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Power of Children Award Awardees

Power of Children Awards

Meet this year’s six innovative and inspiring Power of Children Awardees who are changing their communities and the world! Clean water access. Education for active citizenship. Prosthetics for injured workers. Reading for NICU babies and families. Education for child laborers. A system to prevent hospital-acquired infections. These young service leaders are tackling real-world challenges with determination, skills, problem-solving, and the help of others that they invite to their cause. Learn about their stories!

2020 Awardees

Katherine Adams, 2020 Power of Children Awards awardee

Katherine Adams
Grade 8 (2019–2020 school year)
Dallas, Texas
Providence Christian School of Texas, Dallas, Texas
Paper For Water

Five-year old Katherine Adams and her family learned that a child dies every 15 seconds from lack of clean water. This inspired Katherine’s idea to use origami ornaments to raise money for clean water projects, and the organization Paper For Water (PFW) was born. Founded by Katherine and her older sister, Isabelle, PFW gives ornaments as thank you gifts for donations.

In only nine years, PFW raised over $2 million to drill more than 200 wells and carry out other hygiene services in 20 countries—including Ethiopia, Nigeria, Kenya, India, Peru, and Mexico—and in the Navajo nation. PFW brings clean water to 70,000 people a year and engages over 3,000 volunteers. PFW partners with Living Water International and DigDeep, organizations that carry out the water projects.

Katherine shared, “When the Ebola outbreak of 2014 occurred, thousands of people died in Africa. However, in the communities with one of our water installations there were zero deaths. This shows just how crucial basic sanitation and hygiene are to a community.”

Katherine intends to use her POCA grant to train young volunteers in leadership and management skills to grow support for PFW’s mission.

Abhi Desai, 2020 Power of Children Awards awardee

Abhi Desai
Grade 11 (2019–2020 school year)
Phoenix, Arizona
Pinnacle High School, Phoenix, Arizona
LexGen

By high school, Abhi Desai was disheartened to see that many students showed very little interest in the role government plays in their lives. An alarming statistic caught his eye. According to the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, only 39% of Americans can pass the U.S. Citizenship Test. Abhi determined that civics education needed an overhaul. He created the nonprofit organization, LexGen.

“Civics education needed to be fun for students and accessible to teachers; only then could it truly take hold in schools,” observed Abhi. “As students ourselves, we offer a unique perspective on what should be included in civics and how it should be taught.”

Students in grades 4 through 8 are the target of LexGen’s online and in-person curriculum. Games and animated videos keep students engrossed, says Abhi. The website also encourages qualified high school students to vote. LexGen has expanded into 10 states and reached an estimated 5,000 students.

Abhi plans to use his POCA grant to expand LexGen’s digital infrastructure.

Viraj Jayam, 2020 Power of Children Awards awardee

Viraj Jayam
Grade 11 (2019–2020 school year)
Roslyn Heights, New York
The Wheatley School, Old Westbury, New York
Helping Hands Long Island

Imagine a child laborer losing a hand in a factory accident. Viraj Jayam was stunned during a visit to his grandmother’s village in India where he learned this had happened to a childhood friend, Ramesh. Viraj returned to the U.S. wondering how to help his friend and millions of others who cannot afford prosthetics (which can cost up to $10,000). He explained, “Limb loss in the developing world is primarily occupational involving often the prime breadwinners, leading entire families to suffer.”

Viraj became captivated by using 3D printing to create affordable, tailored prosthetics and, through trial and error, learned how to create the different pieces to make “a working hand.” Ramesh, and nearly 40 others in India, Nepal, Dominican Republic and Mexico have received prosthetics through Viraj’s program, Helping Hands Long Island.

The program pivoted during the spring’s COVID-19 crisis in New York to help frontline workers by creating 500 face shields and 100 hands-free door handles for local hospitals.

Viraj intends to use his POCA grant to increase his supply of materials and 3D printers.

