Friday, December 30, 2011

New Year's Eve celebrations for kids

first night fireworks

Looking for something fun to do on New Year's Eve? Check out First Night Charlotte for kids.

First Night Kids takes place on South Tryon and Levine Avenue in Charlotte from noon to 5 p.m. Kids of all ages will be able to participate in dance, theater, history, music and more. Performances will be held at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, outdoor terrace of the Charlotte Convention Center, The Green, Bechtler Museum, Mint Museum and Levine Avenue of the Arts. Below are a few of the featured events that will occur throughout the day:

12- 12:30 p.m.:
Fireman Jim: NASCAR Hall of Fame: High Octane Theatre
Fireman Jim’s Safety Show features safety practices proven to save lives.

12- 12:45 p.m.:
Percussion Petting Zoo: The Green: Upper Tier

12- 4 p.m.
Caricatures by Lena: Convention Center Stage-MLK Street: Outside Tent
Within 5 minutes or less, Lena will capture the crowd around her.

12- 4:30 p.m.
Thistledown Tinkers: Bechtler Lobby
Thistledown Tinkers is a traditional Celtic duo that plays high-energy Scottish and Irish folk music.

2:30- 1 p.m.
Fettucini Brothers: Convention Center Stage-MLK Street- "Big Top" Fettucini Variety Show
The Fettucini Brothers, Alfredo and Alfresco perform a comedy, juggling and variety entertainment show.

1- 1:30 p.m.
Magic by Glen: Convention Center Stage- MLK Street- "Big Top" Fettucini Variety Show

3:30- 4 p.m.
Strength and Elegance: Convention Center Stage- MLK Street- "Big Top" Fettucini Variety Show
Strength and Elegance is a Cirque Du Soleil inspired duo with acts consisting of partner acrobatics, hoop dance, pole art and aerial acrobatics.

4- 5 p.m.
Hyundai Sonata Car Giveaway and the kids countdown. Main Stage- Levine Avenue of the Arts performing

For a complete list of events, visit First Night Charlotte.

Photo: Observer file photo

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Uncovering ancient Mayan tomb all in a day's work

Chipping away at an ancient Mayan tomb and uncovering cherished artifacts that reveal a culture's past have become the norm for students at Davidson Day.

For the past few years, a handful of students in Mat Saunder's class have had the opportunity to travel to Belize and work alongside some of archaeology's most well-known, like Marc Zender, a lecturer in the department of anthropology at Harvard University.

This summer's June trip lead to an interesting discovery - a tomb that was home to three prominent Mayan figureheads.

Jason Chinuntdet, 16, a junior at Davidson Day, recalls seeing remains of a middle-aged woman and an elderly man found in the tomb, as well as the artifacts they were buried with.

"There were dog tags with hieroglyphs and nothing like that had been found, which was really cool," Jason said.

Jason said he had a preexisting interest in paleontology, so he thought exploring the archaeology field would be beneficial.

The majority of this year's group consisted of students traveling to the site for the first time, but they went because they are interested in becoming archaeologists.

"I want to pursue a career in anthropology or archaeology, so it was the perfect opportunity for me," said Sierra Thorson, 16, a junior.

While on site, the students worked on lower parts of the temple being excavated and helped to discover a shell pot containing dried paint. Researchers had an idea the Maya people would have used these shells for paint, but were able to confirm this with their findings, Saunders said.

"In my 11 or 12 years working in Belize, I've never seen anything like it," said Saunders.

During the day, students would come together for mini sessions to discuss their findings and also learn new material that would help them better understand artifacts, like learning to read common hieroglyphics.

"On site when we were digging, we would be able to find outer facing walls and you could really start to see the structure come together," said Samira Zoobi, a sophomore on her second trip to the excavation site.

And when they weren't brushing away soil or moving heavy capstones, the Davidson Day students visited with students at Succotz Primary School. There, they would exchange stories about daily life in the United States and in Belize.

Following their experience in Belize, the students presented their findings to about 180 professionals at Maya at the Playa, a conference in Florida geared to archaeologists. Saunders said it was the first time the tomb had been presented publicly.

The Davidson Day group plans to continue their work in Belize this summer, expanding their trip from two weeks to a full month. In April, they will also host the Maya at the Lago Conference, which is a four-day event that features lectures and workshops on topics centered around Maya.

"I'm looking forward to uncovering more things," Sierra said.

Continue to look for stories like these of inspirational youth, there's plenty to be found in the Young Achievers section!

Have someone in mind who fits the Young Achievers mold? Email me at, or call 704-358-6043.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Homemade holiday gift ideas

Christmas is only two days away, are you prepared?
Rather than focusing on one individual today, I thought it would be refreshing to share the latest Christmas gift finds with all of you young achievers, in case you are scrambling to prepare gifts for your parents or friends. Below are cheap, yet thoughtful crafts you can construct in no time that will please most anyone. Happy holidays everyone!

Holiday craft ideas:

Hot cocoa in decorated mug - Tie a red ribbon around a basic mug and place a bag of homemade cocoa inside. It's all about the presentation, really. If you don't have time to make your own cocoa, just use a store bought hot chocolate mix. If you do have a few spare minutes, the recipe is below!
Ingredients: Mix together, 2 cups nonfat dry milk powder, 3/4 cup sugar, 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa, 1/2 cup mini semisweet chocolate chips, 1/2 cup powdered nondairy creamer, 1/8 teaspoon salt. This will make about four cups of mix.
Best Hot Cocoa Mix

Mixed Cd's - Create a play list of your recipient's favorite music, then personalize the CD case with song lyrics, photos or stickers.

Photo frame - Decorating a photo frame is quick and cheap, yet captures a memory that is priceless. Take a few things from around the house (with a parent's permission) like buttons, broaches or beads and use a strong craft glue to adhere the items to your favorite frame. Parents and friends will love to see that you took time to create a meaningful gift they can display forever.
Memory Lane Picture Frame

Sticky notes - Who doesn't enjoy stationary or sticky notes? This craft is extremely easy and has a very practical use. Take your favorite ink stamps ( or markers) and print shapes on the sides of sticky note cubes. When they memo cubes are dry, tie them up with a holiday bow and place them under the tree. Any hardworking parent or studious friend will be thrilled to receive this craft!
Printed Memo Blocks

Ideas found on Disney Family Fun. For more ideas, recipes or printable decorations, visit Do you have any holiday gift ideas or favorite crafts? Post them below in the comments field so everyone can enjoy!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Seeking a helping had

Sarah Barry, a senior at South Mecklenburg High, admits the stresses of being a teenager can sometimes be overwhelming.

