takes books directly to the communities in need.
2. The teen brothers who said, “Every kid should start school with the right supplies.”
When brothers Jackson and Tristan Kelley learned that many kids start school without school supplies, they decided to do something to help. After learning about kids in foster care, homeless shelters, and others who just couldn’t afford the necessary supplies, they held a drive to address the need.
That was more than five years ago, and their nonprofit, Backpacks for New Beginnings, is still going strong today. Since 2009, they have donated over 10,000 backpacks to kids in need in the Greater Boston area.
3. The teen who said, “I will walk on Mars one day.”
Since she was three years old, Alyssa Carson has wanted to be an astronaut! She launched the Blueberry Foundation to give kids an opportunity they may not otherwise have. Her goal was to inspire kids to fulfill their dreams and have fun while learning. Referring to her age group as the “Mars Generation,” Alyssa believes Mars could be the next Earth.
She’s already witnessed Space Shuttle launches, attended Space Camp, and has been selected as one of seven ambassadors representing Mars One, a mission to establish a human colony on Mars in 2030. Alyssa is definitely going places. If things go according to plan, those places will be far, far away.
4. The teen who said, “Let’s have a different kind of beauty pageant.”
Jordan Somer grew up as a pageant girl, and she always loved them. While volunteering with Special Olympics when she had an idea —what if these girls could also benefit from pageants in the same way that she had?
In November 2007, she held the first Miss Amazing pageant specifically for girls with disabilities. Now there are chapters in more than 30 states, all of which encourage girls to reach for their dreams.
5. The students who said, “Everyone should have access to safe housing in times of natural disaster.”
These middle school students in Denton, Texas came up with an innovative solution for those displaced by natural disasters.
By working with mentors from FEMA as well as local engineers and architects, they developed a prototype of a critical adaptable shelter to serve as temporary emergency housing.
6. The kid with one arm who said, “I can do everything anyone else can do.”
Cancer took Matthew Hannon’s left arm when he was a baby, but he hasn’t let that stop him. By the time he was seven years old, he was accomplishing one of his dreams. The elementary student played on the Marlins with the South Plainfield Junior Baseball Club.
With the support of his family, coaches, and teammates, he even put on the pitcher’s mitt. In the first inning he pitched, Hannon had two strikeouts and one walk, and no runs scored. “Matthew is just a miracle,” said his brother Justin. “He’s a great baseball player for a kid with only one arm. All of us Marlins are lucky to have him on the team.”
7. The kid who said, “Let’s show kids living with cancer that we care through music.”
At just eight years old, Teagan Stedman started Shred Kids’ Cancer. After watching a friend living with cancer, he wanted to find a way to help. He came up with the idea for Shredfest, an annual benefit concert that even featured a kid “battle of the bands” contest.
To date Shred Kids’ Cancer has held over 25 events and raised more than $500,000 to fund ten clinical trials, some of which would not have started without Stedman’s incredible organization.
8. The kid who said, “Dare to dream.”
When 11-year old Kenzie Hall’s dad was deployed to Afghanistan, she was terrified. Not wanting Kenzie to live in fear, her parents encouraged her and her little sister to live life to the fullest. She always wanted to be an actress, so they took her to auditions and supported her in every way.
Along the way, Kenzie decided that she wanted other kids in her situation to have the same opportunities. Brat Pack 11 was created, and today it continues making the dreams of kids who have family members deployed come true.
9. The students who said, “Let’s protect our water supply.”
One of the agricultural problems these teens from Gering, Nebraska observed in their farming community was an overabundant use of herbicides and pesticides. With a growing concern for the local water supply and a healthier community, they set out to figure out how the farmers could reduce the number of chemicals used.
They built and programmed a fleet of drones to specifically target weeds so that farmers could apply targeted spraying, cutting down on the number of toxic chemicals being used.
10. The kid who said, “No more bullying.”
When Elayna’s mom told her that it just takes one person to make a difference, she took that to heart. She created GAB Girls, or Girls Against Bullying Girls, an organization to encourage girls to support one another, rather than tearing each other down.
The GAB Goals are clear. The mission is to bring awareness to anti-bullying and suicide prevention, provide support for victims across the nation, and promote kindness, self-love, and goal setting. What an amazing initiative and it’s still going strong!
11. The lovable, smiling kid who said, “You’re gooder than that.”
It’s impossible to watch Robby Novak without smiling. He spreads pure happiness and joy in his videos all over YouTube. His “A Pep Talk From Kid President to You” video has more than 47 million views, and his positivity is more important than ever.
In the video, Robby says, “It’s like that dude Journey said: ‘Don’t stop believing … unless your dream is stupid, and then you should get a better dream.’” Six years later, he published a new pep talk from a different perspective. The overall message? We need every voice.
12. The teen who said, “Let’s end racial discrimination.”
Ever since being adopted from Chongqing, China when she was a year old, Joy Ruppert has felt the sting of racial insensitivity. “People pulling their eyes back or trying to speak Japanese to me,” says the sophomore from Encinitas, California. “Those things shouldn’t be happening today, but they are.”
After joining Encinitas4Equality, Ruppert went from organizing protests as a youth leader to spearheading a coalition as student body vice president. Determined to end racial discrimination, she has lobbied the district for anti-racist amendments to the student handbook and a more diverse curriculum. Her goal? “Everyone should feel heard, welcomed, and represented.”
13. The teen who said, “All kids deserve school supplies and nice clothes.”
When Nijel Murray’s new foster brother moved in with a trash bag of ill-fitting clothes, he knew he had to do something. The then 13-year old fashion-loving Las Vegas native came to a realization. “I really felt for him and the other kids who have to go through that,” the now high school senior explained. “I thought I could do something to change things.”
And that’s exactly what he did. With support from his parents, he founded Klothes4Kids, a nonprofit organization that collects and provides foster kids with new clothing and basic necessities. So far, this inspirational teen has worked with local social service agencies to distribute more than 2,000 bags.
14. The teen who said, “Online courses don’t have to be confusing.”
We’ve all seen how the pandemic has impacted teaching and learning. While helping at the local tutoring center, Ankitha Kumar quickly discovered that students were in a panic. They were struggling to understand and keep up with online courses.
The high school senior from Inver Groves Heights, Minnesota, came up with a plan. Along with two friends, she launched ConneXions Tutoring, offering free virtual sessions to kids of all ages. To date, volunteers have worked with more than 300 students in all 50 states and 12 countries.
15. The teen who says, “No more post-surgical infections.”
Iowa City West High School student, Dasia Taylor, was sitting in her AP Human Geography class when she learned something that would change many lives. In developing countries, post-surgical infections can often lead to death. She knew she had to do something—and she did.
Taylor has developed surgical sutures that change color when a wound becomes infected. This early intervention could allow infections to be treated with antibiotics instead of surgery. Her discovery has led her to be named among the top 300 scholars in 2021 for her project in the 80th Regeneron Science Talent Search, a science and math competition for high school seniors.
16. The teen who said, “Let’s help seniors connect.”
We rely on technology to stay in touch more than ever. Unfortunately, the devices and apps we rely on can be confusing for the older generation. When Jordan Mittler gave his grandparents smartphones five years ago, he wasn’t expecting them to have such a hard time using them. This gave him a great idea for something that could benefit many.
The high school student from New York starting visiting a local nursing home to offer tech tutorials to the residents. His operations quickly grew into a 10-week course for seniors at his synagogue. To meet the need during the pandemic, he founded Mittler Senior Technology. Thousands of seniors have now accessed the virtual classes, which include lessons on everything from ordering on Amazon to learning to FaceTime.