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Whiz Kids 2017: Meet our talented standouts

Contributing Writer

Meet 12 of Orange County’s most talented and driven kids. They may be young, but they are already living out their dreams.

Maya Alvarez-Coyne

Age: 14
City: Irvine
School: Orange County School of the Arts
Grade: 8
Why she is a Whiz Kid: She’s a top-ranked Irish dancer who won a social media contest to dance on stage with Justin Bieber during his Purpose World Tour.

Maya Alvarez-Coyne never imagined her first concert would find her on stage with one of her favorite artists. But that’s exactly where the dancer was as she performed alongside Justin Bieber last summer during the Orlando, Fla., stop of his Purpose World Tour.

“It was the best performing experience of my life,” Maya says. “Just like Christmas. I’ll never forget it.”

Being on stage is nothing new for Maya.

The versatile teen is a top-ranked Irish dancer in North America and ranked No. 8 in the world in her age group, but she also has a love for other styles of dance: hip-hop, jazz funk and contemporary, all genres she gets to explore daily as a student in the commercial dance conservatory at Orange County School of the Arts and a member of the Millennium Dance Complex Junior Professional Program.

Her Irish roots drew Maya to the rhythmic style of Irish dance. She watched an Irish dance group perform at her church when she was 2, and by the age of 5 she had begun lessons.

Now dancing with the Butler-Fearon-O’Connor School of Irish Dance in Laguna Hills, Maya has competed all over the country and around the world, including at the All-Ireland Irish Dance Championships and the North American Irish Dance Championships, which were held in Orlando in July.

And that’s where her Justin Bieber encounter comes in.

Knowing she would be in Orlando at the same time as the pop star, she submitted an entry through a social media contest to dance on stage with him.

Her submission incorporated both the required choreography and some Irish dance improvisation, which Maya is certain gave her an edge.

Joining three other young dancers on stage during his song “Children,” Maya was positioned next to Bieber as she danced in front of thousands of screaming fans.

“I’ve been a true ‘belieber’ since ‘Baby’ came out,” she says. “I was pinching myself the whole night.”

She is preparing for the 2017 World Irish Dance Championships, to be held in Dublin, Ireland, in April.

But her interests aren’t limited to dance. The straight-A student also has a love for science, having represented OCSA on its first-ever team at the Science Olympiad regional competition last year. But no matter her path, it’s certain to involve dance.

“I love the feeling of the bright lights,” Maya says. “I love dancing my heart out and putting it all out on the stage.”

Sydney Fredette

Age: 18
City: Laguna Hills
School: Santa Margarita Catholic High School
Grade: 12
Why she is a Whiz Kid: Sydney is a Kindness Ambassador for GenerationOn, Founder of Be the Change Club and “Beary Merry Christmas,” all volunteer efforts to serve underprivileged kids and families in Orange County.

As an expression of honor for her best friend who died of cancer nearly 10 years ago, Sydney Fredette has been committed to serving those in Orange County who are less fortunate.

She began with the simple idea of collecting donated Build-A-Bears, the popular stuffed animal that is assembled in the stores’ “workshops.” Sydney then took the donated bears to a motel in Anaheim that serves as temporary housing for the homeless and distributed them as gifts to children during the holiday season.

With donations now at more than 100 bears annually, Sydney and volunteers host “Beary Merry Christmas” each year and have expanded the event to include giving out not only the bears, but also clothing, meals, toiletries and other supplies to families in need.

“I love making relationships with the people I serve,” says Sydney. “The gratitude they have, hearing their stories and seeing how happy they are, it’s so cool.”

Not wanting to limit the giving to just the holiday months, Sydney now hosts other events for Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and Halloween, providing the chance for her volunteer team to make a difference throughout the year.

The source of her efforts and those volunteers can be found at the Be The Change Club that Sydney organized at Santa Margarita Catholic High School, where her “family of support” is 60-plus members strong and to date has helped gather 2,000 bears, 800 blankets, and more than $70,000 worth of donations for the underserved in Orange County, including books, sleeping bags, meals and toys. (Instagram @BeTheChange_Club)

Additionally, as a Kindness Ambassador for GenerationOn, a national volunteer organization, Sydney spends time at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Capistrano Valley, where she challenges the kids to create and practice acts of kindness, modeling for the next generation that young people, too, can make a difference.

