7 Colorado Kids Making a Difference
These young Coloradans inspire adults and kids alike, with creativity, passion, and compassion, as they tackle a wide variety of issues ranging from food insecurity to mental health.
Building a Platform for Philanthropy
Rylan Coleridge, 9, Parker
“I started volunteering when I was four years old, but I didn’t start making a big difference until I was seven,” says Rylan Coleridge, creator of #kidscanhelptoo, the hashtag she uses in conjunction with her UR Loved Project, a Facebook page publicizing volunteer opportunities for kids.
Beyond her growing social media presence, Rylan has donated hundreds of hours of service to a slew of Colorado organizations. One of her favorite hands-on volunteer experiences has involved collecting tips at a self-run hot cocoa and cider stand to buy toys during the Harry Samora Annual Toy Drive. This young do-gooder also travels across the state speaking to students and Girl Scout troops about the topic of bullying. “I also like to do simple things,” Rylan says, like making cookies to hand out at the fire department at Christmas time.
Rylan has been competing in beauty pageants since she was five, and she learned about most of her volunteer projects through peers in the local pageantry circuit. When it comes to pageants, Rylan says, “It’s about being a girl with a voice, not just a girl with a crown and a sash.” For her ongoing efforts, Rylan received the Presidential Gold Medal for Volunteer Service in 2018—and again in 2019—but all Rylan really cares about is “spreading kindness,” she says. “It doesn’t matter how old you are. Anybody can make a difference.”
Addressing Food Insecurity
Lucas and Logan Turner, 8 and 7, Lowry
Brothers Lucas and Logan Turner were toddlers when they started volunteering with Feeding Denver’s Hungry, a grassroots organization founded in 2014 by a recovering alcoholic who experienced homelessness in Denver. At ages two and three, the Turner boys stood behind their mom, Catherine Turner, and handed her homemade sandwiches to distribute to a line of hungry Denverites.
Five years later, the Turner boys’ passion for hands-on service has grown in pace with Feeding Denver’s Hungry, which expanded into a large-scale operation reaching more than 30,000 residents annually. Lucas and Logan spend one or two days a month handing out prepacked meals, provided by Food Bank of the Rockies. They work with Urban Peak, the charitable organization dedicated to helping Denver’s homeless youth. A day might not seem like a lot at first, but over five years, the brothers have donated nearly 1,000 hours of combined service to their community.
Logan loves volunteering with Feeding Denver’s Hungry because he likes “seeing people happy after they get food,” he says. Since the beginning, he and Lucas came up with the idea of supporting food insecure pets, by packaging kibble to hand out with human meals. “A lot of people who come through the line have dogs, and not many organizations focus on animals,” Logan explains.
Lucas and Logan prove that children don’t have to start their own organization to make a significant difference. “I think what would really help,” Lucas says, “is if more people realized how hard it is for the people without homes.”
Bringing Awareness to Teen Suicide
Hannah Mitchell, 19, Colorado Springs
Three years ago, Hannah Mitchell lost her best friend to suicide. “It was the hardest thing I’ve gone through,” she says. And Hannah wasn’t alone. More than a dozen students in Academy School District 20 took their lives during the 2016-17 academic year. “It became an epidemic,” Hannah says. Even though suicide prevention efforts were in place, Hannah felt she could do something herself to help.
After chatting with a peer who engaged in self-harm, Hannah and a group of four peers founded Project Reasons, a nonprofit dedicated to helping teens dealing with suicidal thoughts or feelings. Through their innovative, student-governed organization, youth board members provide valuable perspective to the broader community, speaking to adults, adolescents, and peers about suicide prevention. “We use our personal stories to raise awareness about the often-painful topic of suicide,” Hannah elaborates.
In addition to serving as a Project Reasons board member, Hannah raised more than $4,000 for her nonprofit and other mental health organizations in the state of Colorado, through two El Paso County art exhibitions she hosted in 2018 and 2019 displaying art made by students of El Paso County. Working under the theme, Reasons to Stay Alive, hundreds of Colorado teens displayed pieces of artwork keyed to current or past mental health issues.
Hannah started college at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix earlier this fall, but her nonprofit continues to flourish in Colorado. The Project Reasons founders expanded their board to include new student members who will continue advancing the organization’s mission.
Olivia Goodreau, 15, Denver
After being diagnosed with Lyme disease and five co-infections, then-second-grader Olivia Goodreau grew so sick that she needed 86 pills a day to combat her illness—all because of a single tick bite. Nine years later, she’s down to a single prescription, and, better yet, has secured a spot on her high school’s volleyball team. Olivia’s health has improved, but there is no cure for Lyme disease.
About 200 U.S. kids contract the tick-borne illness daily, and treating it is a huge financial burden on some families. Olivia heard about a mom who lived out of her car while paying for her child’s Lyme disease medication. “I realized people had it worse than I did,” she says. That realization sparked action.
