Heroes

Her dad thought her clean energy idea was just a 'kid's project.' He was wrong.

Cassandra is fighting climate change, and she's bringing her whole town with her.

Her dad thought her clean energy idea was just a 'kid's project.' He was wrong.
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Unilever and the United Nations

When Cassandra was 10 years old, she decided to take on climate change ... and bring her whole town with her.

In fifth grade, she'd learned that if the world's addiction to fossil fuels continues, it's only a matter of time before her entire town would be underwater. (When you use carbon-emitting energy like we do, that can happen.)


“Our Ocean State of Rhode Island may become the Under Ocean State by 2100 if global warming is allowed to continue at the current rate," Cassandra, now 17, said in a speech a few years ago.

So she came up with a plan.

With help from friends, Cassandra launched Turn Grease Into Fuel, or TGIF.

Their strategy was pretty simple ... but also sort of ingenious.

You know all that wasted used cooking oil that restaurants just throw away? It can be used as biofuel — energy that contributes significantly less to global warming than fossil fuels.

TGIF began reaching out to local restaurants to see if they could use leftover cooking oil for the initiative, and — slowly but surely — the idea caught on. The City of Westerly, Rhode Island (Cassandra's hometown) decided to help out, too, setting up a grease recycling site where TGIF could do its work.

And here's where it gets really good: The biodiesel created by TGIF goes toward warming the homes of families in need. Because why not donate the energy to those who could use it most?

“We kind of thought, 'This is a kid's project,' you know," said Jason Lin, Cassandra's father. "'It will probably last a year or two the most.'"

Boy ... was he wrong.

To date, TGIF's efforts have helped warm the homes of about 400 families, but that's just the start.

Since its launch, TGIF has been incredibly successful both in terms of combating climate change and helping those in need. Through partnerships with 132 (!) restaurants, they've recycled enough cooking oil to offset 3 million pounds of CO2 emissions, according to the EPA's estimations.

That's the average annual carbon footprint of 88 people.

But TGIF's impact goes even further beyond greenhouse gas reductions and warming homes for those in need — the group is changing hearts and minds, too.

TGIF has "opened my eyes to see that something needs to change or else this beautiful world we live in might not be here anymore," said chef Joseph Tanton of Pleasant View Inn, a TGIF partner.

TGIF is proof that sometimes a small group of kids in a small town can make a huge difference.

And all they needed was some cooking oil and a little determination.

Watch TGIF's story below:

It's one thing to see a little kid skateboarding. It's another to see a stereotype-defying little girl skateboarding. And it's entirely another to see Paige Tobin.

Paige is a 6-year-old skateboarding wonder from Australia. A recent video of her dropping into a 12-foot bowl on her has gone viral, both for the feat itself and for the style with which she does it. Decked out in a pink party dress, a leopard-print helmet, and rainbow socks, she looks nothing like you'd expect a skater dropping into a 12-foot bowl to look. And yet, here she is, blowing people's minds all over the place.

For those who may not fully appreciate the impressiveness of this feat, here's some perspective. My adrenaline junkie brother, who has been skateboarding since childhood and who races down rugged mountain faces on a bike for fun, shared this video and commented, "If I dropped in to a bowl twice as deep as my age it would be my first and last time doing so...this fearless kid has a bright future!"

It's scarier than it looks, and it looks pretty darn scary.

Paige doesn't always dress like a princess when she skates, not that it matters. Her talent and skill with the board are what gets people's attention. (The rainbow socks are kind of her signature, however.)

Her Instagram feed is filled with photos and videos of her skateboarding and surfing, and the body coordination she's gained at such a young age is truly something.

Here she was at three years old:

And here she is at age four:


So, if she dropped into a 6-foot bowl at age three and a 12-foot bowl at age six—is there such a thing as an 18-foot bowl for her to tackle when she's nine?

Paige clearly enjoys skating and has high ambitions in the skating world. "I want to go to the Olympics, and I want to be a pro skater," she told Power of Positivity when she was five. She already seems to be well on her way toward that goal.

How did she get so good? Well, Paige's mom gave her a skateboard when she wasn't even preschool age yet, and she loved it. Her mom got her lessons, and she's spent the past three years skating almost daily. She practices at local skate parks and competes in local competitions.

She also naturally has her fair share of spills, some of which you can see on her Instagram channel. Falling is part of the sport—you can't learn if you don't fall. Conquering the fear of falling is the key, and the thing that's hardest for most people to get over.

Perhaps Paige started too young to let fear override her desire to skate. Perhaps she's been taught to manage her fears, or maybe she's just naturally less afraid than other people. Or maybe there's something magical about the rainbow socks. Whatever it is, it's clear that this girl doesn't let fear get in the way of her doing what she wants to do. An admirable quality in anyone, but particularly striking to see in someone so young.

Way to go, Paige. Your perseverance and courage are inspiring, as is your unique fashion sense. Can't wait to see what you do next.

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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