Honoring Young Heroes

By Danielle Nelson

You can “catch ‘em all” around their communities and you don’t have to play Pokémon GO to find them.

They are not Pokemons.

Instead, they are children and teenagers across the tristate area who are finding a way to make an impact in their neighborhoods.

From raising awareness about Autism to standing up for the rights of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transgender, their work have not gone unnoticed.

On August 11, The National Liberty Museum celebrated the 2016 TD Bank Young Heroes Awards, where 12 young people from Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York were acknowledged for their willingness to invoke positive social change in their neighborhood.

Group PhotoPhoto Courtesy of the National Liberty Museum

They were honored with certificates, medallions, gifts and the opportunity of having their stories placed on display in an exhibit at the National Liberty Museum.

And one particular honoree received the President’s Award and a check of $2000.

The National Liberty Museum received close to 100 nominations from teachers, parents, youth leaders and multitude of other people who saw how they were a positive influence in their communities. The nominees were between the ages of 10 and 18 years old.

Although this year marked the 16th year the NLM have been recognizing young people for their work, Gwen Borowsky, the CEO of the National Liberty Museum said one of the most difficult decision is choosing the winners.

“We have a list of criteria we look for and we try very hard to have diversity,” Borowsky said. “We want a mix of young men and young women, city and suburban, different ethnicity and religious background and mix of the kind of projects they do.”

At the age of 13, Naomi Jones, from Bridgeton New Jersey, has accomplished more than what some people will achieve in their entire lifetime.

From the early age of six, Jones have been a prominent figure in Millville, NJ.  After the Haiti earthquake in 2010, Jones collected items for children and participated in community service, food and clothes drives for local charities and has been an activist against violence.

She is also the spokesperson for CUBS Rising, which is a book that features 50 up-and-coming young people

Jones started an organization called Making an Impact, Moving to Inspire, which encourages young people to participate in creative arts program such as theater workshops and summer camps. There are about 12 students who participate in her workshop.

“I do audition techniques, workshops for kids, theater camps which I will keep doing in the summer,” Jones said.

Naomi’s Video from Danielle Nelson on Vimeo.

While some people shy away from the topic of LGBT, for Helen Everbach she will not backdown. The Wallingford, PA native proudly advocates equality for LGBT as well as heterosexuals. Everbach came out as a lesbian in the seventh grade and now at the start of her senior year in High School, she remains steadfast in her identity.

Her teacher, Sherry Paris, who nominated Everbach for the 2016 TD Banks Young Heroes Awards said the 17 year old was always described as “ahead of her time ” but Paris believes she is “right on time.”

To prove that to be true, Everbach is the co-leader of the Diversity Training, which is “a group of dedicated to high school students who teach their younger peers what it means to treat others with respect, through awareness and sensitivity trainings at the District’s Middle School.”

Everbach plans on pursuing a career in therapy but right now she wants people to feel comfortable talking about race, gender, class, sexual orientation, mental health and disability. So Everbach, who playwrights, used her passion to produce a play titled “Losing Black the Sleep You’ve Gained,” which focuses on the importance of having a supportive relationship with LBGT friend group.

Just 23 miles east of Wallingford, PA, is Westfield New Jersey, where Alexandra Jackman calls home. A place that opened her eyes to the difference in how people treat others who have Autism, a mental disorder that affects the person’s social, verbal and physical interaction.

Jackson said Autism Disorder first came to her attention when she was in eighth grade when her teacher asked the class to change seats but one student in particular didn’t want to because he had Autism and it took him a while. During that time, the class including the teacher, Jackman said, became annoyed that was when she decided to educate people about the disorder.

“I realized that people were not looking pass the special needs and getting to know the person,” Jackman said.

Alexandra’s Video from Danielle Nelson on Vimeo.

With the passion to change the stereotype of people with special needs, Jackson made a documentary titled “A Teen’s Guide to Understanding and Educating People with Autism” and recently translated the video into spanish.

Alongside the short documentary, Jackman has gone to schools and other public venues to educate people about anti-bullying towards autistic people and learning to accept and understand them as they are.

Anthony Rivera, the winner of the 2016 TD Banks Young Heroes President’s Award tackled one of the most spirited topic that has been swirling around social media and our very own communities; Gun Violence and Police Brutality. Through his own life experience of growing up in a low-income Philadelphia neighborhood and overcoming struggles with addiction and gun violence, Rivera produced a video called “FREEZE,” which is spoken-word poetry that talks about his fear and aspirations of what his community is and what it could be.

But Anthony didn’t stop there, back in July he was at the University of Texas at Austin to start up a non-profit organization when one of the worse attack on police officers took place.

Anthony said he still remains empowered and driven to educate people through spoken-word poetry but before he continues, Anthony said he will use his winning prize of a $2000 presented to him by Tom Shoemaker, the marketing president for TD Bank of PA, to promote his own projects.

“I am going to buy a MAC [computer] and a camera,” Anthony said smiling.

Anthony RiveraPhoto Courtesy of the National Liberty Museum

With 16 years under their belts, Shoemaker said he wants more people to know about the program so that many more people can be honored for their work in their communities.

“It is one of our favorite days of the year,” Shoemaker said. “I wish it could be in front of 10,000 people because the kids deserve that.”

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