Many people with Lyme disease are embarrassed to talk about their illness. Breaking the stigma, Olivia became a junior ambassador for an ALS-style social media campaign called Lyme Disease Challenge, asking supporters to help raise awareness about Lyme by posting videos of themselves taking a bite out of a lime. The challenge quickly morphed into a Facebook page, Olivia & Lyme, with more than 4,500 followers. In 2017, Olivia launched her LivLyme Foundation, and the young philanthropist has since raised more than $1 million to support scientific research, tick education, and children whose families cannot afford their Lyme disease treatment.
Nearly 500 families from all 50 states have submitted applications to LivLyme, and Olivia, a two-time Barron Prize honoree, reads them all before awarding grants worth roughly $10,000. This year, thanks to an anonymous donor, LivLyme will award 31 grants, instead of its usual 20. The foundation also provides grants to scientists conducting research on tick-borne illness, and Olivia brings together scientists and Lyme patients at an annual LivLyme Summit.
Although Olivia’s main mission is to help kids treat their illnesses, she says her motivation is to find a cure so everyone can finally get better. While waiting on a cure, Olivia focuses on prevention. Earlier this year, she launched a global tick-tracking app, TickTracker, which uses geo-location to help families avoid ticks.
Filling a Community Fitness Need
Andrew Ellis, 13, Arvada
The best social entrepreneurs are the ones who identify a gap in the market and fill it. That’s exactly what 13-year-old Andrew Ellis did.
“There wasn’t a lot happening during recess,” recalls Andrew, an eighth-grader at North Arvada Middle School. So last year, Andrew came up with the idea of turning an underutilized patch of asphalt into a welcoming park his classmates, and the surrounding community, could enjoy. As part of a middle school STEM elective, Andrew was allowed to create his own class project. He pitched the playground idea to his teacher, Erin Fichtel, and she gladly approved it.
But taking a large-scale project like a park from idea to implementation is a big undertaking. “You have to be willing to commit to the project,” Andrew says. For him, that meant using free time to survey classmates and teachers, draft designs, and apply for a grant. “You can’t be afraid to ask for help,” Andrew adds. He called on Fichtel to walk him through the process of applying for a Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) grant, a program funded through Colorado Lottery proceeds to preserve and enhance open spaces.
It took Andrew months to complete a series of essays for the grant. “Ms. Fichtel did a lot of work,” Andrew says, noting that his teacher helped him conduct focus groups that informed the park’s ultimate design.
After accepting Andrew’s grant in early 2019, GOCO awarded Andrew’s school $110,000. To unlock funding, North Arvada Middle School contributed an additional $35,000, and Jeffco Public Schools provided $35,000, for a total of $180,000. Over the summer, developers installed a ninja-warrior style obstacle course, swings, and jungle gym across a newly constructed greenspace. Now, Andrew and his peers have a place to play during recess, and it’s a community asset too: Andrew enjoys seeing neighborhood families use the playground on the weekends.
Leading Environmental Efforts
Madhvi Chittoor, 8, Arvada
Madhvi Chittoor joined the climate change movement when she was five years old, after watching a CNN documentary on pollution. “I love animals, and [the documentary] made me want to raise awareness about plastic and Styrofoam killing animals,” Madhvi explains.
With her mom, Lalitha Chittoor, Madhvi distributed paper straws to shoppers at Colorado Mills, in Lakewood, and the Arvada Centerplace Shopping Center in April of 2017. The duo returned to both shopping centers again in 2018 and 2019, handing out approximately 800 straws while raising awareness about plastic pollution in celebration of Earth Day. In November 2017, the two also founded a nonprofit organization, Madhvi4EcoEthics.
Madhvi uses her creativity to advance her eco-conscious mission. In 2017, she entered her story, “Is Plastic My Food?,” into a Jeffco Public Schools district-wide writing competition, and won. The book, which Lalitha published through Pranav Enterprises last year, earned Madhvi a letter of recognition from National Geographic.
To create awareness about polystyrene in local waterways, Madhvi built a sculpture out of Styrofoam, which was on display in the Colorado State Capitol Building. The young activist also met with former Governor John Hickenlooper and Governor Jared Polis about expanding on Earth Day by declaring April as Plastic and Styrofoam Pollution Awareness Month throughout the state of Colorado.
As a youth ambassador for the Plastic Pollution Coalition, Madhvi worked with a group of like-minded individuals from Jeffco Public Schools to host a drive to replace her school’s Styrofoam plates with a more environmentally conscious choice. This year, her school, Hackberry Hill Elementary, along with several others in the district, switched to compostable products in the cafeteria, diverting an estimated 7.6 million Styrofoam plates from local landfills annually.
READ MORE: Check out Colorado Parent‘s 2018 Colorado Kids Making a Difference.