Meet our ninth annual 20 Under 20 honorees. We asked public and private schools along with service organizations and the general public to nominate students who have been active volunteers in their communities.  As in previous years, we are astounded at how much time and effort these students put into their volunteer work. Thousands of hours, traveling to other countries, creating nonprofit organizations and mentoring other students are hallmarks of their service. This year, you will find three third graders – yes, third graders! – who lead an organization that helps the homeless; two friends who created a summer camp for underprivileged kids in Brazil; and a young woman moved by her grandmother’s death to found a nonprofit to help those with severe disabilities in Jamaica. We also received the most nominations since we began the 20 Under 20 project, which meant picking the honorees was incredibly difficult. So much so, that we also selected 17 runners-up because we felt their service also deserved recognition. We hope these uplifting stories will inspire you to give back to the community. And thank you to the businesses and schools whose advertising support makes this section possible every year.

Sydney Stepney, 17
Benjamin E. Mays High School
Sydney became the first recipient of the Governor’s Honors Scholarship for Mays High School in a core area of study in Agriculture Science. Because of Sydney’s science project, which proved that greenhouse aquaponics is nutritionally and environmentally superior to other forms of plant growth, Mays High School was able to grow herbs to serve in recipes at all Atlanta Public Schools cafeterias. Sydney is also District Student Wellness Ambassador for Atlanta Public Schools, the spokeswoman for the Mays High Urban Agriculture Club, and is a young entrepreneur, creating her own business called Kole’s Bowtique in which she designs and creates hair bows, cheer bows, and bow ties. Sydney is pictured at right with APS Superintendent Meria Carstarphen.

Alexandra ‘Allie’ Schneider, 18
Grady High School
A talented writer, visual artist and dancer, Allie has taken her passions and used them to give back to her school and the community. She served as managing editor for the acclaimed school newspaper, The Southerner, and she led an effort to get the first dance class on the curriculum at Grady. When there was no money for a staff dance instructor, Allie worked with a faculty facilitator to teach the class as a dance instructor herself for the full year. “While most of my students may not continue with dance, my year as an instructor made me value the small gains. I think affecting even just a few students means I’ve made a difference in my school,” she says. Allie also gives back to the community through the Grady Educational Enhancement Club, where she provides peer tutoring and essay reading services, at Fernbank Museum of Natural History, and the Callanwolde Fine Arts Center and Dance Foundry, participating in free community dance performances and fundraisers for the arts.

Jasper Reschauer, 17
Atlanta International School
Djourdan Gomes-Johnson, 16
Grady High School
Jasper and Djourdan created a summer camp program using Ultimate Frisbee as a way to motivate and inspire physical fitness in underprivileged children in rural Brazil. The friends have been busy raising money to expand the program this summer. Djourdan says: “This summer camp has blossomed from just a plan on paper into an achievable goal that is backed by a legitimate nonprofit foundation. Thanks to the support of the people who believe in our cause and trust our ability to make this dream of ours into something real, we have acquired a third of the $7,000 we need and are ever so close to achieving and spreading our dreams.” If you would like to contribute to the summer camp, visit or The young men have also volunteered at Habitat for Humanity Re-Store and the Atlanta Humane Society, among others.

John Arnold, 18
Holy Spirit Preparatory School
In the summer of 2015, John created a sandwich ministry to serve lunches to poor children in the South Fulton area of Atlanta who would normally rely on lunches supplied by the public school system. He brought together his friends and classmates every Thursday night to prepare the lunches, and then Friday mornings he would deliver the lunches to the children enrolled in the summer sandwich program known as Smart Lunch Smart Kid. “I created my summer sandwich ministry so that my school community could work with me to fight hunger on a grander scale,” John says. “I am so grateful I had the opportunity to found and coordinate this sandwich ministry through my school because by the end of the summer my classmates and friends enabled me to produce and distribute almost 3,000 lunches to the children in the Smart Lunch Smart Kid program.”

Chris Parsons, 17
North Atlanta High School
Chris’ community service has focused on helping the homeless, including overnight volunteering at the Central Night Shelter in Downtown and assisting the cooks and staff to serve meals at the St. Francis Table soup kitchen. He also volunteered at the Atlanta Community Food Bank, Buckhead Christian Ministries, electronics recycling with St. James United Methodist Church and the Ronald McDonald House. He has worked with the Museum of Design Atlanta, helping teach kids (including those with special needs) computer gaming and programming. Chris says one of his most memorable moments was getting to know the men at the Central Night Shelter. “I watched a football game and talked sports with them and then helped to make sack lunches for those going out the next day,” he says.