She said she also sees her friends battle the demands of juggling classwork, a social life and extra curricular activities. Often, they feel alone and "don’t realize how many people out here care about them," Sarah said.

“If teens don’t start learning how to make good decisions ... now, they will struggle with those decisions when they are older. Making unhealthy decisions now can also have major implications on their lives down the road," Sarah says.

It's important to realize that asking for help is OK and realizing even the seemingly most composed individuals need a hand sometimes - we all do.

With the help of Teen Health Connection's Teen Advisory Board, and members of the Youth Expressions Summit, I have compiled a list of resources for teens that may need a helping hand.

Girl Talk

Teens Taking Action

Teen Help Card:
Abuse/Emergency Housing:
Child Protective Services.....704-336-2273*
Rape Crisis.....704-375-9900*
Shelter for Battered Women.....704-332-2513*
The Relatives (Youth Crisis Shelter)....704-377-0602*

Counseling and Support:
Behavioral Health Center.....704-444-2400*
Mobile Crisis Team.....704-566-3410*
Rape Crisis.....704-375-9900*
Suicide Hotline.....800-784-2433*
Teen Dating Violence.....704-336-3210
Teen Health Connection.....704-381-8336
Time Out Youth.....704-344-8335
United Family Services.....704-332-9034

Pregnancy and STI Prevention/Support:
Florence Crittenton.....704-372-4663
Mecklenburg County Health Department.....704-336-6500
Planned Parenthood.....704-536-7233
Pregnancy Resource Center.....704-372-5981
Teen Health Connection.....704-381-8336

Health Care:
Center for Disordered Eating.....704-381-4673
Mecklenburg County Health Department.....704-336-6500
Teen Health Connection.....704-381-8336

Academic Resources:
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library.....704-416-0100

Alcohol and Substance Abuse:
Alcoholics Anonymous.....704-332-4387
Anuvia Prevention and Recovery Center.....704-376-7447
McLeod Center.....704-332-9001
Narcotics Anonymous.....704-366-8980*

Referral and Information Services:
Center for Prevention Services.....704-375-3784
Gang of One.....704-432-4264*
Support Works.....704-331-9500
United Way Information Dial.....2-1-1
United Way Mobile.....866-744-7778

* denotes 24-hour availability

Photo: Teen Leaders at the Youth Expressions Summit at UNC Charlotte on Nov.19. Todd Sumlin -

Friday, December 16, 2011

Unconventional field trip teaches Woodlawn students about service

Class field trips to the zoo, history museums or theater plays are common, even expected in elementary school.

But students at Woodlawn School are straying away from the norm and turning field trips into service projects. Once a month, the Woodlawn third grade class packs up for an unconventional trip to 5th Street Ministries. The organization is a homeless shelter that serves more than 150 meals per day to the less fortunate.

"I had never been to a homeless shelter before, so I was a little nervous to go to the shelter," said Benjamin Vaughan, 8. "It’s also difficult to know that people in the world are going hungry."

As students serve up helpings of meat and veggies to those in need, they learn about volunteering, homelessness in the community, stereotypes and respect. Each student has a different role at the shelter every month. Some dish out candy and food, while others pour drinks or greet guests. Often, students will make table decorations, like paper turkeys, for the holidays, said their teacher, Jamie Pohlmeyer.

"I learned how important it is to help others in need by giving them lots of food so they will survive without a home," said Paige Berini, 8.

Paige is often in charge of pouring water, plating food and handing out candy to guests. She said the most difficult part of the volunteer work"is seeing all the really young kids being homeless and seeing the homeless with no food or water except when they go to 5th Street."

Recently, the third grade class collected $245.81 from a school-wide bake sale that they donated to the shelter.

"The hardest part was to see that so many people need food, water and shelter," said Micah Shepherd, 8. "Especially the kids."

Photo: Zach Kellman (left), Gabriel Cox, Paige Berini and Bryce Adams serve lunch at Fifth Street Ministries. Courtesy of Angela McKenzie, head of Woodlawn School.

Learn more:
For ways you can help out, visit

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Seeking wisdom from youth

Today, we get a bit of advice from Dhruv Pathak, 18, a senior at East Mecklenburg High. Dhruv recently participated in the Youth Expression Summit. Y.E.S. was designed by teens and focused on the most common issues students encounter, like bullying, dating, immigration, peer pressure and personal health. Aside from the summit, Dhruv also participates in Young Democrats, Academic World Quest and is president of the chess club.

Q: Why is it important for teens to express their emotions and educate themselves on healthy lifestyles?
"Teens definitely need to express how they feel because if you keep it bottled inside of you then it's going to eat away at you and probably cause you to make irrational decisions that can hurt the people around you. Telling people how you feel can help solve your problems, not saying emotion is always negative, but when it is it really does help. Everyone wants to experience all they can in life, if you don't live healthy physically and mentally then that dream is going to be thrown out the window.

Q: What keeps you motivated?
"What keeps me going is knowing that there is always a proverbial light at the end of every tunnel. In other words, there is always a reward for hard work."

Q: To be considered wise, what must you know?
"I feel like you must know that if you don't accept help from others then you are just winging life and that isn't a positive."

Q: What is an obstacle you have had to overcome?
"My incredible shyness which caused me to be awkward as well."

Q: What is a motto in life you tend to live by?
"I live by an Aesop quote, he once said, 'that no matter how small the act of kindness it is still appreciated.'"

Q: What are three things everyone should have with them?
"Three things everyone should always have with them is an open mind, ambition and tenacity."

Q: What's one thing worth remembering in tough times?
"During tough times you should always remember that there is always hope, no matter how grave the situation might be there is always a way out."

