The 17 Most Inspirational Kids of 2017

They've created life-saving innovations, founded nonprofit organizations, and raised money for important causes all before reaching legal age. The future's looking pretty bright with these kids leading the way.

She broke the piggy bank to buy milk for a friend in need

Sunshine Oelfke had been saving up to buy herself a snowmobile, but she decided to break open her piggy bank long before reaching her goal. As Sunshine proceeded to load all the coins into her backpack, her grandmother asked her what she was going to do with all of that money. Sunshine said she was using them to help her friend buy milk at lunch, something that her friend couldn’t afford, even though a carton of milk at their Michigan based school is only 45 cents, reports the Good News Network. Not satisfied to only give her friend milk for a day, she created a GoFundMe page to cover other children’s milk for the full year—at $6,000, we think it’s safe to say mission accomplished. Read on for a list of powerful ways you can make the world a better place, without breaking the bank.

They started a database to help kids find volunteer opportunities

Most-Inspiring-Kid-Stories-of-2017courtesy Max and Jake Klein
When these 14-year-old twins were shut out of volunteer opportunities, they took matters into their own hands. Jake and Max Klein launched the Kids That Do Good database to allow young people to search for volunteer opportunities based on age, interest, or location; opportunities include everything from helping the homeless to launching a food drive to providing Thanksgiving meals for the needy and walking to raise funds for breast cancer. It all started when the boys began cooking meals to serve the homeless with a family friend, a retired chef, in his home kitchen. “We asked him to take us with him to serve the meals, but when he looked into it, he was told, ‘No, they are simply too young,'” says Max. That’s when they decided to start the site, which receives an average of 100 visitors every day and has a growing list of organizations, like animal shelters and urban farming groups, requesting to be listed. KTDG also recently launched a “teacher resources” section, which includes lesson plans, tools and tips, volunteer opportunities, and related readings to help teachers instill charitable giving into their students at any age. Find out creative ways you can volunteer.

He invented a device to prevent children from hot-car deaths

Leaving a child in a hot car can cause heat stroke and death—even 10-year-old Bishop Curry V knows that. But accidents happen, so Bishop decided to do something about it. He invented a box that attaches to a car seat and blows cold air on a child’s face, a device he’s named “Oasis.” It’s pretty high tech, so much so that it’s capable of alerting emergency services that the child is in trouble. People really got behind the idea on GoFundMe, raising $46,000 for its patent. Let’s hope it gets moved forward by next summer—as his father notes, juvenile hot-car deaths in Texas are just way too high. Read more stories of life-changing kindness.

He became a brave advocate for kids who learn differently

Jack Bradley, a high school junior with autism, ADHD, and Tourette’s from Louisville, Kentucky, has spent this year as an incredible advocate for making schools more inclusive for all learners, modeling how to bring students with special needs themselves into the conversation. Jack is a member of the Prichard Committee Student Voice Team, where he helps conduct surveys, round tables, and research around educational accessibility. He has written and spoken about this issue repeatedly on a national stage, and his article in the Hechinger Report went on to become one of their most shared pieces of the year. Jack and his mother, Judith Bradley, have challenged the Kentucky Department of Education on a number of issues related to ensuring students with special needs get the services they are guaranteed by statute, and the teen also helped found Jack Be Nimble, a non-profit dedicated to reimagining special education through creative advocacy and bridging the empathy gap that exists between students who learn differently and their peers, educators, families, and communities. Find out what not to say to a parent of a child with autism.

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She became a wildlife Super Activist

For 18-year-old Annabel Caren Clark, from Dallas, her activism started small, with the planting of milkweed around the school in order to attract monarch butterflies during migration season. The gesture kicked off an early whirlwind career in environmental conservation, reports TeenVogue.com. She became a “Super Activist” with the World Wildlife Fund’s Panda Ambassador program working to lead and advocate on conservation issues in the U.S. and around the world. She also created her school’s own World Wildlife Fund Club and earned her the Hendrix College Book Award for artistic creativity, global awareness, professional and leadership development, service to the world, and research.” Now a freshman at Wake Forest University, she is active on several campus-wide sustainability projects and has been working hard to incorporate her World Wildlife Fund high school participation onto a college campus to create a greater awareness of global issues. Her advice for young people everywhere is to start getting involved in any cause that moves them by committing to a few simple habits, such as signing online petitions and educating themselves on ways to help.

She’s bringing solar-powered light to communities left in the dark

Most-Inspiring-Kid-Stories-of-2017courtesy Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes
Abbie Weeks, 18, of Centennial, Colorado, created a nonprofit that provides solar energy to underprivileged communities. Her team has installed solar electricity for a school at Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project in rural Uganda and is currently working to do the same for an elementary school on the Pine Ridge Native American Reservation in South Dakota. Abbie’s group, which she launched three years ago, has also replaced her high school’s cafeteria styrofoam trays with reusable ones and convinced town officials to place a fee on single use plastic bags. Learn more about her efforts on her blog, EcologicalAction.