Christopher McCrary Jr., 15
Charles Drew Charter High School
The YMCA of Metro Atlanta awarded Christopher McCrary Jr., member of the East Lake Family YMCA, with the 2016 Teen Leader of the Year award during the 31st annual Y-CEO Golf Invitational last October. McCrary has been involved with the Y since 2011, serving on the Teen Board, Volunteer Club, Young Men’s Leadership Academy, and Global Service Leadership program at the East Lake Youth and Teen Development Center, which is a part of the YMCA. Chris, a 10th grader, received the Wharton Scholarship for his service as a member of the YMCA Teen Advisory Board, Young Men’s Leadership Academy, and East Lake Teen Volunteer Club. Chris was also a Leader in Training at YMCA Camp High Harbour last summer. Chris has raised more than $2,500 for the Y’s Global Service Leadership Program and had the opportunity to participate in YMCA service trips to Costa Rica and South Africa. “The Y has exposed me to so many different experiences and has given me the opportunity to see things I wouldn’t have been able to see otherwise. The Y has shown me different leadership styles, and has introduced me to not only Y leaders, but also business and community leaders throughout Atlanta.”

Lyric Hawkins, 18
KIPP Atlanta Collegiate High School
Lyric is the founding student and reigning president of her school’s first community service club, KAC Cares. She has sponsored numerous community service projects including toy drives, homeless shelter drives, and toiletry drives. She is currently working on a basketball tournament and benefit concert to raise awareness of three issues: human trafficking, mental illness, and police brutality in the black community. Lyric is also planning a prom dress drive in the spring and has already started soliciting donations for this event. Lyric says: “Community service is the most essential part of my life because of my individual story. Coming from a low-income family, I know first-hand the feeling of going without. That feeling of emptiness is the driving force behind my desire to give back to people that are just like me.”

Hayley Bird, 17
Decatur High School
Haley has volunteered for Project Open Hand, Kashi International, Hands on Atlanta and, at age 8, began spending time with the elderly through the senior ministry at her church. As a young entrepreneur, Haley created her own soup company, making the soup from scratch, marketing and delivering it. She is currently working on a project to make quilts for the homeless. After college, where she wants to study public health, she wants to be in the Peace Corps and eventually work for the United Nations. “I want to be a part of improving people’s lives around the globe. I don’t desire to make money; I need to make change. There isn’t enough of that in the world.”

Vernard Kennedy Jr., 18
New Schools at Carver
The son of Vernard Kennedy Sr. and Tezra Holmes, the Carver senior has dedicated himself to solving the negative perception of Black males in Atlanta. As a L.E.A.D. (Launch, Expose, Advise, Direct) Ambassador, Vernard works with the nonprofit to empower at-risk students. He has completed over 300 hours of service to community since the 9th grade. Vernard said working on L.E.A.D.’s annual Celebrity Baseball Tournament at Turner Field was a memorable moment. “It was great to learn more about baseball as a kid and now I have the responsibility of facilitating the event and teaching the kids. It shows me that when you have an opportunity you have to come back and share it with the youth like it was passed to you. It definitely brings back memories, because that was when baseball started for me. If it wasn’t for that clinic, I don’t think I would have had the opportunity to become a L.E.A.D. Ambassador and to receive the various opportunities that I presently have.”

Reed Stewart, 18
Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School
The daughter of Jan and Lever Stewart, Reed has volunteered with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), Horizons Atlanta, Camp Kudzu, Rustic Pathways, Jubilee Kids Inc., Childspring International and Forging Futures. Reed says: “One of my most memorable moments while volunteering for the diabetes community is seeing the impact these organizations have on kids from all over Georgia. I love watching a camper give insulin or count carbs for the first time on their own, or to see a HIES student smile because so many people in their community came out to support them at the JDRF Walk. Whether it is watching a child in Haiti create a piece of art for the first time or a Horizons student swim on their own after a summer of hard work, it’s the small impact you have made on even just one person that is the best part about volunteering.”

