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.