The Camp 15 Under 15
Young innovators, leaders, activists, and entrepreneurs who are changing the world!
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I don’t mean to sound like a life coach reading a fortune cookie when I say that all you need to make a difference in the world is to believe in yourself and your abilities.
If you don’t believe me, take the 15 kids on this list, for example. All of them are 15 years old or younger, and they have all overcome challenges in their lives to accomplish some awe-inspiring feats. Best of all, because they’re all kids, they’re likely not going to stop anytime soon! Come on, let’s meet some real-life kid superheroes !
Sophie Cruz, 10
Born in California, Sophie is an immigrants’ rights activist who sprang into action at just five years of age when her parents were at risk of being deported from the country. Knowing that Pope Francis would be visiting America, Sophie and her family traveled to Washington, D.C., to deliver a note to the Pope asking him to speak out on behalf of undocumented immigrants.
Sophie bravely ran toward the Pope, and although she was turned away by his security team, the Pope saw her and allowed her to pass through security and accepted her note. The very next day, the Pope advocated for immigrant and refugee rights during his meeting with Congress. Since then, Sophie has met President Obama, spoken at the Women’s March in 2017, and was named Activist of the Year by Define America in 2018.
Sophie’s Recent Accomplishments: Sophie spent the last year using her platform to encourage other young adults and immigrants to exercise their right to vote in the presidential election and continues to use her voice to create a more welcome and loving country for all.
Bana al-Abed, 11
Bana al-Abed was born in Aleppo, Syria; a city engulfed in a civil war since 2011. Bana noticed that the world wasn’t paying any attention to the conflict, even as the destruction affected innocent families all around him.
With her mother’s help, Bana started a Twitter account at just eight years old and began tweeting calls for peace, documenting what was happening in the war, and calling on world leaders to act. Through her voice, she brought large-scale attention to the crisis. Since then, Bana published her book, Dear World: A Syrian Girl’s Story of War and Plea for Peace, and has spoken on behalf of Syria and refugees worldwide.
Bana’s Recent Accomplishments: Bana has continued using her voice to raise awareness for issues plaguing her home country and advocating for refugees’ rights.
Genesis Butler, 11
Genesis Butler used to love chicken nuggets until her mother told her exactly where her favorite food came from. She decided to become vegan at the age of six when she learned more about the meat industry’s unethical treatment of animals and the connection between meat farming and global warming.
At just 11 years old, Genesis Butler is hard at work as an animal rights and climate change activist and has already spoken at TEDx and been named PETA’s Young Animal Activist of the Year.
Genesis’ Recent Accomplishments: Genesis has continued volunteering, using her voice to advocate for animal rights, and is currently working with others to develop legislation focused on the humane treatment of animals.
Ryan Hickman, 12
Ryan Hickman’s journey to clean up his neighborhood and eventually help save the environment started at just three years old! After taking a trip with his father to a local recycling center, Ryan gave his neighbors empty bags and told them that he would sort their cans and bottles for them and recycle them.
Word around the neighborhood spread about Ryan’s work, and more and more folks got interested. Ryan founded his own company called Ryan’s Recycling Company, which has recycled over 800,000 cans and bottles and has raised over $10,000 for the Pacific Marine Mammal Center, an organization focused on protecting aquatic wildlife.
Ryan’s Recent Accomplishments: This past year, Ryan was nominated to be TIME Magazine’s Kid of the Year for 2020 and continues participating in volunteer beach clean-ups in his native California. If I had to guess, Ryan probably has the cleanest room you’ve ever seen!
Peyton Brown, 12
Peyton, or “Peyticakes,” as her family calls her, has always been passionate about fashion. When she decided she wanted to make clothing and began brainstorming ideas, she realized she could use her clothes to empower females and instill confidence and self-acceptance in young girls.
By printing statements on her shirts like “I Am Enough” and “I Am Worthy,” the I Am movement was born, and so was Peyton’s clothing company Peyticakes — founded on International Women’s Day when she was just seven years old!
Peyton’s Recent Accomplishments: Peyton has continued to grow and expand her retail business by launching a make-up line for tweens and designing clothes that share the message that young girls are strong, worthy, and beautiful.
Jahkil Jackson, 13
One fateful day when he was five years old, Jahkil Jackson helped his aunt distribute food to the homeless in his native Chicago. After witnessing homelessness firsthand, Jahkil decided that he wanted to make a change.
He began regularly distributing essential items like socks, deodorant, hand sanitizer, bottled water, and granola bars to the homeless in Chicago in what he called “Blessing Bags.” At just eight years old, he founded Project I Am, an organization dedicated to providing essential supplies for those in need. Project I Am has grown to help people in need outside of Chicago, like Los Angeles, Puerto Rico, and Guatemala. Jahkil even won the Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes for everything he’s accomplished.
Jahkil’s Recent Accomplishments: Jahkil has distributed over 8,000 Blessing Bags to those affected by the pandemic, was named one of CNN’s Young Wonders, collaborated with Nike and Cartoon Network, and recently published his book, I Am.
Desmond is Amazing, 13
At only 13 years old, Desmond Napoles is a teen drag superstar, LGBTQIA advocate, public speaker, and published author. Better known by their stage name, Desmond Is Amazing, Desmond was inspired to use drag as a means of expressing themselves after watching an episode of RuPaul's Drag Race.
Since then, Desmond has walked on the NY Fashion Week runway, spoken out about LGBTQIA rights and anti-bullying, and founded their own youth drag house, the Haus of Amazing. Nowadays, anybody would find themselves hard-pressed to disagree with Desmond’s motto: “Be yourself, always.”