Q: Tell readers a fun fact about yourself:
"I am constantly analyzing the world. I'm always developing theories on human nature. Why do we act the way we do? What got us here? Why are we here?Are all people really equals?

Q: What is the greatest thing you learned at Y.E.S.?
"One person can make a change, no matter how small the change may be, it is still a change regardless."

Friday, December 9, 2011

Young Achiever continues to excel

About two weeks ago, while I was covering a youth summit event for the Local section of The Observer, I ran into a Young Achiever I had written about.

I had told Yash Mori's story in the Nov. 1 issue of Young Achievers. At age 16, Yash, a junior at Phillip O. Berry Academy of Technology, has started a website business, runs the school’s video production club, is a member of JROTC and student council and is a student ambassador.

Quite frankly, he does just about everything.

At the youth summit, I was pleased to hear Yash say he had been asked to speak at the U.S. Small Business Administration's youth entrepreneur series on Nov. 17. He said he received a call from the organization the day after the article ran. They hope to send him to New York for a larger youth entrepreneur conference in the future.

"I was able to tell my story and I got a lot of contacts through it," Yash said. "It was great."

And in the meantime, if you know (or are!) someone you think has an inspiring story, email me at or call 704-358-6043.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Teens learn to express themselves

Today we get advice from Sarah Barry, 18, a senior at South Mecklenburg High. Sarah is a member of Charlotte Planned Parenthood's Teens Taking Action program, co-editor of the yearbook, member of four honor societies and an athlete.

On Nov. 19, Sarah participated in the Youth Expressions Summit (Y.E.S.) along with 300 students ages 12 to 19. Sarah was one of about 12 teens to help plan the youth event held at UNC Charlotte.

The program was designed by teens and focused on the most common issues students encounter, like bullying, dating, immigration, peer pressure and personal health.

Q: Why is it important for teens to express their emotions and educate themselves on healthy lifestyles?
"If teens don’t start learning how to make good decisions to promote an emotionally and physically healthy lifestyle now, they will struggle with those decisions when they are older. Making unhealthy decisions now can also have major implications on their lives down the road. In order to make the healthy decisions that are best for them, teens need to be able to understand and express their emotions."

Q: When you're tired and don't want to work anymore, how do you keep going?
"Oh wow, this question’s an interesting one for me. To be honest, the first thing that came to my mind was the ridiculous amount of diet coke that I drink. It’s the one vice I let myself turn to when I’m tired or stressed. But other than that I try to think back on some of my past accomplishments. I remind myself of how great and proud I felt after all of the work that went into reaching them and tell myself that I’ll feel the same way once I get through putting my best effort into whatever I may be working on."

Q: To be considered wise, what must you know?
"To be considered wise one must be able to understand their thoughts and feelings and be able to share advice with others while being aware that not everyone has the same beliefs, cultures and backgrounds."

Q: What has been the greatest obstacle you have had to overcome?
"The greatest obstacle I have had to overcome has been learning how to balance several groups of friends, school work, family and extracurriculars. I had to learn how to manage my time and relationships in order to be able to accomplish everything I have wanted without giving up time for my friends and family."

Q: What is a motto you tend to live by?
“Just do the best you can and that won’t go unseen," from the Avett Brothers song “Please Pardon Yourself.”

Q: What are three things everyone should always have with them?
"Chapstick, either a cell phone or money to call home and an open mind."

Q: What's one thing worth remembering in tough times?
"If you face your difficult situations with courage, you will only come out stronger in the end."

Q: What is a fun fact about yourself that readers may not know?
"I got involved in Teens Taking Action after I wrote an article for the Charlotte Observer on teen pregnancy in the media while I was a part of the Explorers program."

Q: What is the greatest thing you learned at the Y.E.S. event?
"...To never burn any bridge because you never know when you are going to have to cross it again. As someone who is always looking for more opportunities for myself, I found this incredibly insightful and a great piece of advice for the future."

Friday, December 2, 2011

Week to end hunger culminates in friendship garden

What a better way to give back than with fresh veggies from the garden.

That was the idea behind The United Way Young Leaders group as they participated in a Week to Fight Hunger from Nov. 14-21.

One of their many community service projects they led during the week was the friendship garden at Sterling Elementary on Nov. 20.

Students were able to harvest vegetables to be used by Friendship Trays, a group that delivers more than 600 meals daily to elderly, handicapped and convalescing individuals in the Charlotte area.

Especially during the holiday season, many organizations like the United Way and Friendship Trays, depend on the kindness of strangers to help those in need. Look below for ways you can help in your community.

How to help:
United Way:
Friendship Trays:

Top: Abi Carberry, 6, crouches beside a row of produce in the friendship garden at Sterling Elementary. Photo courtesy of Barrie Terrell, United Way of Central Carolinas.
Bottom: - Abi Carberry, 6, and Avery Taylor, 5, help clean up the friendship garden at Sterling Elementary.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Pennies add up to make change

We might often throw the loose coins in our pockets into a drawer or jar at home to collect dust. It's easy to forget that those coins can add up - can even make a difference in someone's life.

Student participants in the YWCA Youth Learning Centers in Charlotte collected their spare change and created the Pennies for CHANGE program.

The drive was held at the 10 Youth Learning Center sites in at-risk neighborhoods across the county. As a result of the program, the students collected $200 in pennies for United Way of Central Carolinas.

Participants told the United Way that they collected pennies by doing laundry, helping with odd jobs around the house and washing the dishes. They also kept their eyes peeled for loose change while walking in parking lots and looking in between sofa cushions.

So instead of taking the spare coins out of your pocket at the end of the day and tossing them into a crowded drawer, send it to the United Way and let someone in need benefit from your change.

Above photo: YWCA Tuckaseegee Learning Center participants fifth grader Jada Ford (left), YWCA Program Site Director Christina Bellamy, second grader Mikayla Smalls and second grader Jyell Patterson (right), collect pennies for United Way. Photo courtesy of Jerri Haigler.

How to help:

Friday, November 25, 2011

Young professionals give thanks by helping those in need

Every day, thousands in the community are left struggling to survive. Some go without food, while others live without sufficient clothing or shelter from the elements.

