Volunteering or giving back to the community is an important part of life. When you help people in need, you’re also gaining new skills (such as communication, problem solving, time management, leadership skills, and more). Volunteering has also helped thousands of people improve their self esteem and become more confident, and anyone can volunteer. A six-year-old can decorate cookies for a school bake sale. An 80-year-old can donate clothes to a clothing drive. A teenager can spend a few hours at an animal shelter. You don’t have to be of a certain age to give back to the community. As long as you’re willing, enthusiastic, and dedicated, you can make a real difference in someone else’s life.
TIME Magazine’s annual Most Influential Teens list proves that when it comes to shaping society, age is only a number. Denzel Thompson, who created community gardens, and Deepika Kurup, who is working to make drinking water safe, are two teenagers standing up for a good cause. When teens set their mind to changing the world for the better, amazing things can happen.
Thompson grew up in a dangerous neighborhood in Philadelphia and was surrounded by crime and unhealthy lifestyles. There were many fast food restaurants in the area, but only a few grocery stores that sold healthy choices. As a child, he fought obesity and suffered from low self esteem. After taking a trip to New Orleans to help those affected by Hurricane Katrina, Thompson knew he needed to make a change, both in his eating habits and the community’s. In 2010, he co-founded Philadelphia Urban Creators (PUC) with other kids his age. PUC is a non-profit organization that turns unused, urban spaces into community gardens that grow healthy foods, like spicy peppers and fruits. Thanks to their efforts, PUC provides families with local, fresh produce. Before the garden, families had to eat what they could buy in grocery stores, but thanks to PUC garden, they can now find fresh, healthy ingredients. The gardens also give teens part time work and keeps them busy distributing vegetables instead of getting into trouble. PUC’s goal is to use the gardens as a way to give teenagers confidence to live a healthier life.
Within four years, Thompson, his co-founders, and plenty of volunteers turned a garbage dump into an eco-friendly garden. The PUC sells its fruits and vegetables in nearby markets or to local restaurants, and the money goes right back into the community, or towards the garden. What started as a way for him to help hurricane victims turned into a project that has positively impacted hundreds of people (if that was the way he also helped victims of the hurricane mention it briefly in the previous mention of Katrina victims) . Not only can Thompson and his friends say they made a real difference in how people eat, but the project changed his life as well, and inspired him to stay committed to making a difference.
Deepika Kurup, an American who was born to an Indian family, traveled to India every year with her family. While in India, Kurup’s family insisted she drink only bottled or boiled water because the water straight from the tap or from the rivers was filled with bacteria and germs that wasn’t safe to drink. One summer, the 14-year-old saw kids her own age standing in lines alongside the road under the hot sun to fill buckets with water. The water was too dirty even to touch. Kurup knew that access to clean water is a human right so she began researching facts about water and how she could help.
Water.org states that 663 million people (1 in 10 people) do not have access to safe water. This is, a huge issue as a lack of clean water spreads diseases, threatens people’s safety, and kills millions of people a year. Not having access to clean water also makes it more difficult for children to get an education because instead of going to school, they must walk several kilometers back and forth to fill containers with water.
Water is essential for life, but 3,000 children die every day from a water related disease. Today, the world is facing a global water crisis. Less than 1% of the Earth’s water is available for people to drink and water resources are drying out, leaving millions of people without access to clean water. Kurup decided to change that by inventing a water cleaning device that can mold into several shapes and can be used just about anywhere. Her invention combines a chemical called titanium dioxide with cement. The cement can then be formed into different shapes, such as a rod you can put inside a water bottle, and when exposed to sunlight, the chemicals disinfect the water. Even though the teen didn’t have access to a laboratory, she did not let her age stop her from researching and creating a device that would help solve the global water crisis.
During a TED talk, Kurup said that it takes many people to come together and solve global problems like obesity, a lack of access to healthy foods, and clean water. “Alone, a single drop of water can’t do much, but when many drops come together, they can sustain life on our planet. Just as water drops come together to form oceans, I believe that we all must come together when tackling this global problem,” she said. Teens like Thompson and Kurup are making the world a better place, but if more people get involved and work together, we can accomplish a lot more.