Atlanta Intown and Reporter Newspapers have once again joined forces to select honorees from our coverage areas for 20 Under 20. As in past years, we are in awe of these students’ abilities to juggle their education while giving back to the community in such significant and meaningful ways. From creating nonprofits and fundraising to mission trips and mentoring, the 2023 honorees have gone above and beyond to bring positivity and leadership to the metro. While narrowing down this year’s honorees and runners-up wasn’t easy, we think these students will inspire and motivate you to give back to your communities. – Collin Kelley
Raveena Alli | Salam Awad | Leah Cox | Landon Denker | Arthi Devineni | Max Dinerman | Charlotte Dixon| Catherine Dwyer | Leo Flemming | Hunter Graves | Kate Hidell | Samar Kibe | Sheza Merchant | Mariana Munoz | Avi Narula |James Rhee | Irene Sharon | Naomi Stinnett | Sophia Wang | Chandler Warden | Amelia Wilson | Runners Up
Salaam Awad, 18
Midtown High School
As vice president of the 21st Century Leaders chapter, Salaam creates service projects that students can partake in to help the greater community. Over the past three years, she has organized food and clothing drives, as well as opportunities where students can volunteer. The senior also organized a Community Service Fair that brought representatives from multiple nonprofit organizations to Midtown High to connect with students for volunteer opportunities. “I think this event was especially cool because this type of project has a domino effect in our community; it allowed many students to learn about the service opportunities they can each be a part of to give back to our community and speak with their respective service organizations first-hand,” she said. Salaam’s goal is to get her law degree, work for the United Nations, and specialize in human rights.
Hunter Graves, 17
Midtown High School
The senior served as a program assistant with the Emagination Tech Camp at Mercer University and Georgia Institute of Technology for four years where he assisted elementary/middle school age students with coding. One of the first cohort of students to be accepted to the SMASH program at Morehouse College, Hunter spent the last three-plus years engaged in team building, data science, and analyzing solutions for 21st-century geo-global issues. He’s also a member of the Future Business Leaders of America and won first place in their annual competition for a public service announcement he created on mental health. He plans to attend either Georgia Institute of Technology or Morehouse College after graduation.
James Rhee, 17
The Westminster Schools
James and his sister are co-founders of Double Play, which collects sports equipment to underserved athletes both locally and internationally. He has been the “muscle” behind the scenes, collecting and transporting the gear and creating a scholarship program. Since 2017, Double Play has collected $90,000 in gear in partnership with 35 organizations, including Nike and Dick’s Sporting Goods. In 2021, James founded Triple Play in partnership with Bank of America and Merrill Lynch to educate underserved students on money management. “More than anything, I learned that teamwork is critical to make things happen and to surround yourself with amazing role models,” he said. “My sister and I started a small gear collection, and I can’t believe it has grown so much and in diverse ways. None of this would have been possible without our team and community.”
Mariana Munoz, 17
Holy Spirit Preparatory School
As part of her Girl Scout Gold Award project, Caring for Caregivers, Mariana organized a donation drive to support the caregivers of pregnant, incarcerated women in Georgia prisons. The senior partnered with the nonprofit Motherhood Beyond Bars, organized a collection of baby items through an Amazon wish list, and encouraged HSPS parents and faculty to donate. Within a month, she collected over 500 baby items, from cribs, diapers, formula, wipes, clothing, toys, and more. Mariana said she received a photo of a father holding one of the care kits collected during her project. “I smiled ear to ear and realized that because I was determined to help, made a difference in a family’s life. That feeling is one of the greatest and unforgettable,” she said.
Arthi Devineni, 17
Riverwood International Charter School
The senior played a critical role as coordinator for Riverwood’s Big Questions Debate Tournament and is also the captain of the school’s speech and debate team. Arthi is a member of the Fulton County Youth Commission, where she leads efforts to reduce homelessness in the community by distributing school supplies, care packages, and other essentials to youth struggling with uncertain housing. She’s also played an active role in Solidarity Sandy Springs, a community movement to help families who have been overlooked or in need. “Giving back to the community through volunteering for me is an effective way to contribute and make a difference in enhancing society,” Arthi said. “It allows me to make connections from toddlers to the elderly, creating change and driving the causes I advocate for.
Charlotte Dixon, 17
Atlanta International School
As one of the leaders of AIS Against Human Trafficking, Charlotte drove outreach for a campaign that resulted in getting two billion impressions on social media in over 140 countries for CNN’s #MyFreedomDay. She hosted a global webinar with panelists from more than 40 countries and was included in CNN’s panel of students discussing human trafficking. Charlotte was also invited to be a speaker by 3Strands Global Foundation and Rotary International where she spoke on behalf of student leadership and educating for prevention alongside the White House’s council on human trafficking. When AIS adopted the anti-human trafficking curriculum, PROTECT, she trained herself and then made the training videos to deliver to fellow classmates. “Being able to deliver this training to my peers, I was able to serve my community by providing meaningful information about human trafficking, which can affect us all,” Charlotte said.
