The Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes Encourages Youth to Protect the Planet

The Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes celebrates inspiring young people from across the U.S. and Canada who are making the world a better place. The young heroes we honor demonstrate heroic ideals and remind us that we can all make a difference. We shine the spotlight on these dedicated young people to inspire countless others by their example.

If you know a young person helping their community or the environment, encourage them to apply for our 2024 awards cycle. The online application is now open so young leaders can access it and begin compiling their materials. Applications are due April 15, with winners announced in late September.

Established in 2001 by author T. A. Barron, the Barron Prize annually honors 25 outstanding young leaders ages 8 to 18 who have made a significant positive difference to people or the environment. Fifteen top winners each receive $10,000 to support their service work or higher education.

Meet Recent Recipients of the Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes

Here are some of the fantastic things that recent winners and honorees are doing to help protect the planet, along with their encouraging and insightful words of wisdom:

Mateo Lange created a community recycling program in his small town that has raised over $250,000 for more than 50 local youth organizations. He has recycled over two million bottles and cans and has donated 100% of the proceeds to groups including youth sports teams, Scout troops, and the high school band. His funds have also offset school lunch fees for struggling families. Mateo’s initiative has kept several tons of recyclables out of landfills, off roadsides, and out of waterways. It is the largest bottle and can drive in Michigan and one of the largest in the country. He launched his program during the Covid-19 pandemic, when the Governor of Michigan temporarily halted community recycling of bottles and cans. Aware that recyclables were piling up in families’ homes and garages, Mateo decided to hold a two-week recycling drive to benefit his baseball team.

“I’ve realized that it’s important to get involved because if we don’t, who will? I would much rather be a part of the solution than believe that someone else will eventually fix the problem.” — Mateo Lange

Matias Habib developed an eco-friendly pesticide to combat the Japanese Beetle, an invasive species that devastates U.S. agriculture each year. His patent-pending foliage spray, a natural mix of plant oils and amino acids, qualifies as an EPA minimum-risk pesticide. Matias spent his early years in southern France, where his family’s plum orchard was surrounded by other organic farms. After moving to Illinois, his family planted apple, cherry, and peach trees, only to see them decimated by Japanese Beetles in the summer of 2019. An avid 4-H member, Matias set up a lab in his garage, determined to discover natural ways to repel or kill the beetles. He studied century-old USDA research on plant oils, experimented with different formulas, and then presented his work at the Illinois 4-H State Fair. He won the championship in Entomology and a judge from the University of Illinois encouraged him to turn his research into a commercial bio-pesticide formula.

“Through this experience, I have overcome social anxiety and developed confidence in my ideas. And I have learned that by following our passions, we can all make a positive impact.” — Matias Habib

Nathan Elias developed InvasiveAI, an app that uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to identify invasive plant species and predict their spread. The app, which classifies invasive species with an accuracy of 97%, has been deployed to agricultural workers, farmers, and citizen scientists. The app runs offline so that farmers can use it anywhere. It allows users to upload an image of a plant or any other species and learn if it’s invasive. If so, the app provides information about the species along with its predicted spread at various intervals. These future spreads are calculated via algorithms that account for environmental factors like rain and wind speed. Users can also report the location of an invasive, adding to the app’s database of 5,000 invasive species.

“Growing up, I’ve always felt that creating impact was something only ‘the experts’ could do. Creating InvasiveAI has been a transformative experience for me because I have realized that regardless of my age, I can have a direct impact on the world.” — Nathan Elias

Rafi Ahmad founded Operation Viridis, a nonprofit climate justice initiative that addresses environmental racism in his hometown of Chicago through the planting of trees in disadvantaged neighborhoods. He exposes the correlation between historical Redlining (a discriminatory lending practice) and the considerably greater risk of extreme heat and flash flooding faced by low-income and minority communities. Rafi advocates for trees as a highly effective, cost-efficient, climate-friendly, and scalable solution to fortify impacted communities against increasing environmental threats. The City of Chicago offers trees to all residents free of charge, though most are planted in wealthy neighborhoods rather than low-income and minority ones. Since the trees are offered on a first come, first served basis, Rafi’s work focuses on increasing awareness of the trees’ availability in the city’s most heat-vulnerable neighborhoods.

“Operation Viridis has opened my eyes to the power and potential of youthful curiosity and creativity to drive impactful social change. It has also renewed my faith in our ability to address climate change.” — Rafi Ahmad

Rory Hu conducted yearlong research that yielded a viable way to prevent Colony Collapse Disorder, a problem plaguing beekeepers and threatening the ecosystem. Disheartened by a news article about honeybees’ decline, she dug into existing research to learn more. She discovered their rapid decline is due partly to a loss of learning and memory skills caused by pesticides used to kill bee parasites. With impaired learning and memory, bees are unable to navigate and gather food, ultimately causing collapse of the entire hive. Rory found prior studies indicating compounds in tea and coffee have a positive effect on honeybees’ olfactory learning and memory. She decided to test whether the compounds could actually repair damage caused by pesticide exposure rather than just enhance the learning and memory of healthy bees.

“I realized just how far my passion could drive me. By pushing my limits, I achieved what I’d previously considered undoable and found dedication I didn’t know I had.” — Rory Hu

Shrusti Amula founded the Rise N Shine Foundation in 2019 to reduce food waste in her community in order to feed those in need and combat climate change. Her nonprofit runs food recovery and composting programs in Montgomery County Public Schools, Maryland’s largest school district, and its surrounding community. Shrusti’s school food recovery program collects students’ uneaten, unopened food that would otherwise be thrown out – nearly 9,000 items each month – and makes it available to students in need, especially those who are food shy and food insecure. The program currently operates at 39 schools and is slated for all 209 district schools within a year. Shrusti and her team also support 12 schools in composting their food waste, diverting approximately 1,500 pounds of food per school each month from the incinerator. Compost Ambassadors oversee operations at each school and help students adopt green habits. The program’s success inspired Maryland legislators to introduce two bills to establish a grant program to support school composting statewide.

