Every year, Montage Hotels & Resorts asks America’s youth between the ages of 13 and 17 to submit essays explaining how they’re making tremendous differences in their communities as a part of the Montage Memory Makers contest. Choosing the competition’s top 12 contenders is tough; narrowing the list to five winners via a judges’ panel is even tougher. This year’s panel consisted of Montage Founder, Chairman and CEO Alan Fuerstman and literary ambassador Brad Meltzer; Norah Weinstein and Kelly Sawyer Patricof, co-presidents of the nonprofit Baby2Baby, which provides low-income children with necessities; and Sid Espinosa, the director of philanthropy and civic engagement at Microsoft. The judges selected the winners based on criteria such as ongoing community service or volunteering efforts, and achievements which made a meaningful impact. Each of the top winners receives a $10,000 academic scholarship and a two-night stay at any of the Montage properties. Inspired by the associate-led community outreach program Hearts of Montage, Montage Memory Makers is an opportunity to shine a light on young people who are giving back in their communities.
Here are the 2017 Montage Memory Makers.
Winner: Ariana Luterman, Dallas, Texas
Project: Team Ariana
Accomplishments: Raised more than $150,000, benefiting over 5,000 homeless children
Ariana Luterman was moved when she heard the children laugh. Only 7 when she first visited Vogel Alcove, a child development service for homeless children, she knew at the end of her visit, the kids she was meeting that day would be going “home” to a shelter. “These sweet children did not ask for nor deserve the mountain of obstacles life was throwing at them,” Luterman says.
And, so, Team Ariana was born. Parlaying her talent as a triathlete—she won adult competitions from age 11 on—she used the national recognition as a vehicle to help homeless children. She created a website, solicited corporations, secured a clothing sponsor and designed a Team Ariana racewear line. The project is now a national movement.
“Whenever I train and compete, I race for those innocent victims of circumstance,” says Luterman, now 17.
Winner: Olivia Wright, Hendersonville, Tennessee
Project: Help Us Give Shoes (HUGS Inc.)
Accomplishments: More than 108,000 pairs of shoes donated
While watching a Feed the Children’s commercial, Olivia Wright noticed the poor children portrayed wore decrepit shoes, “stapled, glued together or sometimes even taped,” she says.
Then 9, she scoured her own closet for shoes to donate and asked her friends and church members to do the same. After she personally delivered shoes to needy families, she says, “I was hooked, knowing I could truly make a difference.”
Her Tennessee-based Help Us Give Shoes (HUGS Inc.) expanded to a national and then an international focus, but the original mission remains: “Give shoes and smiles and show the shoe recipient that they are cared about and worthy,” says Wright, now 18.
Winner: Corinne Hindes, Walnut Creek, California
Project: Warm Winters
Accomplishments: Collected 41,600 apparel donations with an estimated $1 million impact
At age 11, Corinne Hindes was appalled to witness a homeless man shivering in short sleeves on a cold winter day. She and friend Katrine Kirsebom, both ski racers, were pondering ways to help while looking for Hindes’ hat at Kirkwood Mountain Resort. At the resort’s lost and found, “We were shocked to see a large pile of warm coats, hats, gloves and scarves, unclaimed and ready to be discarded,” she recalls.
The resort agreed to let Hindes take the items to help homeless people in the area. She dubbed her effort Warm Winters. Soon, she learned most ski resorts hold lost-and-found items up to 30 days but, afterward, don’t have the resources to get the unclaimed pieces “to a good home.” Enter Hindes, to provide the missing link.
“We quickly expanded to four ski resorts in California,” says Hindes, who later began leadership training with the Jefferson Awards Foundation, helping her gain experience needed to make the nonprofit flourish. “In 2014, we began to expand across the United States,” says Hindes, now 17. Warmer Winters now partners with 34 resorts in 12 states in the U.S., one resort in Australia and one in Canada.
Winner: Will Lourcey, Fort Worth, Texas
Project: Friends Reaching Our Goals (FROGs); FROGs Dinner Club; Score on Hunger
Accomplishment: Providing 500,000 meals, 80,000 food bags and 300,000 donated items
At 7 years old, Will Lourcey was shocked to read a brief appeal that read “Need a meal,” on the sign of a man standing on a street corner. Until that moment, he hadn’t realized people in his own community needed help. In response, Lourcey created Friends Reaching Our Goals (FROGs). “We started out with events like lemonade and popsicle stands and yard sales,” he says.
When he learned one out of every four kids in his community was at-risk of hunger, he partnered with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Forth Worth to start FROGs Dinner Club. Each month, Lourcey says kids from “one of the neediest parts of our city” are served dinner. Afterward, they work on a service project together.
Lourcey then turned to combating hunger nationally, forming the Score on Hunger program. Partnering with the Jefferson Awards Foundation, his latest program has kids recruit sponsors to pledge $1 or one food item for every goal, run or point scored in their sports games. Donations go to hunger-fighting charities. So far, the program has garnered more than 300,000 donated food items, equating to over $900,000.
“It’s awesome to inspire kids to use their voices to change the world,” says Lourcey, now 14.
Winner: Isabel Janavs, Newport Coast, California
Project: The Candy Palace
Accomplishments: Raised $274,000 and provided more than 771,000 meals
When she was 9, Isabel Janavs wrote “Izzy and the Candy Palace.” Soon after, she visited the Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County where she saw a tiny replica room and learned a family of five might live in a similar space—if they had shelter at all. Then her mother told her about people taking ketchup packets from fast-food restaurants “so they can make soup for their kids,” Janavs says.
She decided to publish her book and donate its proceeds to help people in need through what she called The Candy Palace program. At the food bank, she also opened Izzy’s Corner, a life-sized replica of the book’s Candy Palace. There, Izzy’s Corner volunteers, ages 7 to 13, help sort and package nutritious produce to feed the hungry. With organizations such as the Boy Scouts of America eager to participate, the popular youth volunteer program is booked six months in advance.
Janavs also created 3-D boxes shaped to look like Candy Palace. Kids use the container to collect spare change, which is donated to help those without enough to eat. Since publishing “Izzy and the Candy Palace,” Janavs has helped other kids publish books for charities and she’s now working on a second book herself.
Today, 16-year-old Janavs continues to work on expanding the nonprofit’s reach. “I’m talking to the food bank about implementing my program nationwide, so more kids can find creative ways to give,” she says.
By Nancy Dorman-Hickson