Irene Sharon, 17
The Weber School
The senior dedicates most of her free time to studying, supporting, and educating the community about Atlanta’s animal welfare challenges. Irene has helped organize school-wide service projects benefiting local shelters and volunteered countless hours both in and out of the shelter. She recently helped find a forever home for an emaciated dog named Scarlet, who was found on the roadside by a teacher. Irene said the time and energy to help the dog brought tears, but also determination to help animals. “Volunteering and having an internship at the Dekalb County Animal Shelter has been the most rewarding experience,” she said. “The number one question I get asked by people is, ‘how do I do it?’ or ‘How I do not take every dog home?’ I remind them, “if I do not stay strong, what example am I setting for others that want to pursue their passions.”
Leo Flemming, 16
The Westminster Schools
Leo co-founded Flavor Forward, which collaborates with chefs to deliver fresh and nutritious meals to those experiencing food insecurity in Atlanta. He had the idea for Flavor Forward after seeing that his dad’s business, Punk Foodie, built extensive relationships with Atlanta-area chefs, and how they might be a resource to help the community. Flavor Forward identifies volunteering chefs who craft 50-100 meals, and the organization covers the cost of the ingredients and provides the containers, packing, and delivery of the food to organizations such as Free99Fridge and Ronald McDonald House. In just a year, the organization has delivered over 4,500 meals. He’s even gotten Westminster involved. “Through working with my friends from my school to help with volunteering, I realized that I could bring Flavor Forward to my school community and potentially utilize resources such as the cafeteria to create a club or organization within my school,” he said.
Raveena Alli, 16
Atlanta Girls’ School
Blind since birth, Raveena has not let her sight limitation get in the way of giving back to the community. As co-leader of the school’s Community, Service Club, she spearheaded the Period Project two years in a row by collecting feminine hygiene products for Atlanta GLOW and My Sister’s House at Atlanta Mission. Ravenna also worked in the community with Partnership for Southern Equity, Intown Collaborative Ministries, organized food drives for Meals on Wheels and volunteered via Zoom with SUKRUPA, a nonprofit school in Bangalore, India serving underprivileged youth. “For me, giving back fulfills me and is one of the ways I find purpose,” she said. “It allows me to connect with new people and to learn new insights into what our community needs and how I can do my part to support and be a part of the solution. Serving others has always been a passion of mine and reminds me daily of the abundance I have been blessed with to share with my community and beyond.”
Amelia Wilson, 17
Cristo Rey Jesuit High School
A senior at Cristo Rey, Amelia has worked on projects as a member of the Girls Scouts, including organizing canned food drives, care packages, and Christmas cards for the needy. She also partnered with SeaQuest to paint murals that educate children about marine environments and created an alliance with PaintLove to use artistic expressions to bring awareness to mental health. Amelia said meeting a homeless man who shared his “life lesson” with members of the school’s Labre Ministry for the Homeless has stuck with her. “He told us his life story and emphasized the importance of education, confidence, and being true to yourself. We gave him his food, he thanked us and said that he would forever pray for our success,” she recounted. “It helped me realize the importance of giving back to your community and showing empathy towards others.”
Avi Narula, 16
Avi has been volunteering with Intown Collaborative Ministries since he was in seventh grade to prevent homelessness and hunger, including collecting hundreds of items of cold-weather gear shared with various other organizations over the last three years. At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, he created an online wish list of food items and then delivered them to those in need. Avi also delivered weekly groceries to individuals who are unable to travel to the ministry’s food pantry and picked up excess freshly grown produce from area farmer markets for distribution. In the fall, he organized a service initiative with the Georgia High School Water Polo Association to get toiletry donations for the nonprofit Rapid Rehousing Program. “I started volunteering at the Intown food pantry five years ago when I was in seventh grade,” he said. “I keep coming back because I can see the impact I can have.”
Leah Cox, 16
Samar Kibe, 17
The Lovett School
Leah and Samar worked together to create Lovett’s Mental Health Liaisons with the goal of bringing attention to student mental health and training peer liaisons who can create student-directed programming around mental health and serve as links between students and counseling staff. In addition, Leah coordinates Lovett’s Tanzania Tutoring program in partnership with the Buckhead Rotary Club and worked hard phone banking and registering young people to vote as a member of the statewide board of students for Stacey Abrams. Samar is an active member of the debate team and organizes Lovett’s Model UN team. The duo said about the creation of the Mental Health Liaisons: “In 2020, mental health-related doctor’s visits for adolescents ages 13-18 increased sharply. Teenagers going to these appointments were most frequently diagnosed with depression, anxiety, and adjustment disorder. There has never been a time more important to address these issues. We need to take action now, in order to be proactive instead of reactive when tragedy strikes.”