Future projects for Sydney include establishing a public food pantry and providing a self-defense/awareness class for college-bound students on her campus, an idea that will come to fruition thanks to a 2016 “Summer of Service” grant Sydney was awarded by The Walt Disney Company.

Heading to college in the fall, Sydney is looking to stay local and continue being the change she feels her county needs. The smiles on the faces of those she serves remain both her motivation and her reward. “These charity efforts are such a big part of my life,” says Sydney. “All of it has taught me to be more compassionate and to look out for the needs of others before my own.”

Maggie Jennison

Age: 17
City: Ladera Ranch
School: Santa Margarita Catholic High School
Grade: 12
Why she is a Whiz Kid: Maggie started Look Up OC, a campaign to educate kids, teens and adults on the dangers of texting and driving.

As a 15-year old in the process of obtaining her driver’s license, Maggie Jennison became acutely aware of the actions of other drivers around her. And she didn’t like what she was seeing.

“I began noticing so many drivers who were on their phones,” says Maggie. “I remember thinking I didn’t want to drive until it was safer.”

Instead of remaining fearful, Maggie decided to act.

During one particular car ride that Maggie took with her mother, the two noticed more than a dozen drivers who were distracted in some way by their phones. They began motioning to those drivers to “look up,” and from that experience, Maggie formed the idea to start Look Up OC. With the tag line, “Life … It’s more important than a text,” Look Up OC (lookupoc.org) aims to bring awareness to the risks of texting and driving by providing the opportunity for kids, teens and adults to take a pledge, thereby promising to encourage and practice safe driving habits.

Maggie began her efforts at the most logical place, her high school. At the start of her sophomore year, she established a club on the campus of Santa Margarita Catholic High School called Look Up SM, which organizes pledge-signing drives and lunchtime assemblies.

What started with around 50 members has now grown close to 100 members.

The key to Maggie’s efforts is the pledge, which is available on the campaign’s website for three different age groups – kids under the age of 15, new teen drivers and young adults ages 16-20, and adults over the age of 21, each with an age-appropriate focus. To date, Maggie says there are a few hundred people who have signed the pledge to help keep Orange County’s streets safer.

To expand the driving safety message more broadly across the county, Maggie has met with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department public relations team, including Sheriff Sandra Hutchens, who signed the Look Up OC pledge, to discuss ways to reach other schools.

Right now, that’s happening by word of mouth, as a new chapter of Look Up OC has recently been started at Mater Dei High School.

Maggie is planning to attend college out of state, so she’s working to pass the club’s responsibilities on to friends and other underclassmen who will continue spreading the life-saving message to drivers about keeping their phones down and their eyes up. “I’ve learned that I can make a difference,” says Maggie, “and that these little ways I’m helping can actually save people’s lives.”

Isabela Kimmel

Age: 17
City: Anaheim
School: Orange County School of the Arts
Grade: 12
Why she is a Whiz Kid: The Girl Scout earned her Gold Award by creating
a sustainable library for an indigenous village in Costa Rica.

Isabela Kimmel has always had a passion for helping people, volunteering in her community through the Girls Scouts of the USA since she was young. “I love that feeling that comes with helping others,” Isabela says. “There are so many people who deserve more.”

Serving as a Girl Scout for nearly 14 years, Isabela came across an opportunity through the organization that opened her eyes to how she could help those beyond our borders.

For older Girl Scouts, the Girl Scouts’ Destinations program provides the chance to travel to international locations where they are exposed to different cultures and learn life skills. So when she saw a leadership-focused trip to Peru being offered, Isabela didn’t hesitate, topping more than 2,500 boxes in cookie sales so she could attend.

“I was immersed in the culture and learned so much about both leadership and myself,” she says. “And I saw a huge gap in the opportunities for kids, compared to what we have here, especially for girls.”

The Peruvian trip made an impact on Isabela, and as she outlined plans to pursue her Girls Scouts Gold Award, she knew she wanted to reach children in another country.