Rosalie ‘Rose’ Karlin, 18
The Weber School
A senior at The Weber School, Rose has volunteered with a dozen local nonprofits including the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PCAN), Anti-Defamation League, Atlanta Community Food Bank, Genesis Homeless Shelter and with the AIDS Walk and Hunger Walk. For the past three years Rose has been the number one fundraiser in the state of Georgia, raising $25,000 for the PCAN just this year with her team (Team Lala – named after her late grandmother). Rose says: “My grandmother is the person who taught me what it means to be truly selfless and to give to those you may not even know. She taught me to keep a smile on my face even in the toughest situations and that life is full of beauty. She was the most giving person I have ever met and as a result I won’t stop fighting until there is a cure for this horrible disease.”

Rylee Jahn, 17
Kadi Weakland, 17
Woodward Academy
Rylee and Kadi’s Shoebox Project became a school-wide event as students helped fill and decorate 1,000 shoeboxes with toiletries and other items for the needy. “I love the feeling I get knowing I helped someone, and possibly made their day,” Rylee says. “This project is super important to me, and getting to do it with my best friend means the world.” Kadi says watching a young student put so much are into the filling and decorating of his shoebox gave her hope. “He had placed animal stickers in the shape of a heart, with hand-drawn butterflies surrounding it. I couldn’t help but smile at how much effort this small child had put into his box. He asked me if the person that was going to get his box would like it, and I was so awestruck by how much he cared I was rendered speechless. Seeing him care so much about the person receiving his box made my heart swell with joy; we were helping raise a new generation of volunteers.” Both students have also volunteered with United Way of Greater Atlanta and Atlanta Community Food Bank, among others.

Cristina Dalton, 17
The Westminster Schools
Cristina has devoted a significant amount of her time to the National Charity League (NCL), a mother-daughter service organization committed to community service and leadership. “As I entered high school as a freshman, I developed an interest in healthcare alongside community service. I bridged the gap between the two passions by obtaining an internship at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta with NCL. As I dedicated my time to the hospital, I had the privilege of playing bingo with sick children. After calling several numbers, a young boy with leukemia sprang up with a radiant smile, yelling ‘Bingo!’ The simplicity of winning a toy buoyed his spirits, enabling him to forget his illness temporarily.” She was selected for the Teen Leadership Board of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, through girlFriends. Cristina has also volunteered with Operation Gratitude, Ronald McDonald House, Hospice Atlanta, Atlanta Community Food Bank, Piedmont Hospital and many more.

Samantha Dyer, 18
Hanna Meyers, 17
Katie Pleiss, 18
The Galloway School
Samantha, Hanna and Katie are the founders and leaders of the school’s chapter of Girl Talk, a student-to-student mentoring program where high school girls mentor middle school girls. Samantha said a moment at this past year’s holiday party made her realize the importance of the organization: “We had a lip sync battle, and it was amazing to see the girls step out of their comfort zones and be truly comfortable and carefree. They soon begin to realize that Girl Talk is a safe space of trust, friendship, and unconditional support, and watching this happen makes all of the dedication and commitment worth it.” Hanna says: “I have the privilege of volunteering my time to inspire more middle school girls the same way the organization inspired me in sixth grade, and I am beyond grateful to have Girl Talk in my life.” Katie, who also founded the nonprofit Lead to Learn, where high school girls tutor middle school girls, says: “Since starting our chapter, I have seen girls learn how to become their best selves, and I hope to continue to impact women around me through encouragement and support.”

Ella Nelson, 17
Ben Franklin Academy
Ella’s love of animals, especially after a community cat named Little Bit was hit and killed by a car on her street, led Ella to found The Friends of 4th Street Ferals. The organization began with a mission to end the cycle of unwanted kittens by educating her neighbors and enlisting their help to accomplish a short-term goal of spaying and neutering 20 cats and kittens. Long term, she established an organized network in the neighborhood to make sure that a dozen colonies of feral cats in the area were stabilized by spaying and neutering or adoption to families. “I’m proud to say that these cat colonies were all successfully stabilized with over 125 adults neutered and more than 75 kittens adopted!” She has also volunteered with Girls On The Run, Meals on Wheels, My Sister’s House, Foster Foundation, and Genesis Shelter.

