In April, Avalon Theisen, 11, organized Tampa, Florida’s "Save the Frogs Day" event.
“This year we created something that I don’t think had ever been done before," Avalon says. "We videoed 347 people and one happy dog and created Florida’s largest human frog chorus to raise awareness for amphibian conservation."
That would be humans making frog-like noises.
Through her website, and Conserve It Forward, the non-profit she founded two years ago, Theisen raises money for conservation, inspires other kids to take care of the natural world and shares her passion for protecting frogs.
“I’m always adding new programs to ‘Conserve It Forward’ and looking for new ways to help the environment as well as ways for others to get involved," she says. "Some of my ideas are to start a snake conservation program for little kids, say just from pre-school to second grade. I really love snakes. They are actually my favorite animal.”
Theisen's efforts were recognized this year. She is being honored with the Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes. The annual award, established by children’s book author T. A. Barron, honors young leaders, between eight and 18 years old, who are making a difference in the world.
Barron says the prize recognizes that even children can make the world a better place. “That’s the truth, but most young people don’t know that or if they heard of it they wouldn’t believe it.”
That’s why Barron started the prize 12 years ago. The winners receive $2500 to support their education or service project.
Honorees have to meet certain criteria, according to Barron. That includes a genuine sense of passion about a problem that affects humanity or the environment; a real and lasting commitment to try to make a difference; and effectiveness, measurable results of a project that has actually made a difference.
The prize is named for Barron’s mother.
“She was a teacher," he says. "She taught at a Colorado school for the blind. She always believed that every person could somehow make a difference.”
Like Barron's mother, this year’s honorees have made a difference in a wide range of areas.
“We have a boy who developed a solar lantern that’s now being used in villages in East Africa, that can light homes effectively and no energy needed," he says. "We have a girl who is developing sustainable farming techniques at her farm. We have a boy who developed puzzles that can help older people with Alzheimer’s to reclaim their ability to remember.”
Barron notes that, although the Young Heroes have different interests and backgrounds, they all possess self-confidence.
“The one thing that's really in common is a sense of themselves as a bundle of energy that could be turned toward positive good and help other people” he says.
And, he adds, they have family support, parents who encourage them to turn their dreams into action, and to realize they really can change the world.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that Avalon Theisen was 14 years old. VOA regrets the error.