With the holidays in full swing, young professionals from the Charlotte area are helping to ease the pain of those in need by participating in the United Way Young Leaders' Week to help fight hunger.

From Nov. 7-14, the group of 74 young professional volunteers supported seven agencies, dedicated more than 160 hours of time and served about 1,000 people. In a week's time, the volunteers also donated 580 pounds of food to Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina.

The goal of the weeklong service project was to generate awareness about the issue of hunger.

Organizations that benefited included the Salvation Army’s Center of Hope, Crisis Assistance Ministry, The Relatives, Florence Crittenton Services, the Men’s Shelter of Charlotte, the Friendship Gardens and Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina.

In your backyard:

• There are 106,865 individuals living at or below the poverty level. This represents 12 percent of the population.

• There are 6,129 individuals 65 years and older living at or below the poverty level. This represents 8 percent of the older adult population.

• There are 37,057 children living at or below the poverty level. This represents 16 percent of the child population.

Source: Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina

How you can help:

Monday, November 21, 2011

Enjoy an evening of music at youth symphony

Nearly 200 young musicians will bring together their talents to produce an annual fall concert at 7:30 p.m. tonight at Central Piedmont Community College's Halton Theater.

The Charlotte Symphony Youth Orchestras will perform works featuring Sergei Prokofiev’s "Peter and the Wolf," which will be narrated by trombonist Thomas Burge. Other works highlighted will be those of Bizet and Elgar.

The orchestra is comprised of the Charlotte Symphony Youth Orchestra, which caters to youth grades 8-12, and the Junior Youth Orchestra, which is open to grades 4-9.

The group is directed by Dr. Ernest Pereira, a violinist in the Charlotte Symphony.

Members of the youth symphony work closely with those in the Charlotte Symphony to develop their talents through monthly coaching sessions.

To attend tonight's event, visit CPCC's website. Tickets are $8 for adults and $6 for seniors and students. Tickets can also be purchased at the door, or in advance by calling the Charlotte Symphony ticket office at 704-972-2000.

Learn more:
More information regarding the Charlotte Symphony Youth Orchestra, visit
For more on the Charlotte Symphony, visit

Friday, November 18, 2011

High schools battle each other to end hunger

For the past six weeks, 16 area high schools have been scrambling to collect as many non-perishable food items as possible for the second annual Charlotte Student Hunger Drive.

The schools have been competing in various events, like a Fast Feet shopping spree sponsored by Food Lion, to see who can gather the most total weight in food to be donated to Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina.

Totals were announced at the Second Annual Charlotte Student Hunger Drive on Wednesday night at the Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina - where the drive originally kicked off. Together, the schools collected 86,023 pounds of food worth more than $196,000.

For the year, this was an increase of 77 percent, said Natalie Jenkins, executive director of the Charlotte Student Hunger Drive.

Winners of the 2011 Charlotte Student Hunger Drive:

Most Pounds Per Student: 1st Place ($2,500 award) – Cannon High School with 10.49 lbs per student 2nd Place ($1,000 award) – Hickory Ridge High School with 8.52 lbs per student Most Improved ($500 award) – Garinger High School with a 206 percent increase, collecting more than 2,010 pounds.

Food Lion Student MVP Award: Given to a student who went above and beyond in their leadership during the Student Hunger Drive. The Food Lion MVP Award, a $250 Scholarship, was given to Nation Ford High School junior Forrest Holloman of Fort Mill.

Snyders-Lance Freshest Idea Award: Given to the school with the most creative collection event of the Student Hunger Drive. 1st Place ($500 award) – East Mecklenburg High School

Awards of $100 were given to schools that collected over 5,000 pounds: Ardrey Kell High School; Charlotte Catholic High School; Olympic High School; Providence High School; Hickory Ridge High School, Fort Mill High School, Nation Ford High School, and East Mecklenburg High School

Congratulations to all high schools who contributed to the success of the drive: Ardrey Kell; Butler; Central Cabarrus; Cannon; Charlotte Catholic; East Mecklenburg; Fort Mill; Leadership & Public Service High School at Garinger; Harding University High; Hickory Ridge; Myers Park; Nation Ford; Olympic; Philip O. Berry Academy; Providence; Rocky River and South Mecklenburg.

Learn more:

For more information on the Student Hunger Drive, visit

Do you know a Young Achiever? If you know (or are!) someone you think has an inspiring story, email me at or call 704-358-6043.

-Photo by Adam Jennings

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Teen overcomes peer pressure to succeed in life

Sometimes success is as simple as being a positive light in a friend's life - encouraging them to withstand the peer pressure of gang involvement and to stay in school.

It's not defined by the amount of AP courses taken in a semester or the number of academic clubs one participates in after school.

I was out on assignment last week to interview two kids at West Mecklenburg High when I was introduced to Noah Propst, 16, a sophomore at the school.

For Noah, success is just that, he told me - being a positive influence in high school.

He says he began high school on the wrong foot. His freshman year he started to see the new amount of peer pressure that came along with high school and he wasn't focused on making good grades.

"A lot of times I felt like dropping out, but I didn't want to give up on myself," Noah said.

That all changed when he realized how negative behavior would cripple his future and limit his abilities to go to college and find a stable career.

Noah said he shifted his focus completely his sophomore year, began doing his homework right after school and enrolling in a technology club at school called "Our Voices."

"Noah is a great example of a student who stands out quietly," said Stephen Gibson, "Our Voices" advisor. "I have a tremendous amount of respect for him."

Now a sophomore, Noah turns in all of his work on time and makes all A's, Gibson said.

While in school, Noah said his favorite class is biology because he enjoys learning about different molecules. It is his goal to attend college and to possibly study about the automotive industry.

He says he is now trying to be an encouraging example to others in school who are involved in gang activity and may not have dreams of a better future.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Learning to make Mondays count

Let's face it, Mondays are always the hardest days to get motivated.

We drag ourselves out of bed and typically need several cups of coffee in order to be productive.

But while I was out reporting one day, I came across an idea being implemented in Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools that makes Mondays count for more than just another start to the work week.

CMS schools are "Making Mondays Count." Their new anti-bullying program called just that, "Making Mondays Count," is centered around the idea of creating a positive school climate by implementing character building and bully-harassment prevention initiatives.

