Teen Service Award Winners Fight Illiteracy and Climate Change

An inaugural awards program from National Geographic Student Expeditions honours youth for service to their communities.

A new awards program honours teens who are making a difference in their world.

Two of three young adults taking home prizes from the National Geographic Student Expeditions Inaugural Teen Service Award are dedicated to mitigating climate change, while the grand prize winner is tackling literacy in low-income areas.

In order to enter the running for the grand prize—a National Geographic Student Expeditions Trip of their choice in summer 2017, plus a $500 college scholarship—teens had to receive a nomination from one or more of their peers. Nearly 300 nominations were submitted, with the goal of the contest to “celebrate the contributions of today’s emerging changemakers.”

One of those changemakers is 15-year-old Alexa Grabelle, the mastermind behind the nonprofit Bags of Books. As the grand prize winner, Grabelle will be joining the National Geographic Community Service Expedition to Fiji. According to Grabelle, she chose Fiji “because the community service involves working with children, the type of service work I love most!”

In recognition of her work, National Geographic’s Kids Books will also be donating 300 children’s books to Alexa’s organisation.

When asked about her aspirations, Grabelle said her ultimate life goal is “to travel the world while making a positive impact everywhere I go.”

If you are interested in joining Alexa on her quest to increase literacy rates, you can email her to receive more information about running a Bag of Books collection in your area.

Teen Service Award runner-up Delaney Reynolds, 17, of Miami, Florida, was recognised for her work with the nonprofit Sink or Swim Project. Reynolds will be receiving a $500 scholarship to put towards her college education. In her submission essay, Reynolds wrote, “Global warming presents the most important challenge that my generation will ever face.”

Reynolds’ work, which includes illustrating and publishing three environmentally focused children’s books and presenting lectures to a total of nearly 35,000 people, has culminated in a project geared towards educating and engaging her generation to help solve the climate crisis.

Reynolds’ hopes Sink or Swim will educate as many people as possible, leading to reduced reliance on fossil fuels. She hopes to turn her native Florida from “The Sunshine State” into “THE Solar State.”

If you would like to get involved with the Sink or Swim Project, you can sign up to receive her blog or follow her on social media.

Also named as a contest runner-up is 18-year-old Kaimana Idica, from Wailuka, Hawaii. Idica will also be receiving a $500 college scholarship for his contributions towards educating the public about the impact of single-use plastic waste on the environment—and eco-friendly alternatives. For the past three years, Idica has been involved in everything from beach cleanups to creating films and giving presentations at high schools, in order to give back to his community and become part of the solution.

In the future, he sees himself continuing his work with organisations such as the Maui Huliau Foundation and the Ocean Friendly Restaurants Hawaii Campaign, as well as pursuing a degree in multimedia cinema and environmental studies at Hawaii Pacific University.

Idica encourages everyone to use the power of their voice to enact change, regardless of their age.

“Connecting with and benefiting communities around the world is a key focus of National Geographic Student Expeditions, and we are thrilled to have the opportunity to recognise students across the country who are making a difference in their own communities,” said Deb Friedman, vice president for independent and specialty travel for National Geographic. “We were blown away by the nominations we received for these awards.”

Idica added, “Today our society has gotten lazy by living in a world of convenience. I cannot just look the other way and say, ‘Someone else will do it.’ There are too many people saying that already.”

Header Image: Delaney Reynolds shared her work on climate change with her peers at TEDx Miami. She is among those recognised with a new award Monday. PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

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