Inspiring Change Makers

by | Sep 28, 2016 | Blog, For Educators, For Young Heroes, Heroes, Inspiration, News

red_leaf_smSeasons are a revolving gift—continually different from what has gone before and what will come after. They are the ultimate change makers, with varied weather, foods, holidays, flora, fauna, and activities for us all. Plus a special seasonal magic.

In autumn, now upon us, nature transforms the landscape with a spectacular array of colors, bringing a poignant end to summer. But even as the leaves of trees and plants lose their colors and tumble to the ground…they are making it possible for other seasons to follow. That’s why autumn always makes me feel that anything and everything is possible—every bit as much as spring, the season of renewal and hope.

And if that’s not pure magic—what is?

Nature and young people are my most powerful sources of inspiration. Both share that wondrous ability to transform—both as individuals and as forces affecting the wider world. When I’m hiking on the Mesa Trail above Chatauqua or traversing the western slope of Colorado, I’ve found that nature is a wonderful friend, brilliant teacher, powerful healer and true inspiration. And young people, to my delight, can play all those roles, as well.

Young people combine the energy and idealism of childhood with the realistic awareness of adulthood. (Believe me, I know about their endless energy—having five busy kids!) What’s more, young people want the truth and nothing but the truth. They are honest enough to ask life’s toughest questions. And they still have the courage to hope. To them, literally anything is possible.


That spirit is perfectly captured by the Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes, a prize celebrating outstanding young leaders who have made a significant, positive impact on people, their communities, and our planet. Named after my mother, a devoted teacher, the Barron Prize was founded because every one of us, but especially young people, deserve to hear about real kids who radiate courage, compassion and perseverance. Kids who have made a positive difference to the world. Kids who have discovered that they have the power to act on their ideals. Kids like some of this year’s recently announced Barron Prize winners:

  • Hannah began her work two years ago after learning that her 9-year-old Ethiopian pen pal, Ruth, was living without a reliable source of electricity. Determined to help, Hannah invented a device that converts the kinetic energy of ocean tides or any moving body of water into usable electricity. She dubbed her invention BEACON — Bringing Electricity Access to Countries through Ocean eNergy. Hannah envisions BEACON being used in developing countries to power desalination pumps (for fresh water), run centrifuges (to test blood), and power electric buoys (for maritime navigation).
  • After seeing children with disabilities sitting on the playground sidelines watching other kids play, 12-year-old Rachel thought to herself, “This isn’t fair! Someone should do something about it!” and immediately decided she would be that someone. A week later, she presented her idea for a fully accessible playground to her City Council and easily won their support, including the pledge of space in a city park. She has worked tirelessly for two years to raise more than85,000 to build a handicapped accessible playground in her community to benefit children, as well as wounded warriors and their families living in nearby Fort Knox.
  • Raghav invented SmartWalk, a 21st century version of the white cane used by the visually impaired that includes electronic “eyes” to better help the blind navigate obstacles. His clip-on electronic attachment – housed in a box about the size of two decks of cards — allows users to sense objects well beyond the usual reach of the white cane. As people sweep SmartWalk back and forth, the cane vibrates to warn them of knee-high objects as far as 10 feet ahead. The intensity of the vibration indicates the distance of the obstacle, and the vibrations stop once the path is clear. Raghav worked for months with his local blind center to test his invention. He used funds from a small grant to make multiples copies of the device and donated them to the blind center. In addition, he published the design, making it easy for other non-profits to produce and distribute the device to those in need.

These young heroes give us an idea of our own potential to make a positive difference. On the trail we walk called Life…they show us just how far we can go and how high we can climb. How do they do that? Partly because their actions directly touch other people and make the world a better place. And partly because their examples have great power to inspire others.

Each of these remarkable young people is doing something to help our world. And each of them—I promise—will renew your hope, just as they do mine every year. They are as inspiring as the seasons—and just as magical.

This blog entry was originally published on The Huffington Post.