Each Monday of every month, there is a new theme that is promoted district-wide that relates to calendar observances and the idea of a positive school climate. Each week in the month has a new focus centered around the overall theme.

This month's theme: Unity with a Focused Intention.

The purpose of this month's theme is to unite and rally schools, communities and families to give thanks and support to those around them.

On Nov. 14, the focus will be: Treat the Homeless with Dignity.

Students will learn how to aid those who are less fortunate in the community and treat others with respect.

So instead of begrudgingly starting another Monday, make your Mondays count for something more and do a little good - just like these kids are doing.

Upcoming focuses:
Nov. 21: What Matters Most. This topic focuses on continuing to love, support and accept one another.
Nov. 28: Write a Note of Gratitude. This week, students will write thank you cards to those who have impacted their lives.

Program observances this month:
• Thanksgiving
• Eid-ul-Adha
• Birth of Baha’u’llah
• Alzheimers disease awareness
• Veterans Day
• Recycle day
• World freedom day
• American Indian heritage Month
• Military Family month
• Hospice Month
• Adoption Month
• Family Caregivers month
• Diabetes month

For more information about anti-bullying programs like "Making Mondays Count," email

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Child fights blindness with community support

Derek Wynne has been legally blind since he was 18 months old.

He was born with a genetic retinal disease that progressively robs his vision, said his mother, Anita Wynne.

Derek, now 11 and a sixth-grader at Metrolina Christian Academy, is helping fight diseases that cause blindness by participating in the 5th Annual Charlotte 5K VisionWalk.

His team, called "Derek's Dream Team," consists of about 23 members.

This is the family's fifth year participating in the event following their move from New Jersey to Charlotte in 2006, Anita Wynne said. Each year, they try to have a different team name.

"This is the only hope we have right now for this research," Anita Wynne said about the walk.

To fundraise for the event, Derek sells vision bracelets and chocolate covered pretzels to family and friends. He leaves for school with six bracelets on each arm and comes home with none, his mom said.

"It's a good time to have everybody get together and donate," Derek said.

Aside from participating in the walk, Derek also had the opportunity to join in on Dining in the Dark, another event that benefits sight-saving research.

At the event, Derek presented the foundation's Visionary Award to his role model, NASCAR driver Richard Petty.

"It felt really good inside" to meet Richard Petty, he said.

As for advice to children who may be struggling with vision impairment, Derek says, "Try your hardest and don't overwhelm yourself."

How to help:
5th Annual Charlotte 5K VisionWalk
When: Nov. 12
Time: Registration begins at 9 a.m. and the walk starts at 10 a.m.
Where:Freedom Park
1900 East Blvd.
What: Hundreds are expected to gather to walk to fight blinding diseases like macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa, which affect more than 10 million Americans. VisionWalk aims to raise $65,000 for blindness research.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Saving the planet at a young age

Save the planet? No problem.

Two Ranson Middle School students are tackling environmental issues one recycle bin at a time.

Jaylen Sifford and Narciso DeLabra, both sixth grade students at Ranson, approached their guidance counselor, Lasonya Frazier, three weeks ago about starting a recycling program at the school.

Both students, who recycle at home, noticed their middle school did not have a recycling program. So with the help of Frazier, the school is in the process of setting up about 16 recycling bins throughout the building.

Jaylen and Narciso, along with other recruited students, will visit each classroom on a routine basis to collect paper to be recycled, Frazier said.

"To have the diligence to ask adults about a program that is lacking takes a lot of courage," Frazier said. "I think it's wonderful and they are thinking outside of the box."

Narciso is also contributing to a beautification project in his neighborhood. As a part of the beautification project, he helps pick up trash and also spends time doing chores for elderly individuals in the area.

As for Jaylen, he began recycling at home and hopes to save the environment and protect the planet with his efforts, Frazier said.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Calling all young writers to express yourself

Last Sunday, I took a seat on a maroon theater chair in Spirit Square, waiting to hear young poets take the small stage for a poetry slam.

To be honest, I didn't know what kind of material I would hear from the young poets. I admit that I was expecting topics centered around love, school, sports and family. And I definitely got that, but there was no fluff.

Young artists spilled out rhymes of loneliness, finding love, the economy, suicide and war. Their words were thought provoking and their delivery was passionate.

After being inspired by so many talented youth that night, I went on a search to find more opportunities for young writers in the area.

Here's what I found:

Collegiate Slam
What:1st Annual Carolina Collegiate Slam with Duke University, UNC Charlotte, UNC Chapel Hill, UNC Greensboro, Johnson C. Smith University, and North Carolina A&T
When: Nov. 5.
Time: 8 p.m.
Where: Davidson College in Davidson, Duke Family Performance Hall in the Alvarez Union at 8 p.m.
Cost: Admission for students is free with IDs and non-students cost $3.
More info:
Email or call 501-993-8532.

Speak Up Youth Poetry Slam
Where: Duke Energy Theater at Spirit Square
345 N. College St.
Charlotte, N.C., 28202
When: Nov. 20
Time: 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Cost: $5
Sign up: The list opens up at 5:30 p.m. on Sunday.
More info: Contact Ed Mabrey at, or call 704-301-5132.

The Cankerworm
Where: Crossroads Charlotte at UNC Charlotte
What: A free evening of storytelling. The event is inspired by the Levine Museum's Courage exhibit and pays homage to New York City-based nonprofit, The Moth, which is dedicated to the art of storytelling.
When: Nov. 30
7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
More info: Interested individuals can contact Arissa El-Amin at for details. Email subject lines should include "Cankerworm."

Friday, October 28, 2011

West Meck club hones in on student talent

It's no secret that technology is seeping into every aspect of our world. Those who don't learn it and embrace it will eventually fall behind to a younger generation who has consumed it since birth.

Today, kids at West Mecklenburg High school are blogging, shooting and editing video, writing articles for a searchable database and broadcasting on the radio.

They are part of a unique club at the school called Our Voices. The club aims to teach students how to use their talents to build credibility as an expert by writing for Students also post videos to YouTube and broadcast on, said Stephen Gibson, the club's adviser.