Kelsey Fleming, 17
Marist School
Kelsey is the founder of Bumble’s Bibs (, which she started in honor of her grandmother, Bumble, who passed away from a motor neuron disease in 2013. The idea was born during a 2014 mission trip to Mustard Seed Communities in Jamaica, where Kelsey and her mom were feeding meals to severely handicapped children and adults. Kelsey thoughts bibs would help keep the residents clean, dry and therefore, more comfortable. In turn, caregivers would spend less time cleaning the residents and more interactive and therapeutic time with the residents. “We remembered the large, decorative bibs that Bumble made for her grandchildren from kitchen towels and cloth baby diapers. When we returned from the mission trip, we started sewing large bibs to send to the Mustard Seed Communities.” She also recruited volunteers to help sew and deliver the bibs. “To date, with a wonderful team of volunteers, we have sent approximately 800 bibs to the Mustard Seed residential care facilities.” Bumble’s Bibs has also inspired the creation of a new “bib ministry,” where young women living in a home for unwed mothers and mildly disabled adults will be taught how to sew bibs for their fellow disabled Mustard Seed residents.

Sophie Zelony, 18
Pace Academy
Since middle school, Sophie has participated in Creating Connected Communities (CCC), a leadership-training program for Jewish teens. The organization serves more than 20 homeless shelters throughout Atlanta and hosts Amy’s Holiday Party, an annual fundraiser for 800-plus underprivileged children and their families. Sophie has served CCC as PR manager, event chair and now, vice president. She has also been involved in the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network since middle school, raising more than $3,000 and lobbying local senators for support. She is also involved with La Amistad, which provides academic and life enrichment programs for Latinos. For three years, Sophie has acted as Pace’s liaison with La Amistad, organizing volunteers, clothing drives and fundraisers, and tutoring underserved Hispanic students in core subjects. She worked as a summer camp counselor and interned with La Amistad this past summer. “The first day I went to La Amistad, I thought I had just signed up to be a tutor. But over the past three years, I have become so much more than a tutor to these kids, and they have become such a vital part of my life as well.”

Priya Yadav, 16
Sally Cobb Weltner, 17
Atlanta Girls’ School
Both Priya and Sally have a passion for helping underprivileged families and children in the city. Priya, moved by the plight of burn victims, interviewed burn specialists, doctors, and scientists to create a new treatment method using placental stem cells. She then worked with attorneys to file a patent, with which she and friends started REGEN LLC, of which she is now CEO. Priya says she intends to work over the next several years to develop and distribute her treatment to burn victims in countries around the world at an affordable price. As a member of the Buckhead Chapter of the National Charity League, Sally has completed more than 1,000 hours of service with various philanthropies. For the last four years, that service has earned her the U.S. Presidential Service Award, which requires at least 100 hours of philanthropic service per year. Most of her time is dedicated to the nonprofit Agape Youth and Family Center Atlanta, which empowers and supports underserved families in our community. Last summer Sally traveled to Thailand and Cambodia for four weeks, where she taught English and took care of elephants in an elephant sanctuary. While in Cambodia she worked with multiple NGOs (non-government organizations) that fight the corruption in the government and provide means of alternative therapy.

Christopher Weaver, 18
The Lovett School
During his junior year, Christopher created the nonprofit, American Heroes for Hire, which serves to help veterans find jobs in the metro area. From networking to fundraising, and from partnering with local veterans’ support organizations to planning events, Christopher is working to give back to the men and women who served America. He recalled helping a homeless veteran find a job: “He had worked odd jobs throughout his life and all he was looking for was some kind of mailroom type position. We were able to pass his information along to a company hosting an event for consideration. This great desire for even the simplest job has taught me to never take anything for granted.”

Jordyn McClusky, Treyveonne Stegall and No’elle Finney, 8
KIPP Vision Primary School
These three third graders lead Scholars With A Vision (S.W.A.V.) to provide assistance to the community through donations, community service and scholarships. Their goal is to raise a minimum of $500 per year to contribute to a KIPP scholar who has successfully completed high school and is headed to college. S.W.A.V. has donated furniture to families in need, fed the hungry in partnership with Quest Communities and is scheduled to partner with Calvary Transition Homeless Shelter to provide a formal dinner for clients and donate various personal items to mothers and children. They also adopted a family for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Jordyn had this to say about her work with S.W.A.V.: “It made me happy to volunteer and feed the homeless; they were so happy about eating something that we take for granted every day. I remember them smiling so big when they got the sack with food in it. My mom took me to a street in Atlanta where all the homeless people live right next to a shelter. One day I will feed them all and maybe find them somewhere to live.”

