Leadership in Action: The Power of Youth (Part 2)

Meet youth leaders from Illinois, California and North Carolina who’ve launched bold service projects to tackle community needs

Za'Nia smiles while sitting on a bench.
Za’Nia, a 2020 Power of Youth Challenge grant winner, is expanding her Z Feeds Angel Food Project to provide more food and supplies to women and children in shelters in Charlotte. Photo: Olivia Stinson

This is the second story in a multipart series on 2020 winners of the America’s Promise Alliance – Power of Youth Challenge. You’ll find the first article here. Through its Power of Youth initiative, and with support from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, America’s Promise Alliance (APA) invites applicants ages 13 to 18 from around the country to pitch proposals for $250 mini-grants. Proposals are reviewed and selected by members of APA’s Youth Council, and awardees are supported by Youth Council members and youth coaches. In this article, you’ll meet more youth leaders and learn how they’ve adapted to the context of the COVID-19 pandemic to carry out projects that matter.

Za’Nia is working to address hunger in Charlotte, North Carolina, through her Z Feeds Angel Food Project. Photo: Olivia Stinson

Za’Nia* is an eighth grade student who is working to address hunger and homelessness in her hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina.

Beginning as a volunteer at age 9, Za’Nia founded the Z Feeds Angel Food Project, an effort that provides food, toiletries and other supplies to women and children in homeless shelters — and to anyone else who needs them.

“There is too little affordable housing, and so many people have no jobs,” Za’Nia said.

Today, with a team of volunteers, Za’Nia packs and distributes more than 150 “Go-Go” bags a month. With a Power of Youth challenge grant from America’s Promise, she’ll buy more nonperishable food, solicit more donations from local markets and recruit more youth volunteers to deliver Go-Go bags throughout Charlotte.

“Sixteen million American kids struggle with hunger each year.” Za’Nia said. “I realize I cannot feed everyone in the world, but I want to do my part to help as many people as possible, especially children, to never be hungry again.”

Young caucasian girl with dark long hair and a horizontally striped t-shirt poses for the camera.
Lexi is using her Power of Youth Challenge grant to promote a school-based composting project and environmental awareness. Photo: Courtesy of America’s Promise Alliance

Lexi* is using her Power of Youth grant to promote the health of the environment. A ninth-grader in Glenview, Illinois, she’s working to raise awareness about composting at her former school, Marie Murphy, to keep food out of landfills and reduce waste and methane gas.

“Making composting a daily part of life can create lifelong habits [and help everyone] become more environmentally conscious,” Lexi said.

She’s spearheading a composting program with the school’s environmental club, Roots and Shoots. Her project also will include production of an informational video for students, parents and community members.

Emerson*, a high school junior in California, is finding bold new ways to expand equity and opportunity in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields.

“As both a girl and a Latina, I didn’t see many people like me on the engineering path,” Emerson said. “Despite San Diego’s thriving biotechnology and computer science industries, African Americans, Native Americans, and Latinx individuals remain underrepresented in both STEM education and the STEM workforce.”

Emerson is hosting virtual STEM workshops for students in Title I schools to help close opportunity gaps in STEM. Photo: Courtesy of America’s Promise Alliance

To address opportunity gaps, Emerson founded and serves as president of Represent in Math and Engineering (RIME), an international student-led organization dedicated to promoting underrepresented groups and first-generation engineers in STEM. Through RIME, she is hosting free virtual STEM workshops that provide personalized instruction to students in grades three to five who are attending Title I schools. From mechanical engineering with robotic crawlers to bridge building with popsicle sticks, her engaging workshops bring STEM concepts to life.

Concerned about how COVID-19 is deepening inequalities, Emerson is using her Power of Youth grant to purchase workspaces on Slack so RIME can host larger interactive workshops and distribute engineering kits to elementary school students. She’s also launching a virtual ambassador program that engages middle school students and mentors.

“Humanity will look to the inventors of tomorrow to create vaccines for viruses, find a cure for cancer and design environmentally sustainable buildings,” Emerson said. “I believe that every child has the potential to become the next great engineer. By providing underserved youth with access to STEM education, that potential can finally be unlocked.”

* To protect privacy, last names of participants who are younger than 18 are not included in this story.