The mission is to help students find a career path that monetizes what they love to do.

Throughout the year, the club follows the format of Brendon Burchard's Experts Academy, which teaches individuals how to become experts and leaders in their communities. Then, each West Meck student involved in the club aims to create a total of 10 accepted articles for Once they have 10 submissions accepted, they reach "expert status" on the site.

The club meets from 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. each Tuesday and Thursday, and there are six teachers who provide aid.

Learn more about these Young Achievers on their YouTube page.

Continue to follow Young Achievers and look for a profile soon on the club's president, Sperots "Sam" Bon Jrang.

And in the meantime, if you know (or are!) someone you think has an inspiring story, email me at or call 704-358-6043.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

High school student shares tips to running a business

Need to learn how to fix a computer or run your own website business?
No problem, I've found your guy - Yash Mori, a 16-year-old junior at Phillip O. Berry Academy of Technology.
Yash has started his own website business called Simplx Design, runs the school’s video production club, is a member of JROTC and student council and is a student ambassador. He has taken home first place in a national digital production competition and even fixed his first computer at age 12.
This week, he gives young technology entrepreneurs advice on how to be successful:

Where to start: "I was just really involved in online blogging and social media is a big thing. If they’re involved in Facebook, start making YouTube videos, podcasts and blogging. Simple stuff like this and it’s all for free. It’s not like (kids) would have to go buy hardware."

Challenges: "In technology, the main challenge we face is commitment with clients. Time constraints and time management is the most difficult with technology because anything could go wrong. Two things I’ve struggled with in the past with technology are hardware. If certain hardware doesn’t match, it could mess up another piece of hardware. And programming-wise, if I miss an upper case or lower case letter, it could mess up my whole program. Be very observant in what you’re doing in technology."

Motto he lives by: "Do really what you want and your passion. In this business, I do what I love. I go out, meet people and network because that’s what I love, even if I’m not making money right now. Keep going, never stop."

Advice on failure: "I have this theory for college. I want to apply to Harvard, Yale, all of these Ivy league schools. If I get a rejection letter, I want to take that rejection letter and frame it and if I become rich or famous, or give a speech there, I want to take the letter and say, here’s my rejection letter."

Greatest life obstacle: "Maturing and getting responsibility and realizing that I do need to step up. I need to be a leader. In the business, when I’m trying to step up, I get called out, 'you’re only 16 and you’re running a business, we don’t trust you.' It’s really difficult getting their trust. In the website business, I could get an advance. Most of the time, I don’t get an advance, it’s at my own risk. I invest my own money, then the client can decide they don’t want to do it anymore. There are drawbacks. I just let it go and keep moving forward. You have to expect that."

Advice to kids: "Relax and calm yourself down. Even if you go to community college, you’re still going to be successful. It doesn’t matter where you go, it’s what you want to do with your life and how you’re going to execute your life."

Continue to read about Yash on the Young Achievers page.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Slam poet overcomes dyslexia

The art of crafting poetry is a gift that does not come easily. It takes time, inspiration and the ability to use words as a sharp tool.

But for the creative mind of Vadoll Byars, a junior at West Mecklenburg High School, expressing himself through slam poetry flows naturally.

Poetry hasn't always been Vadoll's passion. In fact, writing is a daily struggle and is often frustrating, because, he said, he is dyslexic. He has difficulties spelling words, he said, but that doesn't stop him from getting his feelings across - he lets his pen flow.

Vadoll went to a slam poetry event for the first time last fall and performed in front of a crowd of about 40 people, he said. That night, he took home third place for his work.

He will be performing at his second slam poetry event Sunday at Spirit Square uptown; it runs from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Continue to check the Young Achievers section for an upcoming story on Vadoll.

The event:
Speak Up Youth Poetry Slam
Where: Duke Energy Theater at Spirit Square
345 N. College St.
Charlotte, N.C., 28202
When: Oct. 23
Time: 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Sign up: The list opens up at 5:30 p.m. on Sunday.
More info: Contact Ed Mabrey at, or call 704-301-5132.

Event requirements:
The event is open to the first 10 poets who sign up. Participants must be 13-19 years old.
The competition is a three-round slam with eliminations after every round. Scores from each round will be added together to determine a winner. A cash prize will be given to the top three poets at the end of the third round.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Giving for the sake of giving

Giving for the sake of giving - what a refreshing concept.

This was my first thought when I came across a group called Papergirl, which opened my eyes to the kindness of others.

The mission behind the program is a selfless one. It's aimed at spreading art and the art of giving.

How it works:
Original art is donated by area artists to Papergirl. The rules are simple - there are no guidelines to the format or quantity of art donated. Prints, drawings, photography, it's all welcomed. The program only requests that the art be able to be rolled up for easy distribution.

Once the art is collected, it is shown in a local gallery, then taken down to be distributed by bicycle to people on the streets for free. This year, it was displayed in Pura Vida Worldly Art, in NoDa.

All of the donated art is then rolled up with a band that describes what Papergirl is, and is transported to uptown to spread the gift of art. Each roll contains a unique combination of artwork.

The whole thought is almost like a pay it forward concept - which is brilliant.

While the idea of Papergirl originated in Berlin in 2006, Charlotte's branch was established in 2009 by by former Providence High student, Katy Nolan, now 21.

"Papergirl is a community-centered project about bringing people together," Nolan said. "We collected art for four months and met at Amelie's in NoDa once a week to make art in the atrium."

This year, the group passed about about 350 pieces of art to passersby, Nolan said.

"It's art for art's sake," Nolan said.

For more information, check out their Facebook page, Papergirl- Charlotte, or their blogspot at You can also email the organization at

To donate to the Papergirl project, send your artwork to:

103 Dallas St.
Huntersville, N.C., 28078

Friday, October 14, 2011

Family crosses oceans to make difference in world

Take a moment to imagine working alongside elephants in Thailand, standing in awe of St. Basil's Cathedral in Russia, caring for an orphan child in China, or aiding monks in India.

While many of us will never be able to take quite such a journey in our lifetimes, those visions are becoming a reality for Jackson Lewis at a young age.

