Community Engagement
Engaging Youth Through Education & Service Can Transform Communities
Sophie L. Bernstein
Sophie L. Bernstein

Every community struggles with issues, challenges and injustices. Youth can be powerful agents for change and heal divisions within communities. A change agent is someone who uses their voice and actions to foster and create positive change. Young people have advocated for voting rights, civil rights, immigration reform and LGBT rights. Even small actions can make a difference. Youth have the energy and idealism to eradicate the injustices they see in the world. Even on a small scale youth can make a significant impact and foster positive change.

When I learned in my middle school health class of the high rate of childhood hunger and childhood obesity in my community, I wondered what I could do to impact and lower both.  Combining my desire and interest in gardening, I asked my parents if I could plant a vegetable garden in my backyard and donate the crops to local food banks. My parents were initially not very supportive. My mom equated a garden to lots of extra work that would be ultimately bestowed upon her. However, when I shared the elevating rates of both childhood obesity and hunger in our community, I was able to persuade my parents to let me build and plant a small raised vegetable garden.

I applied and received a grant from Katie’s Krops, a nonprofit started by a young girl named Katie Stagliano, who was also a Stephen J. Brady Stop Hunger Scholar.  Katie’s Krops provides grants for young people to grow vegetable gardens to help end hunger. I grew my first garden and donated all the produce to food banks in the St. Louis Metropolitan area. The best part was that my family really enjoyed being out in the garden as much as I did.

The food banks welcomed my donations and allowed me to tour the facilities. I was surprised to learn that there were limited options of fresh fruits and vegetables and even fewer non-perishable healthier food choices. Unfortunately, the shelves were stocked with sugary drinks, donuts and cookies. With my garden season coming to an end, I wanted to make a healthy impact year-round. I arranged and hosted a variety of peanut butter drives, low-sodium soup drives and canned bean drives throughout my community. I approached religious institutions, community centers and local schools to help with hosting the food collection drives.

As I my vision grew, my efforts expanded. In 2015, I was awarded a Stephen J. Brady Stop Hunger Scholarship and received $5,000 for school and $5,000 to help my charity, VolunTEEN Nation. I am using the grant to build more gardens at both low-income preschools and at group foster homes.  The crops will be donated to local area food banks.

The Stop Hunger Scholarships are aimed at transforming communities through education and service. It’s incredible how many passionate young people there are in this world! I was able to meet some of them through the Stop Hunger Scholarships.

Youth can be catalysts to improving communities by creating innovative solutions to eliminate hunger, violence and illiteracy in communities. We are all part of the solution and organizations like Sodexo Foundation, Katie’s Krops, VolunTEEN Nation and Youth Service America can help provide the tools, support and resources to problem-solve issues in our communities.


The application period for the Stephen J. Brady Stop Hunger Scholarship is October 5 – December 5. Apply now at and you could #GET5GIVE5 in your hometown.


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