With support from Outward Bound, Isabela chose to attend another Girl Scout Destination trip, this one to Costa Rica.

While there, her plan was to build a library space at an elementary school in the indigenous village of Bajo Coen, where the villagers live without electricity or access to educational books and supplies.

Isabela, along with other Girl Scouts from across the country who were on the trip, spent nearly six months holding donation drives to collect Spanish books, school supplies and flashlights, filling seven boxes and two suitcases.

Once in the remote village, the Girl Scouts and the villagers constructed shelving for the library and worked on other refurbishment projects such as painting and building a greenhouse.

One of the requirements of a Gold Award project is that it be sustainable, so Isabela has arranged for future Girl Scout Destination program attendees to bring donated books and supplies for the school when they travel to Costa Rica.

As a dancer in the classical and contemporary conservatory at Orange County School of the Arts, Isabela hopes to incorporate dance into studying international relations alongside her commitment to serving those in need around the globe.

“I learned that I can be a leader at any age,” she says. “Small acts of kindness can go a long way.”

Carson Kropfl

Age: 11
City: San Clemente
School: Shorecliffs Middle School
Grade: 6
Why he is a Whiz Kid: The young entrepreneur designed a product called Locker Board, a skateboard that fits inside a backpack or a locker.

When his parents informed him that he needed to earn his own money to pay for surf lessons and competition fees, surfer and skateboarder Carson Kropfl, decided his best option would be to take the entrepreneurial route.

“My mom wanted me to clean around the house, but I hate cleaning,” Carson says. “And I always wanted a skateboard that would fit in my locker. So I made one.”

After a series of construction trials and errors, Carson refined his creation, which he named Locker Board.

He takes used skateboard decks and cuts them down to either a 14- or 16-inch length, just the right size to fit into most backpacks and school lockers, but big enough to ride and do tricks.

Initial sales to friends began in October, and as word of mouth about the compact skateboards spread, it quickly led to the need for an online presence. At lockerboard.net, customers can purchase the $69 boards complete with trucks and wheels, as well as see Carson demonstrate how the boards are made and used.

Carson and his invention have been the subject of numerous articles, both locally and nationally, including a piece about the skateboards posted on the educational website newsela.com, where his story is inspiring students across the nation.

But the inventor’s biggest exposure to date was an appearance with Harry Connick Jr. on his daytime television talk show, “Harry.”

Carson and his parents flew to New York City in January to film one of the show’s segments called “Biz Kid To Be,” a “Shark Tank”-type competition in which Carson competed against other young entrepreneurs and pitched his Locker Board concept to a panel of judges.

Selected as the runner-up, he received $1,000 plus a Motorola phone and camera equipment he will use for future vlogging and demonstration videos.

While in New York, he also made a visit to Trump Tower and left a note for the president asking if he could send a Locker Board to Trump’s son Barron.(He hasn’t heard back yet.)

Carson’s biggest challenge is finding the time to cut and make the boards, so his plans for 2017 include exploring ways to mass produce Locker Boards while continuing to utilize recycled decks.

Sales goals for this year are set at the 500 mark, and $1 for every board sold will be donated to the Tony Hawk Foundation.

Motivated by the positive reception to his concept, Carson is not shy about his vision for his brand.

“I’d like to see this become a huge, worldwide company,” he says, “that inspires kids to work hard, shred hard, dream hard and play hard.”

Royce Lewis

Age: 17
City: Aliso Viejo
School: JSerra Catholic High School
Grade: 12
Why he is a Whiz Kid: The standout baseball player was a member of the 2016 gold medal-winning USA Baseball 18U National Team.

Royce Lewis’ parents realized from an early age that their son was destined to become an athlete. “My first word was ‘ball,’ ” Royce says. “My parents knew that I would end up playing some kind of sport.”

By age 3, Royce’s sport of choice had become baseball, and his love for America’s pastime was solidified.

“The fact that there’s no clock on the game, the knowledge and understanding it brings, the long-lasting friendships I’ve made – it’s just fun,” Royce says. “Baseball is the love of my life.”

