“If we wish to create a lasting peace we must begin with the children.” – Mahatma Gandhi
Christmas is just around the corner, and we heard that even Santa Claus is bidding adieu to coal this year. That’s right, Santa is going green, but we have it on good authority that he’s ditching coal not only to save his icy home in the North Pole, but also because there are just so many kids out doing good in the world this year.
2021 was a challenging year for kids. Despite balancing online classes, climate anxiety, and the usual challenges of growing up, children around the world showed impressive resilience, creativity, and determination. Today we’re highlighting a few of the youngest change makers we featured on The Optimist Daily in 2021. Without further ado, we present this year’s Kids on the Nice List.
The world’s youngest philanthropic author
Kate Gilman Williams was just seven years old when she went on her first safari in South Africa. When Kate returned to her home in Austin, Texas, she asked her game driver, Michelle Campbell, to be the co-author of a book she wanted to write that would detail the memorable experiences of her safari trip, while weaving in facts about the dangers that animals have to face due to poaching activity.
Today, Kate’s book, called Let’s Go On Safari, is a reality, and she also runs a podcast called Club 15. She also runs a learning lab with Microsoft that explores new technologies out there that help stop poachers and allows kids like herself to get directly involved in conservation. Read more about Kate’s amazing projects here.
Another teen author who deserves recognition is Dara McAnulty, the 16-year-old author of the award-winning Diary of a Young Naturalist. The magic of his book is that McAnulty doesn’t frighten readers with the realities of impending climate doom, nor does he deny that we are fighting a losing battle to protect the beautiful species he observes. His book discusses climate change, but the main focus is on his personal reality and the joyous moments he has in nature.
The teen whose nonprofit donated 30,000 pairs of shoes to the homeless
Lindsay, who is from Chatsworth, California, started collecting shoes in her own garage and amassed some 30 to 40 pairs from her younger twin sibling and parents that were just collecting dust.
After realizing that there were probably more families just like hers, Lindsay started a nonprofit called Shoes For Souls that has been collecting shoes and distributing them to the homeless since her humble beginnings at age 13 in 2017. So far, Lindsay and her nonprofit have collected more than 30,000 pairs of shoes. Should you want to donate to her charity, just the website here.
The teen helping his non-verbal sister communicate
Archer Calder was shocked at the prices of communication apps for non-verbal individuals, so he decided to create his own. Designed for his sister, Della, who has a rare genetic condition called Bainbridge-Ropers Syndrome, the Freespeech app is an assistive communicative application that allows people to communicate through pressing visual buttons. Read more about Archer’s app here.
The teen cycling 500 miles for climate action
Jessie Stevens is a 16-year-old climate activist who had planned on attending fringe events at COP26, however, she changed her plans when she realized how expensive a train ticket to Glasgow is from where she lives in Devon.
Instead of taking the train, Stevens arranged a protest cycle campaign to COP26 called People Pedal Power that raises awareness about costly low-carbon travel. Joining Stevens along the way were other eco-conscious cyclists. Read more about her journey here.
The young politician protecting pollinators
After learning that bees in her neighborhood were being wiped out by mosquito pesticides, 11-year-old Illinois resident Scarlett Harper didn’t hesitate to take action by launching a campaign to save them.
Not afraid of bees or asking lawmakers to support a bill protecting the vital pollinators, Harper started a campaign to restrict the use of pesticides that can hurt them. After calling up lawmakers to ask them to join the fight, Harper was able to secure 22 co-sponsors — and so the “Bee Bill,” officially known as Illinois HB 3118, came into being. Read more about the bill here.
The creative Seine saver
The famous Seine river runs through Paris, but although this inspiring waterway is key to the city’s history and culture, it hides some less beautiful waste below its surface. Fortunately, there is one young Parisienne that decided that he could not sit by and do nothing while the river suffers under the weight of human-generated pollution.
On any given Saturday, 11-year-old Rafael Marinho and his father can be found on the banks of the famous river, pulling out an assortment of metal waste. Using a powerful magnet, the father son duo has dragged almost 20 tons of discarded metal from the water and even created a pop-up museum to showcase some of their best finds. You can learn more about the project on Instagram.
The teen bringing the magic of movies to deaf viewers
For deaf viewers, open captioning makes movies and television more accessible, but for younger viewers who cannot
read very quickly, subtitles aren’t very helpful. Fortunately, a new app, developed by 17-year-old student Mariella Satow, is making children’s movies more accessible with sign language versions.
The app, called SignUp, is also available as a Google Chrome extension and includes an interpreter in a box alongside six Disney+ classics like Frozen, Moana, and The Incredibles. After overwhelmingly positive feedback from parents, Satow plans to add more titles soon. You can read more about SignUp here and listen to our exclusive interview with Mariella on our podcast!
The teen inventor bringing solar power to street vendors
It’s not uncommon to see ironing vendor carts in the streets of Indian cities. These carts offer quick and affordable ironing services, but their irons are often powered by charcoal, creating air pollution issues. To address this situation, Vinisha Umashankar, a clever 14-year-old student from Tamil Nadu, created a mobile ironing cart that runs off solar power, and got herself nominated for an Earthshot prize.
The cart, called Iron-Max, uses rooftop solar panels to capture energy from India’s 300 sunny days per year. That energy is then used or stored in the cart’s battery for later use. When it’s dark out or the sun isn’t shining, the cart operates off the battery which can store six hours of iron power. Umashankar’s cart highlights the role innovative engineering plays in solving practical issues with designs that also support traditional livelihoods. Read more about her ingenious invention here.
The teen inspiring accessibility in sneakers
Nike’s new Go FlyEase is colorful and unique, but most importantly, it has an “easy on, easy off” hands-free design, making it accommodating for a wider range of customers.
The shoe was in part inspired by Matthew Walzer, a teenager with cerebral palsy who wrote a letter to Nike in 2012 detailing how he could dress himself independently, but still needed his parents’ help to tie his shoes. Walzer asked the shoe company to come up with a design so that everyone could wear their sneakers.
Nine years later, the shoe is a reality, and the design features a tension band that snaps into place once the wearer puts their foot in the shoe. To take the shoe off, the wearer simply steps on the heel to release tension. Read more about the shoe here.
The teens using TikTok for good
This story isn’t about one kid, but rather the TikTok generation in general. Last year, the Canadian Women’s Foundation introduced a hand gesture that is meant to communicate a plea for help due to a violent home environment. The gesture was widely circulated on TikTok and recently, the hand signal proved crucial in the rescue of a missing 16-year-old girl who had been kidnapped by an older man. Read more about this amazing use of social media for good here.
When we interview guests on The Optimist Daily Update, we always ask what is making them optimistic at the moment. Over and over again we hear that the youth of today are the driving force behind optimism in older generations. These stories of kids doing good make it clear why children give us hope for the future.
If you’re a parent, teacher, or friend of a kid and looking for ways to encourage their creativity and activism, we encourage you to check out these resources on helping your teen find purpose, the rise of climate careers, and the value of Model UN programs.
These are just a few of the amazing kids taking action for the good of the world this year. If you’re a parent or educator who knows of an amazing teen doing work in your community, please share their story with us at email@example.com.