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.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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