He toddled around the block ’til he reached a mile for Hurricane Harvey

Most-Inspiring-Kid-Stories-of-2017Courtesy Kathy Ladd for the American Red Cross
When 5-year-old A.J. Troiano from Bedford, New Hampshire, learned about Hurricane Harvey from his parents and grandparents, who showed him photos of the floods and explained what people in Texas—particularly the children—were going through and everything they had lost, he knew he had to do something about it. So A.J. decided he would walk around his block five times—escorted by his loving grandparents, of course—for a total of two miles to raise money for the American Red Cross to support those affected by the hurricane. He made a poster to showcase his cause and couldn’t wait to get started on his walk the next day when he arrived home from kindergarten. As he walked around the block, A.J.’s neighbors, friends, and family came up and asked what he was doing, and he was pleasantly surprised when they started to join in and donate to the cause. He finished the walk sprinting the last lap home, with the total of $200 he raised. “I hope it is just the beginning for him in understanding on how one person can really make a difference,” said A.J.’s grandmother, Kathy Ladd. Read more stories of people’s generosity making a world of difference.

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She took the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, into her own hands

One of the most brilliant heroes to come out of the woodwork as a result of the Flint, Michigan, water crisis is 11-year-old Gitanjali Rao, who invented a device that can detect lead in drinking water—and she did it as part of her science fair project. She’d been keeping tabs on the town’s progress and watching her parents test their own water and shaking her head, as it were—there had to be better methods out there. No? Alright, well, then she’d invent one. Her three-part device could be the next big thing in water purification, and help keep thousands healthy. Read more about how it works on NPR. Find out how to tell if your tap water is safe.

He’s a powerful force against plastic pollution

Surfer and 17-year-old Jackson Hinkle, has always been aware of the issue of plastic pollution and its effects on ocean ecosystems. This year, though, was a big year when it came to taking action, reports TeenVogue. He became a Water Ambassador for The Water Effect at The Ecology Center, organized a march against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) in Orange County to raise awareness of water rights and support the creation of a clean future, and currently serves as founder and current president of Team Zissou, an environmental club that has popped up in schools in California, Hawaii, Washington, and Canada. Jackson is also leading a campaign in his town called “Plastic Free SC,” which promotes the usage of reusable water bottles. “Our team is urging local restaurants and eateries to join our movement by transitioning from carrying plastic water bottles to selling more sustainable paper water bottles, and are planning to outfit our city with new water bottle refill stations and water fountains.” Find out simple ways you can start reducing your carbon footprint today.

She beat cancer and turned back to bike for a cure

Most-Inspiring-Kid-Stories-of-2017courtesy Andrew Janower
Samantha “Sammi” Janower, now 16-years-old, was diagnosed with a low-grade astrocytoma (a pediatric brain tumor) at the age of three. The tumor is slow-growing and because it’s pretty rare (there are only about 800 cases each year in the U.S.), there isn’t much research around it or drugs to fight it. Chemotherapy is the only option, so Sammi underwent 15 months of chemo at the age of three. Six months later, her tumor grew again and she went through a second line of chemo. Today, her dad says the cancer survivor has unbelievable poise and is determined to help other kids avoid having to go through what she has gone through—and the long term side-effects that come with undergoing years of chemotherapy as a child. To that end, in 2017 her team of cyclists, Team Samantha, raised more than $327,000 for the hospital that saved her life by riding 192 miles in the Pan-Mass Challenge (PMC), a bike-a-thon across their home state of Massachusetts. Sammi is one of the youngest kids that rides in the bike-a-thon. One hundred percent of every dollar raised goes directly to the doctors and research that work on cancers like hers.

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He’s helping track and protect the cheetah population

Most-Inspiring-Kid-Stories-of-2017courtesy Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes
Joris Hutchison, 10-years old, of Seattle, has worked hard all year to save cheetahs from the very real threat of extinction. He has raised more than $14,000 to purchase GPS collars that track and protect the animals, earning money by selling lemonade, flowers and t-shirts, and by organizing skating parties and a garage sale. Joris donates all that he raises to N/a’an ku se, a wildlife conservation organization and sanctuary in Namibia where he and his mother have volunteered for the past three summers. As the group’s youngest volunteer, Joris prepares food, cleans enclosures, and creates enrichment items for the cheetahs that live there, all of whom have been injured or habituated to humans. The sanctuary protects cheetahs in the wild by convincing farmers not to shoot the animals and instead, to allow the ones accused of killing livestock to be outfitted with GPS collars. “I’ve learned that everyone can make a difference, even if you’re just a kid!” Joris told Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes. “You just have to start somewhere.”