Jackson, 14, a student at Northwest School of The Arts, is traveling the world with his father, J.D. Lewis, and brother, Buck Lewis, in a mission called "Twelve in Twelve."

The concept is simple - travel to 12 countries in 12 months, helping people in any way possible along the way. At each stop, the family volunteers at a variety of organizations.

During the journey, Jackson is documenting his experiences with a video and blog, available to middle and high schools across the country.

So far, Jackson told me his favorite country on the excursion has been India.

"It's been amazing to see the Dalai Lama and to work with ex-prisoners of Tibet who are now refugees here in McLeod Ganj," Jackson said. "The Indian people are beautiful and friendly and the food is amazing. It's a very spiritual place. I can't believe I'm actually in the foothills of the Himalayas."

Jackson took the time while in India to answer a few questions for our Young Achievers audience:

Q:To be considered wise, what must you know?
How to treat people, how to treat the planet and the environment and to have compassion for others. To be considered wise you have to learn how to treat people with respect.

Q:What is a motto you tend to live by?
That we should treat everyone on the earth as part of our family. Also, that it's really cool to help people, it makes you feel good.

Q:What character trait of yours was most responsible for your success?
That fact that I care about people and I'm not afraid of working hard. Also that I like to learn about new things.

Q:What's the best thing to say when you walk into a room full of people you don't know?
Hi! (Of course, in their own language. We try and learn "please," "thank you" and "how are you?" in the language of the country we are heading to.) Also smiling is the thing that people like the most.

Q:What advice would you give to kids who want to help others in the community?
Start in your own town. Research local charities in your area. Or talk to your parents. There is help needed everywhere. In your own backyard or across the world.

To follow Jackson's family on their trip around the world, visit Twelve in Twelve online.

Continue to follow Young Achievers for a complete story on Jackson and his travels.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Good news? We've got it!

I hear it all the time, the classic "why is there never good news?"

My answer: Actually, we report good news all the time. For me, it has been my sole duty as a reporter these last few months to discover inspiring stories of youth.

My latest good news find - Olwyn Bartis, a 10-year-old fifth-grader from St. Patrick Catholic School.

Olwyn was one of about 200 students involved in a joint garden project with St. Patrick Catholic and Brookstone Schools. The farm-to-fork experience helped teach children how to plant, grow and harvest a garden, along with the importance of eating fresh produce.

On a garden harvest day in September, many of the kids told me they learned about nutrition, most saying they cut back of the amount of candy they consume.

But for Olwyn, the concept of eating healthy is something she must stress in her life. She has diabetes.

“I started to eat healthier after (the garden) because I wanted to grow up to be healthier,” she said. “If I eat too much sugar, (my blood sugar) can get really high. I have sweets, but in my lunch I don’t have a gazillion treats in there, they’re occasionally.”

She said the most rewarding experience about working in the garden was getting to enjoy the produce she grew in new, tasty dishes.

"It felt (more) fun because you actually got to raise the plants yourself and you didn’t have someone raising them for you," Olwyn said. "And they tasted better because they weren’t bunched in with a bunch of other plants."

Today, Olwyn is taking the skills she learned from gardening at school and helping her family implement the concept at home.

"My family wanted to start a garden, so I gave them some tips on how to do that," she said. "They are just getting started and organizing."

Olwyn and some of her classmates will share the secrets of creating a successful garden in an upcoming issue of Young Achievers.

So keep searching for good news. There's plenty to be found in the Young Achievers section!

Have someone in mind who fits the Young Achievers mold? Email me at, or call 704-358-6043.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Teens spend time 'Playing For Others'

School, sports, clubs, part-time jobs, it can all get a bit mundane for the teenager who tries to tackle it all.

But no need to worry, I've found a nonprofit that will take the routine out of the school day and spice it up with a little song and dance.

It's called Playing for Others, a nonprofit centered around teens passionate about the arts and community service. It focuses on three main components: committee work, buddy program and the arts experience, said founder Jen Band.

During the nine-month program, 70 teens pair with about 35 “buddies” from other local nonprofits that aid children with disabilities and attend monthly buddy events.

The teens wrap up the year at the end of April with an Arts Festival that showcases their months of hard work.

"The (original) idea (for Playing for Others) was, 'Let’s raise money for somebody else and let’s use theater to do that'," Band said. "So once it finished the first year it was awesome, we donated $22,000, and then all of a sudden the teens and the parents were like, ‘You’re doing it again, right?’"

Since then, Playing for Others has seen tremendous growth, with participating teens this year representing 19 different schools. You can find out more at an open house 6-8 p.m. Oct. 15 at Whitehead Manor, 5901 Sardis Road.

Look for an upcoming story in the Observer about Playing for Others, including teen co-presidents, Daniel Morrice and Kaitlin Wightman-Ausman. The two will share their experiences about working with the organization since it first began in 2006.

How you can get involved:

Teens in grades 8-12 interested in applying for Playing for Others for next year can find information on, or by emailing Because of the demand, there is an application process and teens must be accepted to participate.

Want to help? Check the website or email

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Glamour profiles Morehead-Cain scholar

You expect to see Hollywood's elite starlets and the catwalk's newest supermodels in Glamour magazine.

But this month, it was Charlotte's own Amber Koonce who made her way onto those glossy pages. Koonce, who went to Providence and is now a 21-year-old senior at UNC Chapel Hill, was named one of Glamour's Top 10 College Women because of her success in academics and her charitable work in the community.

Koonce is a double major in public policy and Afro-American studies, as well as a Morehead-Cain scholar. This summer she participated in Princeton University’s public policy and international affairs junior summer institute. When she graduates, she hopes to work for UNICEF or Amnesty International.

One of her greater contributions to those in need is her work with BeautyGap, a charity she founded after a trip to Ghana in 2009. Her mission: To provide dolls of color to girls of color, in hopes of increasing self-love and self-awareness. The program aims to promote a standard of beauty that doesn't rely on Western culture ideals.

"While I was in Ghana, I saw that the dolls that were most readily accessible to the young girls throughout the country looked nothing like them and had blond hair with blue eyes," Koonce said. "I began to take pictures each time I saw a girl with a white doll to document this phenomenon."