“I’ve learned that persistence is key and to not be discouraged by setbacks. I’ve also learned the value of being a solutionist — someone willing to work hard to ensure change — instead of just an activist.” — Shrusti Amula

Maanit Goel founded the Washington Youth Ocean & River Conservation Alliance (WYORCA) to protect Pacific Northwest orca and salmon. His group of teen volunteers teaches other students that Snake River Chinook salmon face extinction, which threatens the Southern Resident orcas that feed on the fish. His team further explains how dams along the lower Snake River endanger salmon by creating reservoirs where warm waters stress the cold-water fish as they return to Idaho to spawn. Maanit leads his peers in “advocaSEA,” lobbying legislators to remove the dams and replace them with renewable energy, an idea supported by scientists, tribal leaders, and conservation groups. He has engaged over one thousand teens in letter-writing campaigns, rallies, and marches at the state Capitol. More than 1,100 students signed statements he drafted to federal officials requesting the removal and clean replacement of Snake River dams. His group’s efforts led Washington Senator Murray and Governor Inslee to issue statements advocating for full renewable energy and infrastructure replacement to enable the dams’ removal.

“I’ve seen the influence young people can have on policy matters, even before we can vote. The superpower of youth is in refusing to compromise when it comes to the future of our planet.”— Maanit Goel

Maya Gowda founded Students for Environmental Education & Discovery (SEED), a K-12 climate literacy program that has reached over 100,000 students in 173 schools. Her free, comprehensive curriculum focuses on the impacts of climate change and aligns with National Science Standards. It has been adopted by Miami-Dade County Public Schools as part of the district’s K-5 Earth Day curriculum. Maya and her team of high school volunteers teach students at schools and youth organizations across Miami. They also provide virtual presentations and pre-recorded videos to students in five other countries. Maya has built partnerships with the Miami-Dade Public Library system, the South African World Health Organization, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. She is currently working with peers to translate SEED modules into Spanish, French, and Hindi, among other languages. She is also developing additional curricula strands along with hands-on kits to help students apply and experiment with SEED concepts. A companion app in the works will allow students to test their knowledge gained from SEED modules.

“Encouraging other youth to join me in tackling climate injustice has ignited a fire in me — a fire that will continue to burn as I work with my generation and plant the seeds for change.”  — Maya Gowda

Sawyer Anderson founded Water Works, a nonprofit that brings clean water to people in poverty-stricken Zambia. She has written and illustrated Water Works, a children’s book about the water crisis, selling more than 18,000 copies to fund clean water initiatives. Sawyer began her work at age 8 after hearing her father’s stories of the water crisis in Zambia following his visit to the country. Moved to help, she decided to sew and sell bags like the beautiful one her dad had brought back from Africa. It was made from chitenge, a bright African wax cloth commonly used to make dresses, bags, and baby carriers. Sawyer has inspired hundreds of kids and volunteers to help sew more than 1,400 chitenge Bags of Hope, which she sells for $50 each – the cost to provide clean water to one person for a lifetime. Thanks to partnerships with international nonprofits Wellspring for the World and World Vision, Sawyer has raised $1.2 million and built 85 clean water wells.

“I will not stop until I can help bring clean water to every person that is without it. We all matter and a kid really CAN make a difference.” — Sawyer Anderson

Sriram Bhimaraju founded the nonprofit Seas Brighter to help protect oceans from plastic pollution through new technologies and educational materials. He has invented an electrocoagulation system to remove microplastics from water and hopes it can be used in community wastewater facilities. In lab tests, his device removed nearly 90% of polluting microplastics. He has also developed a smartphone app called SAAGARA that reads labels on personal care products and allows consumers to determine if the ingredients are safe for them and marine life. His free app is available in Apple and Google app stores. To reach kids, Sriram has created coloring books that teach environmental concepts and include artwork submitted by students from around the world. He has also written children’s books featuring animals impacted by plastic pollution and climate change. His educational materials have reached over 10,000 students across India and the U.S., with printing costs covered by sponsors. The materials have been translated into Telugu, Malayalam, and American Sign Language. Sriram’s passion for ocean conservation stems largely from his love of scuba diving and exploring coral reefs.

“I firmly believe that anything we can do for the planet starts with the little actions we can all take. I also believe it’s incredibly important for younger generations to take an active role in preserving the environment.” — Sriram Bhimaraju

Do You Know a Young Hero?

The Barron Prize celebrates young people who have demonstrated initiative, tenacity, courage, compassion, generosity, and high moral purpose. We invite public-spirited young people across North America to visit barronprize.org for more information about the application requirements.

Come April 15, we’ll begin reviewing applications, a process that spans months and calls on the heads and hearts of our judging committee. It’s truly inspiring to review hundreds of applications from courageous and compassionate young people. And honestly, it’s a daunting task to choose just 25 young heroes from them. Still, after a great deal of deliberation and debate, we always arrive at a group of winners and honorees who embody so much goodness. It’s an honor to shine the spotlight on them so that their work and heroic ideals can inspire us all.

About the Author

Barbara Ann Richman helped launch the Barron Prize in 2001 and has served as its executive director ever since. With degrees from the University of Virginia and the Harvard Graduate School of Education, she has taught elementary school in the Boston area, directed educational programming at a regional nature center in Colorado, and taught at Fort Lewis College. She has also developed curricula for the U.S. Forest Service and numerous environmental organizations.