Friday, August 12, 2011

Houston Youth Who Make Our World a Better Place

Monday update: In Sunday's Houston Chronicle, Grace Li of Pearland was featured in Parade Magazine for service to her community, plus I forgot to include one group in Friday's post, the members of Young Neighbors at the Baker-Ripley Neighborhood Center. Plus, we added a photo of Nicky Sauter so you can see him at work.

From Friday: Today is International Youth Day and to celebrate we are featuring Houston-area young people who are working to make our world a better place. In our call for nominations, we heard from a diverse group, from media relations professionals to fellow bloggers.

So, without further delay, here are the amazing kids nominated over the last couple of weeks:
  • Alpha Charity League (members)
  • Books to Ben Taub Hospital (Tanvi Varadhachary and Rebecca Nikonowicz)
  • Grace Li new!
  • Matthew’s Camp Challenge (Matthew Stephenson)
  • Nicky’s Journey (Nicky Sauter)
  • Show Me Yours (Tyler Nelson) 
  • Teen Scene Investigators (Yoselin Salinas, Avelino Salinas and Madelyn Toledo)
  • Young Neighbors (Neighborhood Centers) new!
Alpha Charity League
The Alpha Charity League includes 550+ boys in the 7th and 8th grades from Memorial, Copperfield and Katy who have performed 2,300+ hours of community service and have sold $7,600 of lemonade to raise money for the charities of their choice. The boys’ moms also participate in the league.

Each member commits to performing a minimum of 15 hours of charity work each year and to be a part of ACL from 7th to 12th grade. This means that each member will contribute at least 75 hours of service by the time they graduate from high school.

So far, the young men of ACL have funded the following:
  • $2,700 to Houston Children's Charity - 27 beds for kids that do not have one
  • $2,700 to Camp for All - a BB Gun Shooting Range for disabled/disadvantaged kids
  • $2,100 to Camp Pump it Up - Texas Children's Hospital camp for heart patients
  • $600 to Lemonade Day – A group that teaches kids how to run a business
Books for Ben Taub Kids
Tanvi Varadhachary and Rebecca Nikonowicz decided to celebrate their birthday this year with a joint celebration and thoughtful project. Instead of gifts, they asked guests to bring new and gently used children's books. Tanvi, Rebecca and a group of friends then went to Ben Taub General Hospital to donate the books to patients in Ben Taub's pediatric emergency center, pediatric clinic and waiting areas.

Pictured (L-R) are: Zoe Margolis, Dr. Atul Varadhachary, member, HCHD Board of Managers (& Tanvi's dad), Elizabeth Elrod, Sophie Gershenwald, Susan Black, Dr. Ken Mattox, chief of staff, Ben Taub General Hospital, Rebecca Nikonwicz, Katherine Wu, Tanvi Varadhachary and Jeff Webster, administrator, Ben Taub General Hospital.

Grace Li, We Care Act
Grace cofounded the nonprofit We Care Act with her siblings in 2008 in response to the earthquake disaster in Sichuan, China. The group has since grown to include students at 80 schools and raised money and collected donations for disasters in Galveston, Japan and Haiti.  Grace is a high school student in Pearland. As part of her recognition in Parade Magazine, Grace got to meet iCarly's Miranda Cosgrove and was pictured on the cover.

Matthew’s Camp Challenge
Matthew Stephenson, a 13-year-old Spring Branch middle schooler, lives with cerebral palsy. Despite his young age, Matthew has been raising money and awareness for Easter Seals of Greater Houston since he was 9. This year, Matthew raised funds for the organization’s program Camp Smiles, a summer camp for children with CP.

“Matthew’s Camp Challenge,” Matthew had a goal to raise $30,000 to be used as Camp Smiles scholarships that would allow an additional 30 children to attend the week-long overnight camp for children with cerebral palsy or similar neurological disorders. At the camp, children with disabilities to have the full experience of a summer camp within a safe environment. It also builds campers’ independence and self-confidence.

Matthew, who attends a Spring Branch ISD middle school, has been participating in Camp Smiles for several summers and knows first-hand how important the experiences have been for him. He also realizes that many children with disabilities are not able to attend due to cost.

While the $30,000 donation goal is sizeable, his previous campaign known as “Matthew’s Challenge” raised a similar amount in 2009 for Easter Seals Greater Houston. You can support Matthew’s program here.

Nicky’s Journey
The bright-eyed boy was just 4 years old when he was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), and through all of the long days and tough procedures, Nicky Sauter found solace in watching his favorite movies on a portable DVD player.

Remembering this, Nicky and his mother founded Nicky’s Journey, a non-profit that supplies new childhood cancer patients of Texas Children’s Hospital with a portable DVD player and a gift certificate to purchase their favorite movies. They started the foundation three years ago, when Nicky was 6 years old, and in those three years have supplied 300 children with their DVD player/movie package.

Nicky says that his journey with leukemia has given him courage, helped him to be more outgoing, and motivated him to help others. He wears his pink Converse low-tops to deliver the DVDs to kids at the Cancer Center, saying, “If I’m tough enough to beat cancer, I’m tough enough to wear pink shoes!”

Show Me Yours
Being a kid is supposed to be fun, but Tyler Nelson, 17, knows what it is to worry. At just 3 days old he was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis and is currently waiting for a lung and liver transplant at Texas Children’s Hospital. He has been waiting for a lifesaving transplant for almost a year.

Tyler’s story has reached national media attention, even the New York Times. He will also be featured on Nick News this fall. He’s even befriended, NFL “Great” Tony Richardson from the New York Jets.

Because of his experience, Tyler decided to make an effort to promote organ donation, by starting the “Show Me Yours Campaign” with his family. The campaign promotes organ donor registration among teens and young adults so that they can help support their peers like Tyler. Tyler also wrote a truly inspiring e-book titled The Super Power of Positivity.  It’s a book for children and teens who are battling life threatening illnesses.

To learn more about Tyler’s story and for a free copy of his book, visit

Teen Scene Investigators
Yoselin Salinas, Avelino Salinas and Madelyn Toledo volunteer as peer educators in Aldine with the Teen Scene Investigators (TSI) program of the University of Texas Prevention Research Center (UTPRC). Yoselin, Avelino and Madelyn also intern as Youth Engaged in Assets (Y.E.A.) Peer Ambassadors with the Houston Department of Health and Human Services’ Houston Healthy Adolescent Initiative (HHAI).

Teen Scene Investigators is an active group of middle and high school students who advocate for effective sex education in schools and educate the community on the prevention of teen pregnancy, HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. This summer, TSI members created a public service announcement about the prevention of teen pregnancy. The PSA won first place in a national competition sponsored by the Massachusetts Alliance on Teen Pregnancy.

Yoselin, Avelino and Madelyn host a Facebook page as part of their efforts. Feel free to “like” their Facebook page or watch their award-winning PSA.

Young Neighbors
Young Neighbors, established through the Baker-Ripley Neighborhood Center in Gulfton, includes students ages 5-18. The kids spent their summer learning how to improve their community and enhance their technical and leadership skills. Members learn about the community, how they can get involved and make a difference.

To finish the summer, the Young Neighbors created artwork that was auctioned during a performance arts program. Proceeds from the event were used to fund scholarships for next summer's program. You can follow Young Neighbors on their Facebook page.

Thanks to Nicole and Jennifer at Harris County Hospital District, Jenn at Texas Children's Hospital, Elizabeth at Alpha Charity League, Maribel at UT Prevention Research Center, Elvia and Lesley at LifeGift, and Kids are Heroes for sharing these stories with us.



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