Desmond’s Recent Accomplishments: Desmond has continued to speak on LGBTQIA rights. They were named a 2020 Gay City News Impact Award Honoree and published their first book, Be Amazing: A History of Pride.
Mari Copeny, 13
Known as “Little Miss Flint,” Mari Copeny was born during the Flint water crisis in Flint, Michigan. Growing up without access to clean drinking water due to dangerous levels of lead poisoning, Mari wrote and sent a letter to President Obama at the age of just eight years old. Her outreach so moved the President that he visited Flint to address the issue and later sent funding to help the crisis.
Mari Copeny’s activism continued as she spoke out on environmental racism’s injustices and went on to be featured in Teen Vogue, TIME, Refinery 29, The Washington Post, and Buzzfeed.
Mari’s Recent Accomplishments: As the Flint Water Crisis continues, so does Mari’s activism. This year she has helped deliver over 16,000 backpacks filled with school supplies, presents during Christmas, and Easter baskets for the underprivileged through the Dear Flint Kids project, which she founded.
Sidney Keys III, 14
Hearing him speak on national television or to audiences of 3,000+ kids, no one would have ever assumed that Sidney Keys III used to be bullied for having a stutter as he was growing up. Sidney used books to practice speaking, to develop his literacy, and as an escape from bullying. When he was 10 years old, he started a reading club called Books & Bros where he could read with other boys ages 8 to 12 in his native St. Louis area.
Since founding Books & Bros, Sidney received the Young, Gifted, and Empowered Award and was named a Young Wonder by CNN for the work he’s done in helping develop literacy in young Black men.
Sidney’s Recent Accomplishments: Sidney worked on expanding Books & Bros across the United States and used his platform to bring attention to the Black Lives Matter movement and empower Black youth through reading!
Naomi Wadler, 14
Naomi Wadler is a 14-year-old gun control activist who was inspired to create change after hearing of the tragic school shooting in Parkland, Florida. She sprang into action and organized a walkout in her elementary school to honor the victims and would later go on to give an incredibly moving speech at the March for our Lives summit later that same year.
Naomi also appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and has consistently used her platform to raise awareness around Black women being more likely to be the victims of gun violence.
Naomi’s Recent Accomplishments: Naomi continued bringing awareness to gun violence issues, spoke at the 2020 World Economic Forum, and was named one of Teen Vogue’s 21 under 21.
Ella Morrison, 14
Ella Morrison is proof that a good old-fashioned lemonade stand can make a big difference. When she was six years old, Ella’s best friend was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor, and so Ella started selling lemonade to raise money for her friend’s treatments.
Though her friend later passed away, Ella established Ella’s Lemonade Shop and continued selling lemonade while donating 100% of the proceeds from sales to cancer research. Ella has spoken at the Elements of Excellence Women’s Business Conference and won the Prudential Spirit of Community award.
Ella’s Recent Accomplishments: Ella has raised upwards of $60,000 for childhood cancer research and also sends “Hero Packages” to young cancer patients undergoing treatments, which contain an iPad, headphones, and other items to help.
Alexandria Villasenor, 15
When she was 13, Alexandria was visiting family when the most destructive fire in California’s history began tearing through the state. She found herself surrounded by smoke, and as an asthma sufferer, she became extremely ill and was hospitalized. While recovering, she began researching climate change and decided that she would work to help the environment.
Alexandria began skipping school every Friday to protest in front of the United Nations building because of a lack of interest in climate action that lawmakers exhibited. She also spoke at the World Economic Forum, alongside UNICEF and the United Nations.
Alexandria’s Recent Accomplishments: Alexandria co-founded the group Earth Uprising, which educates young people on climate change worldwide. She was also named one of Seventeen Magazine’s 2020 “Voices of the Year” and uses her platform to educate others.
Ashton Mota, 15
Ashton Mota is a transgender rights activist and public speaker. After coming out to his parents as transgender when he was 12 years old, Ashton had to work for his transgender identity to be acknowledged by his school through the use of his chosen pronouns and being able to play on his school’s basketball team.
Ashton founded his school’s GSA (Gay-Straight Alliance) as a safe space for transgender youth. He spoke out in favor of the “Yes On 3 Campaign” in Massachusetts, a measure calling for equal rights. Ashton serves as an example for transgender youth of color, reminding them that being true to themselves is the best thing they can be.
Ashton’s Recent Accomplishments: Ashton used his platform during last year’s election to encourage others to vote for candidates that would acknowledge and work for transgender rights. He was named one of 12 Youth Ambassadors in the country by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, the nation’s largest LGBTQIA organization.
Gitanjali Rao, 15
At just 15 years old, Gitanjali Rao has made quite the name for herself as a scientist, inventor, and author. She became interested in science when her uncle gave her a science kit at the age of four, Gitanjali was only 10 when she heard of the Flint water crisis. Wanting to help those in need, she began her research and experimentation.
Gitanjali developed a device that could sense and measure the lead content in water and communicate that information to a computer wirelessly. For her accomplishments, she was awarded the President’s Environmental Youth Award by the EPA, won the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge, and was included on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list.
Gitanjali’s Recent Accomplishments: Gitanjali was named TIME Magazine’s first-ever Kid of the Year and finished working on her book, A Young Innovator's Guide to STEM, which she wrote to inspire people to approach today’s problems creatively using science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
Drum roll, please! The final person on this list is…
That’s right. No matter who you are, how old you are, or where you’re from, every single thing you do has an impact on the world and those around you. The kids on this list prove that if there’s something you’re passionate about, you can use your voice and actions to make a difference.
Make every day count, follow your heart, and remember, you can be the change you want to see in the world!