Layla Felder, 13
In 2012, she started a club at Atlanta International School called The Kids Opera & Art Posse to inspire kids to support the arts and become the next generation of opera and art patrons, and artists.

Zachary Flash, 18
As the cadet in charge of North Atlanta High School’s Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC), Zachary is responsible for the training and mentoring of 234 cadets. He was selected as an APS Young Superintendent Ambassador and won the National Legion of Valor Bronze Cross Award, which recognizes cadets who demonstrate excellence in military, scholastic, and civic affairs.

Katie Krantz, 17
Katie mentors middle school students through Girl Talk at The Lovett School and is currently trying to start a LGBT+ safe space affinity group as an offshoot of Lovett’s educational Spectrum Club, which she leads.

Caroline Grace McClatchey, 18
Caroline is co-president of girlFriends, a group of students from Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School who volunteer and raise money for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. In the group’s first year alone, it raised $8,000 for Children’s.

Lizzie Wamsley, 16
The Lovett School student created a program to donate books to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and create an addition to the VolunTEEN program by adding a volunteer shift where teens read to patients to stimulate their brains and encourage more youth-to-youth relationships during hospital stays.

Spencer Vaughn, 12
A 7th grader at the Friends School of Atlanta, Spencer spent most of his summer vacation helping to educate second through fourth graders in summer math camps as a math camp assistant. He enjoys helping younger kids excel in math and reaching their goals as a math whiz.

Megan Anandappa, 17
On many a weekend, you can find this St. Pius X Catholic High School student feeding the hungry at St. Francis Table soup kitchen in Downtown, while at school she is the president of the campus group that promotes human rights issues, helping to lead events in the community and even in Washington, D.C.

Adam Keys, 18
The B.E.S.T. Academy senior is working as a research assistant at Georgia Tech, while participating in dual enrollment at Georgia State University.

Kayla Trawick, 17
This Frederick Douglass High School senior is the author of “Aren’t I Fortitude,” an inspirational creative writing book about strength and courage, no matter the circumstances or obstacles one may face in life.

Michael Moore, 17
A volunteer at the Agape Youth and Family Center, as well as a mentor to younger students, he’s also Recycling Coordinator and Leader of the Living Wall Subcommittee at The Lovett School where he’s seen several projects come to life, including Lovett’s recycling/composting program, e-waste drives, and solar array and living wall installations.

Emily Blank, 17
The Woodward Academy student founded a chapter of Girl Up, the international movement under the United Nations Foundation, which encourages girls to take action and lead the efforts to improve the lives of girls and women locally and globally.

Gabby Kasten, 17
A senior at the Weber School, Gabby sits on the board for Creating Connected Communities, an organization that throws holiday parties for underprivileged children. She also volunteers for the Shearith Israel women’s shelter and Meals on Wheels.

Adam Spector, 17
The Weber School student was honored with the Presidential Award for more than 100 hours of community service, including volunteering at the JCC Summer Camps, coaching a program devoted to serving developmentally challenged teens and adults, and serving on the board and leading soccer clinics for Kicking for Autism.

Kendall Robinson, 15
A junior at Greater Atlanta Christian School, Kendall founded a nonprofit company, Love Rolls, Inc. that collects physical and monetary donations to purchase toilet paper for the homeless and for those in need in the metro area.

Precious Smith, 17
The Academe of the Oaks Decatur student’s activities range from working at food banks to gathering clothes and hygiene kits for homeless people to construction of a coat rack near a Downtown Marta station that’s full of coats, free for the taking. She’s also raising money to help a Diné family expand their home.

Charles Porges, 17
Charles is the youngest member of Praxis, a program for young people who have left school or college in order to begin their professional careers. Charles quickly adapted to the program and is already managing a group of freelancers at Guild Quality.

Kourtni Mackenzie Stewart, 15
The Westminster Schools student serves as a mentor/tennis coach to lower school students and serves as the Community Service Intern for her family’s nonprofit organization L.E.A.D. (Launch, Expose, Advise, Direct) which partners with Atlanta Public Schools to empower an at-risk generation to lead and transform their city of Atlanta.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.