Koonce came back to the United States and formed her charity. She said she came up with the organization's name after she learned about the concept of beauty in Africa.

"One of my African studies professors, and mentor, Dr. Waithera, taught me that throughout Africa the standard of beauty is (measured by) the gap between a woman’s front teeth," Koonce said. "(It) is known as the “beauty gap.'"

She said she learned African women are sometimes pressured by American dentists to close the gap between their teeth. Through her charity, Koonce said she hopes to promote self-love.

Most of the BeautyGap dolls are delivered to young girls in Ghanaian orphanages, while some dolls have been collected through a UNC Chapel Hill organization and delivered to a Kenyan orphanage, she said.

Koonce is currently collecting dolls for the holiday season. Donations can be made by contacting BeautyGap online.

Doll donations can be shipped to:
BeautyGap, Inc.
P.O. Box 470744
Charlotte, N.C., 28247

To read Koonce's advice to Young Achievers in the Charlotte area, visit the Young Achievers page online.

Friday, September 30, 2011

One voice can aid thousands

Often, it takes the strong voice of one to take a stand for the masses in need.

This was the case for Will Barry, a 17-year-old senior at Myers Park, who wanted to stand up for his brother, Jamie Barry, 15, who has cystic fibrosis (CF).

Cystic fibrosis “is an inherited chronic disease that affects the lungs and digestive system of about 30,000 children and adults in the United States,” according to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

Will said it is difficult for CF patients to come together to help lobby for their needs because there is a worry they can get each other more sick because of the mucus in their lungs being released.

“Cancer groups can go up (to D.C.) with hundreds of kids every year to meet politicians, diabetes groups can do it, but CF patients have never been able to do it,” Will said. “My idea was to gather together brothers, sisters, cousins, best friends of CF patients around the U.S. to go to D.C. and do it for them.”

Will said with the help of his parents, Amy and Peter Barry, who are national advocacy co-chairs, he was able to establish contacts across the nation to organize an annual trip to the capitol to lobby for CF patients.

When he was 14, he made his first trip up to Washington with his mom in hopes of speaking with politicians about the disease.

“I was realizing these people sit day in and day out with different lobbyists coming through and it’s monotonous to the point where they almost stop listening,” Will said. “But as soon as you get kids in there who are really passionate and excited, it’s almost a wake up call.”

He went on to say that the politician he was speaking with on that first trip broke down in tears as he explained to her what cystic fibrosis patients go through and what it’s like living with his brother who battles the disease every day.

This year, Will was able to organize about 50 individuals from across the nation to make the trip to D.C. and lobby for CF patients.

“I think it’s just such a great lesson for Will, our family, and anybody else out there who has a cause they feel passionately about,” Amy said of her son’s ambitions.

Look for a complete story in the Young Achievers section soon about Will and Jamie, who teach guitar lessons with friends at Alexander Graham Middle.

Also, if you know (or are!) someone you think we should write about, email me at or call 704-358-6043. In the meantime, continue to look for inspiring young people’s stories on the Young Achievers page. Link

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Young inventor sparks interest in community

In the Sept. 6 edition of Young Achievers, readers were introduced to Grant Edwards, a 17-year-old with a knack for inventing. For years, he has been taking forgotten recycled materials and turning them into useful contraptions.

In June, his creativity was awarded at the State University of New York Oswego 2011 Global Environmental Issues U.S (GENIUS) Olympiad competition. There, Grant was awarded gold and a most-innovative prize for his self-sterilizing doorknob.

The community response to Grant's story of success in creating inventions was huge. It was a pleasant surprise to come in the morning after publication and have emails from "Charlotte Today" host Colleen Odegaard, representatives of U.S. Rep. Sue Myrick, a number of readers and other television stations.

Clearly Grant's story was well-received by readers, and we want to continue to capture amazing youth in your communities.

Do you know of a young person younger than 21 in your area who has an inspiring story? We want to know! Comment on the blog with your ideas, or send them to

To check out Grant's story and learn about science fair opportunities in the area, or to read about others successful individuals, visit the Young Achievers page online.

Friday, September 23, 2011

College student sees hope in homeless

It can be easy to glance over people in the community. For Whitney Campbell, 18, a freshman at Salem College, an internship at the Federal Reserve during the summer of 2010 opened her eyes to those in need in Charlotte.

Campbell was chosen as the only high school student for an internship with the Federal Reserve through the School of International Business' Academy of Finance Apprenticeship Program. One thing she learned about during the internship was homelessness in Charlotte.

Campbell learned from an Urban Ministry employee that many in the community don't pay attention to the degree of homelessness in Charlotte. "It just opened my eyes," she said. “You drive past these places and don't realize the people who are affected... Some (homeless) people are lawyers and in this economy have lost their jobs."

Another part of the internship was completing a challenge to benefit Habitat for Humanity. "One morning we had to wake up early and sit on the roof (at the Habitat for Humanity Restore), hold up signs and have people pledge to give money. Our group had to come up with at least $1,000 to get off the roof."

During the two-month internship, Campbell helped collect $2,000 for the organization.

To read Whitney's advice to younger readers, check out Young Achievers online.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Scotty McCreery on achieving: 'You've just got to have that extra drive in you'

The secrets to success can't always be categorized, and I was eager, when I had the opportunity, to sit down with a young person with an inspiring story who could offer a little different perspective.

Talking with American Idol winner Scotty McCreery this summer, I was struck by how elated he was to offer some advice to young readers, and how much time he spent that day chatting with a little girl who seemed to be his biggest fan.

He said the most important secret to success - no matter what you want to be - is to do your research: "If you want to be a singer, study it. I read books, I read Internet blogs, I read all kinds of stuff before I even auditioned for Idol to know what I was getting into."

As for accomplishing goals: "You’ve just got to have that extra drive in you."

As a reporter, I am excited and eager to get out into your neighborhoods and uncover the success stories of young achievers like Scotty. With this blog, I encourage readers to let me know about organizations or young individuals with inspiring stories. Email me at or call 704-358-6043.

In the meantime, continue to look for inspiring stories at

(Photo by Robert Lahser of the Observer.)