Landon Denker, 16
The Lovett School
Landon launched a website and initiative called FiveStar Comeback (fivestarcomeback.com) to help provide high school student-athletes everywhere with mental health resources and inspirational stories of their comeback from injury. The initiative started as a project in his Ethical Leadership Class after he saw teammates mentally struggle during physical rehab and recovery and wanted to help them. The website has been shared with all Georgia High School Association member schools and Landon has been invited to speak to children and athletes about the values of hard work, determination, commitment, and teamwork, which have helped athletically and in the classroom. “Sports are so important to students because they teach them individual responsibility and being part of a team,” he said. “High school sports can create friendships that last a lifetime. I also believe high school sports build leadership and character.”
Chandler Warden, 16
Chandler serves on Woodward’s Service Leadership Board, an organization that plans and provides volunteer opportunities for students to support the needs of College Park and the broader Atlanta community. As a ninth grader, she began volunteering at Horizons Atlanta, an affiliate of Horizons National, a summer enrichment program that lessens the educational disparity gap for underserved students through high-quality academics. As a teaching assistant, Chandler was responsible for ensuring that young students retained knowledge from the previous school year and did not fall behind in reading and math. “I believe that every child, regardless of their socioeconomic status or race, should have the same opportunity at making a positive impact on their community,” she said. “Having served in the Horizon program for four years, I have had the opportunity to witness the children grow into themselves, advance academically, and excel in their extracurricular activities.”
Naomi Stinnett, 18
Academe of the Oaks
During her 9th grade year, Naomi participated in the Hope Education Project, which connects Academe of the Oaks students to the refugee community. She worked every Sunday with refugee children, helping them with schoolwork and making them feel welcome. After this program ended because of the pandemic, she found new ways to reach out to her community. Naomi volunteers at the Carter Center regularly, at nonprofit daycare Our House, and as a camp counselor. She has also taken classes and attended events for the Dunwoody Teen Police and is a police cadet, which includes volunteering as a public safety advocate. “I’ve gained knowledge in different ways that I can best help communities, which has given me a chance to become a confident leader,” she said. “Being a leader requires you to give an excellent representation of everything our society should be doing and help guide followers to become leaders with you.”
Sheza Merchant, 18
Sheza has been volunteering with youth development nonprofit Pebble Tossers since 2015. She has helped collect, sort, and distribute school supplies and books to over 10,000 students in 24 countries. Through Supplying Hope Around the Globe (supplyinghopearoundtheglobe.org), which she established in 2014, Sheza has worked with the Isdell Center for Global Leadership at Pace Academy, and other partners to collect and distribute 4,200 pounds of gently used school supplies and 4,000 children’s books, keeping them out of landfills and placing them in the hands of over underprivileged and refugee school students. Since 2020, she has been leading weekly virtual English classes for disadvantaged girls at a residential high school in Pakistan. “Interacting with my global peers through Supplying Hope Around the Globe has helped me understand that the desire to learn is universal and that education is the true equalizer as it leads to opportunities,” she said. “I feel incredibly fortunate to have witnessed the sparks of hope when underserved students receive a book or even a seemingly simple pencil.”
Sophia Wang, 17
Chamblee High School
In 2022, Sophia created ReTakeOut (retakeout.com), a nonprofit whose mission is to reduce plastic pollution by collecting used plastic takeout containers and repurposing them by donating them to individuals and organizations that reuse them to help feed the hungry in the metro Atlanta area. So far, ReTakeOut has partnered with The Elizabeth Foundation, Hope Atlanta, Eye Believe Foundation, Free99Fridge, FoodCommune, and Food4Lives. Sophia recently formed a second nonprofit called the Southern Youth German Education Association, Inc (sygea.org) whose mission is to promote and preserve a high degree of community and education, student interest, support and sponsorship of German language and culture for 4th-12th graders in the southeast. The nonprofit has applied for a grant to help cover expenses for local German teachers to attend a conference in Boston and to help cover expenses for a summer study program in Germany for 15-20 students. “The sheer number of people who had already donated or were willing to donate to ReTakeOut really brought a heartwarming feeling to me, and the messages I received about the actual nonprofit itself also made me feel like I was truly making a difference in our community,” she said.
