Operation REACH's Gulfsouth Youth Action Fund Celebrates Youth Change Awards

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Six outstanding youth leaders recognized with Youth Change Awards and $500 grants

Youth are changing the world.

"Youth are changing the world." While these were the words of Christine Jordan, Senior Analyst of Corporate Social Responsibility for Entergy Corporation at the Second Annual Youth Change Awards Dinner this past Saturday evening at Xavier University, they were demonstrated throughout the evening.

More than 300 community members, business professionals, parents and young people, attended the Awards Dinner put on by the Gulfsouth Youth Action Fund (GYAF), a program of Operation REACH, Inc. The GYAF is an innovative, youth-led philanthropy program in which youth provide competitive grant awards to progressive youth-serving organizations. The GYAF was founded in 2007 to engage, empower and inspire community-focused youth leadership in the rebuilding of the region. Since its inception, the GYAF has awarded more than $20,000 to initiatives that empower and train a young generation of community leaders.

The evening demonstrated that youth are not just the leaders of tomorrow, but are the leaders of today. Keynote Speaker, Tyler Hamblin, a 16-year old Michigan native, social entrepreneur, young scholar, Founder and President of the national nonprofit, The Point wowed the audience with his positive messages on youth success or the . Six local youth leaders received Youth Change Maker Awards for outstanding leadership in the community. Each Change Maker Award recipient received a $500 award from the GYAF to a non-profit of their choice. These included:

Stanford Rosenthal: Going Green Change Maker - Rosenthal, a recent graduate of Isidore Newman has committed to raising his peers' awareness about global warming. After organizing the "Newman Green" student group, he successfully lobbied for the use of washable plates, bowls and flatware in the school dining hall.

Chloe St. Etienne: Arts and Communications Change Maker - St. Etienne, a Senior at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, understands the impact of media, and how to leverage art as a form of communication. After her school discontinued its "Healthy Snack" program due to student littering, St. Etienne launched an ad campaign to discourage littering and promote healthier food options. As a result, NOCCA's program was reinstated.

Kevin Cooley, Jr.: Rising Change Maker - This 7 year old already recognizes the importance of cultural preservation, and uses traditional African American culture as means of teaching conflict resolution to his peers. As the Big Chief of the Young Guardians of the Flame Mardi Gras Indian tribe, Cooley has already earned the respect of his peers and adults for his young leadership abilities.

Mary-Brent Brown: Social Entrepreneurs Change Maker - At the age of 12, Mary Brent-Brown, started her own nonprofit, Kids Wanna Help. Through the organization, she created the "Lemonade Brigade," in which she teaches children in New Orleans how to effectively manage their own lemonade stands. Now age 14, Brown has raised over $50,000 through the Lemonade Brigade to support youth who want to make a difference in the community.

Huong Nguyen: Youth Ally Change Maker - Nguyen, a college sophomore and Program Coordinator with the Vietnamese Young Leaders Association of New Orleans, has helped empower youth to create a healthy, nurturing and protective community. By creating groups like the Youth-Led Participatory Action Project, Nguyen has provided youth with a platform and voice to ensure that community change happens for the better.

Kids Rethink New Orleans Schools: Collaborative Change Maker - This youth-led, youth serving group is the first in the U.S, to spearhead an effort to bring local food to public food cafeterias. They have also successfully challenged the Recovery School District to repair bathrooms and incorporate green design into the rebuilding process. As a result, their efforts have been made a permanent part of the New Orleans Public Schools Facilities Master Plan.

The night also included several youth-led performances, including The Baby Boyz Brass Brand, a brass band comprised entirely of young people under the age of 17, which led 300 guests in a Second Line into the University Center Ballroom. Performances throughout the evening were youth-led, including an original musical performance by the Young Guardians of the Flame, a local Mardi Gras Indian tribe.

"We really felt empowered since we get to make all the decisions about where the money goes and how it will be used," said GYAF Youth Advisory Board president Josh Tarr. "It feels good to have students from different backgrounds and lifestyles come together to be able to affect change and give their time to empower other young people in the region."

"I was taken aback by the commitment these award winners have to serve their communities. These young leaders serve as an inspiration to us all, and I'm thrilled that Operation REACH is giving them a forum to spread their wings on," said Stacey Bastian, a guest at the Youth Change Awards Dinner. Many shared Bastian's sentiments. Nods of approval were seen throughout the Ballroom as award winners shared their stories of community service.

As part of the event, Operation REACH celebrated its tenth anniversary as an organization. It was founded by several young pioneers led by Kyshun Webster, who at the age of 12, started a summer tutoring program in his parents' garage in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans. The Youth Change Awards Dinner is an opportunity for Operation REACH to highlight the next generation of young people working to bring about positive change in the community. The night ended with the closing of a Silent Auction that raised an additional $1,000 to support youth-led grant-making. Contributing artists include Dr. Kyshun Webster, Christine Bagneris, Connie Tregre, Russell Robinson and various pieces from the Hemmerling Gallery.

Operation REACH is currently accepting applications for new youth members of the Gulfsouth Youth Action Fund who are current middle and high school students. To apply or nominate an outstanding young person, please visit http://www.thegyac.org.

Operation REACH, Inc. (ORI) is a national organization that engages, empowers and inspires children, youth and families through innovative community-based learning opportunities. ORI is one of the only Louisiana-born organizations to receive funding from the Corporation for National and Community Service for national expansion.

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Erin Booth
Operation REACH, Inc.
504-529-1922 ext. 106
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