The next time you come across a dire media story predicting the decay of today's youth, take heart. We found dozens of inspiring kids who are making a difference in their community. Some have overcome poverty or a disability, while others give their time and talents to help those in need. Many combine exceptional musical, artistic, scholastic or athletic talents with altruistic interests—and yield impressive results. Read on to meet just a few of the kids who make us go "Wow!"
- Maria Elena Grimmett loved science as a child and especially looked forward to the annual science fair at her elementary school. She was devastated to learn that the science fair wasn't offered to students after the fourth grade. Undaunted, she continued to enter local and state science fairs. For three years, she was the only student from her school to enter the State Science & Engineering Fair of Florida. Currently a high school freshman, Maria recently authored a paper on improved water treatment techniques, becoming the youngest writer to contribute to the Journal of Environmental Quality. "A great scientist needs curiosity, imagination and persistence," Maria says. "Science can solve important problems that can help people worldwide."
- Dallas Jessup turned her passion for martial arts into a worldwide revolution. At the age of 14, she was looking for a service project to complete her high school's service hours requirement. She was angry about the recent abductions and murders of two girls in her Portland community and found her cause. She decided to make a home video, Just Yell Fire, educating girls about how to fight back against sexual violence. The video, meant for the girls in her high school, went viral and became one of the 10 most downloaded videos worldwide for the year. Since then, she's produced a second movie for college-bound girls and published her first book, Young Revolutionaries Who Rock: An Insider's Guide to Saving the World One Revolution at a Time. Jessup's advice to other kids: "Ask yourself, 'What makes me angry?' and then set off to do something about it."
- Henry Miller grew up with farm animals, but when he got a beehive for his birthday, his agricultural pursuits turned entrepreneurial. Henry—no relation to the artist—initially donated most of his honey to the Foundation for the Preservation of Honeybees. He later started experimenting with gourmet honey blends and began marketing them to local stores. Today, Henry has a thriving honey business with unique flavors like Phoebe's Fireball, which is named for his sister. Henry and his bees have been featured on the television show The Young Icons, Delicious Living magazine, Today's Diet & Nutrition magazine, FOXBusiness.com and YUM Food & Fun for Kids magazine.
- Cheyanne Campo, of Queens, New York, suffers from juvenile arthritis, a painful and debilitating disease. She doesn't let it get her down, though, and she's committed to educating others about the disease. She raised $600 for the Arthritis Foundation and participated in the organization's annual walk in Manhattan. She recently completed a science fair project on juvenile arthritis to teach her classmates about the disease.
- Eli Knauer suffered from a severe speech defect and didn't start speaking until he was 4 years old. Once he started talking, though, there was no holding him back. He started a food blog when he was 9, reviewing restaurants on their kid-friendliness. Since then, the blog has been featured internationally in publications such as The Baltimore Sun and the Gourmet Live blog. Today, at age 11, Eli has decided to become a food scientist. He's at the top of his class academically and was accepted into advanced English and Social Studies programs at his school.
- Alex Shaw asked for guitar lessons for his eighth birthday. Charlene Shaw, his single mom, didn't know how she could afford them, but discovered a foundation that helps fund music lessons for underprivileged children. Alex is a prodigy guitarist, determined to follow in the footsteps of many of the great rock legends of music. He has played at such venues as New York's famous B.B. King Blues Club and Grill and the iconic club The Bitter End. Last spring, Alex was invited to play alongside the late, great saxophone legend Clarence Clemons from Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band at a music festival to benefit the Kids Cancer Foundation. Alex uses his influence to help those in need. He's raised thousands of dollars, mostly for children, and has received several awards for his charity work from local organizations.
- Jackson Young has a passion for robotics and wants to share that passion with other kids. Jackson attended his first robot camp when he was 8. The cost to attend was steep, almost too steep for his mom to finance, but Jackson loved the experience. When he was 10, he started Robots 4 Everyone, an organization that sends underprivileged children to robot camp. To raise money, Jackson participates in speaking engagements, where he speaks about the benefits of science and technology for kids. He also solicits family members, friends, community organizations and local businesses.
Impressed? These inspiring kids all seem to have a few things in common: a unique drive or talent and a supportive parent or adult who shows them the way to success.