She dedicates early mornings and weekends to animal rescue

Most-Inspiring-Kid-Stories-of-2017courtesy Ava Calise
Ava Calise, 14,  is a volunteer with not one, not two, but three, animal rescues in New York City. Ava is the constant “go-to foster mom” for frightened dogs that need rehabilitation. Instead of sleeping in on weekends, you’re most likely to find Ava administering morning medications to foster dogs at 6 a.m.—and keeping up with those medications several times through the day. Working hard is nothing new to Ava: She was born at just 1 lb 13 ounces and came out a fighter! “She has a very special way with animals. She seems to always get through even to the sickest and most frightened of the hundreds of dogs we foster each year,” her mother says. Read on for 11 heartwarming dog rescue stories.

She’s literally a powerhouse of ocean-saving energy

When Hannah Herbst, now 16, was in seventh grade, she found out her Ethiopian pen pal, Ruth, was living in energy poverty with minimal access to electricity: lights, medical supplies, or even sewage control systems. “I realized the environment was important at a very young age. I have always been curious, and as a child, I preferred ‘rock hunts’ to dollhouses, which sparked my first interest in learning about the environment,” she told TeenVogue. So she created an ocean energy probe, called BEACON, or Bringing Electricity Access to Countries through Ocean Energy, which converts the kinetic movement of current energy from any moving body of water into a source of useable electricity. It’s made from 90 percent recycled materials easily found throughout the world, including 2-liter plastic soda bottles and recycled spoons. Hannah envisions BEACON being used in developing countries to power desalination pumps for fresh water, run centrifuges to test blood with, and power electric buoys for maritime navigation. She is currently working on tweaking the final iteration of BEACON, and is in the process of open-sourcing her prototypes so that others around the world can replicate her creation, both for combating energy poverty in developing nations as well as to encourage STEM education in classrooms worldwide.

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He saved the lives of five stranded strangers in one week

Steffan Williams may only be eight years old, but in 2017, he saved five people in one week—and on two separate occasions. More than just being in the right place at the right time, Williams knew exactly what to do when he found that three people were in trouble in the water down by the rocks near the lifeboat station in New Quay, Ceredigion, and, just days later, when two kids found themselves stranded there as well. He kayaked over to rescue the first group himself, but when the second group found themselves in more dire straits, he investigated and called for backup. Read more on to find out exactly how it all went down. Check out these heartwarming stories that will restore your faith in humanity.

She made it her life’s mission to make sure kids have healthy hearts

Most-Inspiring-Kid-Stories-of-2017courtesy Quanuquanei A Karmue
Savanna Lorpu Karmue, 11, is an author, social entrepreneur, reformer, activist, and possibly one of our next great cardiologists. After visiting her Sunday school teacher, who was about to undergo a heart procedure at the hospital and a subsequent meeting with the cardiologist on staff, Savanna’s curiosity led her towards a deep appreciation of the heart and its importance to the human body. Encouraged by her parents to research literal matters of the heart, Savanna learned that one in three of her peers were suffering from childhood obesity, which can lead to heart disease. She began making YouTube videos sharing with the world ways to have a better health and create a happy, healthy heart. In 2016, Happy Heart Advice launched its Happy Heart Challenges, providing over 300 hundred children and families with education and empowering resources for healthy living. In June, she was invited as a keynote speaker at the 9th Biennial Obesity Conference where she shared insightful information on how to implement healthy eating into everyday adolescent lifestyles, and was honored by the American Heart Association for her work and impact in the health community at such an early age. She’s currently working on an app that will make it easier for moms and families to shop for “Happy Heart-approved food.” Find out the heart-healthy tips cardiologists follow.

He became a lifeline for the homeless before reaching double-digits

Most-Inspiring-Kid-Stories-of-2017courtesy Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes
Jahkil Jackson, 9, of Chicago, founded “Project I Am” to help the homeless in his hometown. Within the last year, he’s compiled and distributed more than 3,000 “Blessings Bags” filled with toiletry items, a towel, socks, and light snacks. He has organized donation drop-off sites and bag-stuffing parties where community members, family, and his fourth-grade friends help him create the bags. He has also established partnerships with homeless shelters and other relief agencies, where he distributes each of his bags and spends time in conversation with the recipients. A frequent public speaker, Jahkil challenges children to find their passion and use it to make a difference. “When I speak to other kids at schools and community centers, I always say, ‘Don’t wait until you are an adult to be great,’ Jahkil told Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes. “‘You can be great now!'”

She’s using technology to help the legally blind see better

Most-Inspiring-Kid-Stories-of-2017courtesy Annika Viswesh
Eighth grade student Annika Viswesh, who attends the Stratford School in Sunnyvale, California, became legally blind when she was just one year old due to a condition known as amblyopia. Various procedures have helped to improve her sight over the years, but more than anything it was that very experience that pushed her to search for better ways to treat and manage the condition, which affects about 12 million children worldwide. So, she created the Oculus Patch Assistant which helps to simplify and improve the effectiveness of amblyopia treatment by using a smart sensor, a smartphone application, and predictive machine learning algorithms. As eye patches are a common treatment for amblyopia, Annika’s model could actually cut patch-wearing by 100 to 200 hours per year. She is currently working with doctors at the Palo Alto Foundation to conduct field testing.

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