Max Dinerman, 17
Atlanta International School
During his sophomore year, Max started the Atlanta ID Project to help housing-insecure individuals obtain government-issued IDs. He submitted his idea to the Dr. Siva Kumari MYP Student Innovators program. Max was selected as a winner from an international pool of applicants to receive a grant to further his project. He then connected with Intown Collaborative Ministries, which has generously provided time and mentoring, enabling Max to build a process to help people obtain IDs. He also tutors at-risk youth with the Sandy Springs Mission and has created two award-winning documentaries on issues challenging the world today. “Across a big city like Atlanta, it might be expected for its citizens to have more differences than similarities, but we actually have a lot in common,” he said. “We share joy over Braves World Series victories, burning hatred for the traffic, and a sense of pride to hail from the former hub of the Civil Rights Movement. That pride inspires me to uplift our geographically bonded community through service.”
Catherine Dwyer, 16
The Paideia School
Food security first caught Catherine’s attention in junior high. She and her classmates volunteered at the Paideia school farm to help grow and harvest food for a local food pantry that served hundreds of families. To learn more, she volunteered at the Atlanta Community Food Bank and attended the Youth Food Summit for two consecutive years. Last summer, she volunteered at the Clarkston Community Center to support young children whose families do not have access to healthy food and also gathered food with Concrete Jungle. With help from chefs, teachers, and students, Catherine organized in-school cooking classes to preserve all this fresh food for food-insecure people in her community, including a women’s prison facility. “I felt an unforgettable sense of community and support working with this group and knowing that students took something away from this experience,” she said. “I learned just as much from this experience as the younger students, and I was excited to find that the women at the facility were grateful to receive the preserves.”
Kate Hidell, 18
Greater Atlanta Christian School
The senior is a Chapel Leader and Core Leader within the GACS Student Ministries program, where she acts a mentor to the student body. As a member of the Beta Club, she assembles holiday care packages for the nonprofit Samaritan’s Purse. In the community, Kate has made healthy lunches for undernourished children during the summer and collected canned and dry foods in the fall to restock local food pantries. She was also a mission student in El Paso, Texas for Casas Por Cristo, which sends building supplies to Guatemala and builds homes for poor underprivileged families. She’ll be heading to Guatemala herself in February to build one of the homes. I am excited to now travel to Guatemala and actually build a home from the ground up for a family,” she said. “It will be so rewarding to have seen this process through from start to finish. I also cannot wait to meet the family that will be blessed with this wonderful new home.”
Rachel Joseph, 19, Georgia State University
The Go Green Pad chapter at GSU was born out of Rachel’s determination to engineer a better solution for both women and the environment. She devised a way to upcycle clean, gently used materials into reusable menstruation pads. To date, the Go Green Pad has distribution channels in Freetown, Sierra Leone, Kampala, Uganda, Accra, Ghana and through Operation Christmas Child.
Jordan Polain, 18, Douglass High School
Over the past two years, Jordan has been a member of the Atlanta Fire & Rescue Department (AFRD) Cadet Program. “Just making a difference in somebody’s life even in the smallest way is something I’ve always enjoyed,” Jordan said. He plans to join the AFRD Firefighter Recruit Program when he graduates from high school.
Tsumari Patterson, 17, City Springs Theatre Conservatory
A City Springs Theatre Conservatory member, Tsumari will portray Jesus in an upcoming production of “Godspell Jr.” He also volunteers at City Springs professional productions, as well as at other productions and events throughout metro Atlanta. In addition to his involvement with City Springs, he is a volunteer at Snellville Performing Arts Studio.
Fernanda J. Morales, 17, Midtown High School
Fernanda has devoted most of her high school career to giving back as an officer in DECA, 21st Century Leaders, Health Occupations Students of America, vice-president of the International Club, and an active volunteer at a local food pantry. She’s been selected to shadow a medical professional in the Reach One Each One (ROEO) program as well as participated in the Women of Wall Street program.
Christopher Martinez, 19, Atlanta Fire Rescue Foundation
Along with volunteering, serving, and going on mission trips for his church, Iglesias Palabra Meil, Christopher graduated from the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department Cadet Program. He was presented with his cadet certification and a letter of intent for employment with AFRD. “People often ask why I chose this career, and I answer by saying that I wanted to do something to give back to my city,” Christopher said. “I love Atlanta and I’m very proud to call it my home.”
Ivy Holland, 17, Greater Atlanta Christian School
Ivy serves as senior teen president for the Jack and Jill leadership organization, volunteers at Nicholas House, Ronald McDonald House, and delivers foos with Meals on Wheels to the elderly. “I am committed to serve and share with my gifts, time and talents,” Ivy said. She is majoring in pre-medicine with plans to become an orthopedic surgeon and minoring in journalism with hopes of becoming a medical commentator.