Benjamin Olshin, 2020 Power of Children Awards awardee

Benjamin Olshin
Grade 11 (2019–2020 school year)
Portland, Oregon
Catlin Gabel School, Portland, Oregon
Babies With Books

Benjamin Olshin grew up hearing powerful stories about families’ challenges and heartbreaks during hospitalizations in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) from his aunt (who survived such an experience) and his mother, a neonatologist. He also learned that reading is especially important for NICU babies, who are at increased risk of poor developmental outcomes due to medical complications, family separation and socioeconomic stressors. A self-confessed bookworm, Benjamin decided to take action and created the Babies With Books (BWB) program.  A youth-led program, WB focuses on early literacy in the NICU through (1) admit reading packets, (2) teen-led book rounds, (3) a family reading library, and (4) literacy promotion events. 

Benjamin says more than 700 families have been served by BWB. A survey of those families showed that, while 40% did not read with their baby before receiving their welcome packet of books, 100% read to them after receiving the packet. “Three years ago, I learned reading is critical for infant brain growth. However, I did not yet understand just how healing reading can be for NICU families,” said Benjamin. 

Benjamin expects to use his POCA grant for a multi-site read-a-thon encouraging family reading, publishing of the children's book he is writing, and expanding RWB to more hospitals..

Jahin Rahman 2020 Power of Children Awards awardee

Jahin Rahman
Grade 11 (2019–2020 school year)
New York, New York
Academy of American Studies, New York, New York
Efforts in Youth Development of Bangladesh (EYDB)

Chased by a large group of men, third-grader Jahin Rahman and her friends felt the first-hand upheaval of a violent political protest in her native country before her family immigrated to the U.S. Jahin was molded by the experience. “I founded Efforts in Youth Development of Bangladesh (EYDB) with a motive to get at-risk and street youth off the streets through opportunities of free permanent education and development,” said Jahin. “My target is eventually supporting all 600,000 street children of Bangladesh for them to become the next generation of Bangladeshi social justice change makers through education.”

Jahin leads more than 300 volunteers in Dhaka, Bangladesh and across the U.S. and seven countries to raise money, oversee building, and run programs; these include libraries, a school, a daycare center for garment factory workers, computer labs, bathrooms for girls in rural schools, a drug rehabilitation center, and a stipend-based educational program for child servants. Bangladesh has more than 420,000 child servants.

With her POCA grant, Jahin intends to sponsor 80 drug-addicted boys through its residential rehabilitation and educational program, Strive, to put them on a path to having productive lives.

Samayak Shrimali, a 2020 Power of Children Awards awardee

Samyak Shrimali
Grade 9 (2019–2020 school year)
Portland, Oregon
Jesuit High School, Portland, Oregon
Sanjeevani: A Novel Automated System for Hospital-Acquired Infection Prevention

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates about 1.7 million people contract hospital-acquired infections every year. Samyak Shirmali’s mother was one of them. She survived. Yet, a CDC 2015 survey showed approximately 72,000 people in acute care hospitals in the U.S. do not. Stunned to learn about the high rate of deaths, Samyak did research and discovered that poor hand hygiene by hospital staff is a leading cause of the infections. With mentoring from a 3M corporate scientist (and his nominator), Dr. Mahfuza Ali, Samyak developed a complex, fully automated, real-time software program that alerts staff when proper hygiene is not followed. The prototype, called Sanjeevani, earned the young entrepreneur the title of one of America’s Top 10 Young Scientists in the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge.

According to Samyak, “The main skill I learned was to have empathy and compassion towards the millions of people who suffer from these infections every day. I developed the motivation to help eliminate this problem and do something for my society and the rest of the world.”

Samyak says his POCA grant will help him finish his prototype by incorporating industrial-grade sensors into his product and adding industrial packaging for its commercialization.


Witness the Power of Children through Past Power of Children Award awardees’ stories!