When Katie Stagliano was nine years old she participated in the Bonnie Plants Cabbage Growing project. Established in 2002 to inspire kids to grow vegetables, the purpose of the program is as straightforward as you’d think it ought to be. Grow cabbage. And, that’s exactly what she did; except this was no ordinary produce — Katie grew a forty pound cabbage. Most people, young or old, would probably take some pictures and maybe think “Coleslaw for everyone!” But not Katie. She saw this enormous piece of produce as both a challenge and an opportunity. In Katie’s own words:
At the age of nine, I did not have a true understanding of the complexities of the issue of hunger. What I did understand was that there were individuals and families in my community who did not have enough to eat. I have a backyard where I could and do grow fresh vegetables and donate the produce to families that are struggling with hunger — a simple solution to a problem that is not only in my community, but also globally.
And thus, Katie’s Krops was born.
Across the country young people just like Katie are seeing problems in their community and coming up with solutions to address them.
Yash Gupta’s high school career began in a most inauspicious way — his eyeglasses broke. As he stumbled through his first weeks of school without being able to see the board clearly and in general feeling more overwhelmed and disoriented than your typical freshman, one thing did become crystal clear for Yash — good vision might possibly be the most important and most overlooked component to a student’s academic success.
With a little digging, Yash learned that there are 13 million children in the world who need glasses but cannot afford them; he also found out that more than three million pairs of used eyeglasses are discarded in North America every year. So, Yash started Sight Learning to try to bridge the gap. For Yash, this isn’t merely about eyeglasses for 13 million kids; it is much, much more.
“These 13 million children are students, students who cannot make the most of their educational opportunities because of a lack of eyeglasses, which prevents them from being able to see and consequently learn,” Yash shared.
They are 13 million potential leaders, 13 million youth who can change the world in the future. Sight Learning’s work matters, not only because we are providing eye-glasses to students in developing nations, giving them better access to education and helping them for the future, but we are also inspiring youth around the world to take a stand, find a passion and make a difference.
Katie is 14 and Yash is 17. They are two of the six generationOn Hasbro Community Action Heroes selected this year — each remarkable in his or her own way. A Hasbro Community Action Hero is a young person who makes an extraordinary mark on the world through service. The winners’ achievements must demonstrate outstanding service to one’s local, national or global community, extraordinary effort in creating innovative solutions to community needs and leadership of an exceptional service or advocacy activity.
And, yes, it is true that Katie is the youngest person to ever receive the Clinton Global Citizen Award for Leadership in Civil Society, and it is also true that Yash’s organization has — thus far — raised more than $350,000 (7,000 pairs of eyeglasses and counting!) and conducted eye screenings in developing countries. They are, in a word, exceptional. What they are not, however, is “the exception” when it comes to youth service.
Both Katie and Yash embody the blessing of being young — sometimes things actually can be as straightforward as they appear, and young people really don’t like taking no for an answer. There is a lot we can learn from them. All Katie really did was grow an exceptionally large cabbage and then think to herself “there’s got to be something productive I can do with this produce.” When she donated it to a local food kitchen and learned that her one cabbage helped feed 275 people, her path became exceedingly clear — get kids to garden and grow vegetables because they can, and then have them donate the fresh produce to organizations working to alleviate community hunger. She did not know — to be fair she was nine, so she could not know — about all the exigencies surrounding hunger in the US and the disproportionate lack of fresh produce in anti-hunger efforts. But with more than 60 youth-run vegetable gardens in the country, from Hawaii to Maine, and more than 7,500 pounds of fresh food delivered, it’s safe to say she knows now.
Yash had a crummy start to high school and after a new pair of glasses, put his world back in view that could have been the end of it. But Yash amplified his experience, multiplied the effects over the course of an academic lifetime, was able to see the lost potential and created a pretty straightforward solution because as he rightly notes, “If every one of those three million pairs of glasses was collected instead of being discarded, every needy child without eyeglasses could have a pair in less than five years.” For just a minute, consider not being a grown-up and getting wrapped up in the logistics about prescriptions and shipping and all the reasons why it couldn’t be that easy, and just do the simple math… he’s right.
So, our task, challenge and collective reason for being here might not be to celebrate Katie and Yash — along with the other 2013 Hasbro Community Action Heroes, including Carter Jenkins (age 15), Stephanie Jennis (age 17), Zach Morgan (age 8) and Grace Anne Remey (age 9) — although certainly they deserve to be celebrated. It may just be to emulate them, take a page from their book, do as they have done and will, thankfully, continue to do. Summer is an excellent time to dip your toe into service with a small project — or jump all the way in to volunteerism as these young leaders have done.
Which really just leaves us with one question to answer: “America, what’s your forty-pound cabbage?”