Gen Z is all right—check out these young activists stepping up to make a difference
Aniyah Ayres, Trinity Jagdeo

2020 has drained everyone, by way of a pandemic, political upheaval, and a shaky economy. Somehow, despite all of this, Gen Z has maintained the energy and focus to create a better state of being in the United States.

Generation Z is made up of everyone born after 1996, and studies show that this generation leans into their civic duty. Whether through inspiration or service projects, here are five youth-run businesses that are striving to make a difference during this unpredictable year.

Trinity Jagdeo


Trinity Jagdeo, We Can't 2 We Can

Trinity Jagdeo is striving for inclusivity for disabled children. Inspired by her childhood friend's battle with Spinal Muscular Atrophy Type 2, Jagdeo saw the need for representation and was determined to close the gap. Her comic book series We Can't 2 We Can gives disabled children powers and makes them superheroes.

She also has started a non-profit of the same name, Trinity explains the mission, "We offer many services to the special needs community; hosting inclusive events is one of them. This year, in celebration of our second anniversary, we planned to host a fashion show called, 'I Love Me and My Disability.' Unfortunately, due to the current events going on with the world, we have had to postpone our show." She was still able to fundraise online, and the proceeds have gone to the many families she works with.


Trinity started her charity at 17, and now 19, her business has grown. She is now a public speaker and gives talks about entrepreneurship and goal-setting at high schools and colleges. How does she measure her success? "I will know I've made it when I get invited on the Kelly Clarkson show."


Stand Up, Fight Back


Andreya, Isabelle, Piper, Lee, and Noelani, Stand Up, Fight Back, Tucson

Stand Up, Fight Back (SUFB) is the brainchild of five teens, ranging in age from 15 to 19, who all met at Tucson protests for George Floyd. Since its inception, the teens have held events, calling for justice for victims of police brutality and relocation of police funding into the community, like housing and school initiatives. "We all grew up seeing how unjust this country really is. We had very similar ideas and morals; so we easily adopted a connection. Because of this strong connection, we all agreed to join together and find a way that we could make a difference in this country, big or small."

"In our city, three people have died in police custody in the last few months. Our goal is to be a part of the change in history, and to do whatever we can to help move this revolution forward. We are trying to make this earth a good place for all of us to live, not just a select few."

The teens believe that the best way to support their organization is to support their causes. "Black lives matter, as well as immigrants, LGBTQA+, and civil rights. Whether that means working with your local official donating, sharing, protesting, signing petitions. Do whatever you can do to eradicate the injustice in the system." The group always needs extra supplies for their efforts, and they have attached a Venmo donation link to their social pages.

Carrie and Sophia Fox


Sophia Fox, Adventures in Kindness

The idea for Adventures in Kindness was born one year ago when Sophia (then nine) asked her mother a tough question. "I asked my mom one night why there is so much mean in the world. She didn't have an answer, so we tried to answer it together. We decided to replace the word mean with kind." The pair sat down and created a list of age-appropriate activities. That list became the book Adventures in Kindness.

Carrie explains, "The book is written primarily for children between the ages of seven and 12, and it is designed to be a practical resource for them and their families, where they could open the book and literally have everything they need at their fingers to go create positive change."

The book, as well as the website, have become a platform for kind kids. For members of the Kind Kids Club, there are rewards for completing a certain number of activities. Their slogan is "Kind is cool, so wear it proud."

The book is available on Amazon and their website, and if purchased through the site, at least 10% of the profit will go to one of the charities featured in the book. For July, the donations went to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Carrie says they were chosen "because of their work with a platform called Teaching Tolerance. In the book, we talk about the importance of empathy and learning about cultures different from your own." To purchase books, kits, or apparel, visit their website.

Ventura Website Builders


Deive Mece, Evan Robert, Yash Rondla, Ventura Website Builders

Three 17-year-olds saw their community hurting in the wake of COVID19, and they felt compelled to take action. Evan explained, "We noticed that a lot of small businesses in our area—many run by older folks—were struggling. Nobody was visiting their businesses, and we realized that they had no online presence at all." The three noticed that without customers able to walk through stores, and they started what they called a "community service project" to help their local businesses stay afloat.

With the downtime they had while sheltering in place, the teens taught themselves how to build websites. According to Deive, "We're all interested in computers and coding. So we all pretty much learned how to build the websites over the past couple of months. We just looked up like tutorials and YouTube videos, and figured it out like that."

The boys are excited to continue helping businesses in need, and since they all want to major in business in college, Evan says that they are loving the early lesson in entrepreneurship. "Deive is interested in maybe minoring in software engineering, so we are all getting valuable experience." The three would like to expand their business outside of their Simi Valley area. If you know a business that has been impacted by COVID and can't afford web design, visit their website to request a consultation.


Aniyah Ayres


Aniyah Ayres, Aniyah's Mission

Since Aniyah was six, she's had the desire to give back. That is why she founded Aniyah's Mission. Her organization has been tending to the needy in West Philadelphia by feeding the homeless, as well as back to school supply drives and scholarship giveaways. At six, she started with a water ice stand, and now, at fourteen, she is an entrepreneur, philanthropist, community activist, motivational speaker, and author.

COVID-19 changed the dynamics of Aniyah's mission, but with her mother's help, she's still able to make a difference. "My mom went to the store for families and took their groceries to their houses, and we started supplying lunches for hospital workers."

Aniyah, who is now 14 and starting high school, hopes that her next steps are writing a second book. She wrote her first, which teaches children how to grieve after a loss, inspired by losing her own father really young. "There weren't any resources to help me cope with my anger or grief. So I wrote a book, hoping to help others process their grief. I definitely see myself and another book, and having more of a global impact."

Aniyah recognizes the advantages she has had with starting a nonprofit, but she wants to encourage others who may not have as many resources to still give back. She offers this advice: "You have to make sure it's something you really want to do, because it can get tiring. Then make sure you have the mindset to get started. Start out small, you can hand out bags of food in your neighborhood, or you can take part in a community cleanup day. From there, gather more people. Learn how to fundraise, and make sure you have a strong supporting family and friends behind you."

2020 has taught us many tough lessons, but one worth carrying into 2021 and beyond is that you're never too young to make a difference.

Tonya Russell is a freelance journalist who is passionate about mental health, wellness, and culture. To see more of her work or cute dog photos, follow her on Twitter or Instagram.

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

When "bobcat" trended on Twitter this week, no one anticipated the unreal series of events they were about to witness. The bizarre bobcat encounter was captured on a security cam video and...well...you just have to see it. (Read the following description if you want to be prepared, or skip down to the video if you want to be surprised. I promise, it's a wild ride either way.)

In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

Then he hucks the bobcat across the yard with all his might.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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