Royce has turned his love for the game into a stellar high school career, one that has seen him collect a long list of accolades in a short period of time.

In addition to leading his team to a third consecutive championship in the highly competitive Trinity League, Royce was named the 2016 Trinity League most valuable player, the 2016 Los Angeles Times Southern California high school baseball player of the year and the 2016 Cal-Hi Sports junior player of the year.

When baseball’s season ended last spring, Royce was just getting started. He made off-season appearances over the summer in the 2016 Under Armour All-America Game at Wrigley Field in Chicago and the 2016 Perfect Game All-American Classic at Petco Park in San Diego and was named MVP for both.

But Royce says his biggest honor to date was being selected for the USA Baseball 18U National Team.

The gold medal-winning squad defeated Cuba in October in Monterrey, Mexico, for the 2016 COPABE Pan American AAA Championship.

“Representing your country is a big deal,” Royce says. “The tournament was a grind, but toward the end, you understand what an honor it is.”

The versatile infielder/outfielder has played several positions over his career, but he considers his natural place on the diamond to be up the middle, specifically at shortstop, and he models his game after one of the best, Derek Jeter.

“He approaches the game the right way,” Royce says of Jeter. “His character gave the game life.”

Another player Royce admires is Carlos Correa, shortstop for the Houston Astros. Correa is 6’-4”, which is considered tall for a shortstop. Royce is 6’-2,” and has been told in the past his height may limit him, but he is inspired by Correa’s success to remain in the position he feels best suits him.

While committed to UC Irvine, Royce may find himself playing on the same ballfields as Jeter once did in the near future, as he is projected to be drafted in the first round of the Major League Baseball draft in June.

He keeps his focus on the here and now but admits, “It’s been a dream of mine since day one.”

Anna Cecilia Meyer

Age: 14
City: Corona
School: Capistrano Connections Academy
Grade: 9
Why she is a Whiz Kid: The preprofessional ballerina was awarded the Youth American Grand Prix award at the 2016 Las Vegas semi-finals, then competed at the competition’s finals in New York, where she was awarded a full scholarship to study ballet at Princess Grace Academy in Monaco.

Anna Cecilia Meyer is not afraid to travel halfway around the world to chase her dreams.

And for now, that means her home is at Princess Grace Academy, a professional ballet school in Monaco, where she is studying full time to achieve her dream of becoming a professional ballerina.

The road to Monaco began when she was a toddler. Anna’s parents placed their active 3-year-old in dance classes at Corona Dance Academy, where she studied several different styles of dance for nearly 10 years.

Acceptance into the classical and contemporary dance conservatory at Orange County School of the Arts, as well as her continued training under the direction of Rosemary McCarter, artistic director at Corona Dance Academy, and Elizabeth Molak-Huebner, artistic director at Classical Dance Center-Tustin and Classical Dance Academy, helped Anna refine her focus.

Her love for ballet was solidified, and her skill level and confidence soared.

“I started seeing real improvements,” she says, “and I began to learn how to get better.”

Her rapid rise caught the eyes of the judges at the world’s largest international dance competition and scholarship program, who awarded her the Youth American Grand Prix award at the 2016 Las Vegas semifinals, the highest award given in her age category.

The recognition earned Anna a ticket to the Grand Prix’s finals in New York last spring, where she was one of 30 dancers to advance to the final round. Additionally, she attended scholarship classes led by directors from the world’s top ballet companies.

Prior to the close of the competition, Anna was approached by the director at Princess Grace Academy, Luca Masala, who offered the teen a full scholarship for up to four years to study at the school. Moving to Europe was an easy decision for Anna. Her mother is from Sweden and they spend every summer there, where Anna has dual citizenship.

Anna now spends 25-40 hours a week training, in addition to online school and daily French classes, while the wonders of technology help her stay connected to her family back home.

The curriculum is rigorous, but as she sees it, that’s the beauty of ballet.

“Ballet is never perfect, and I love that aspect,” she says. “There’s always something to improve upon.”

The road in front of her may be long, but with the support of the school, her fellow students and her family, Anna balances staying true to herself with taking chances, all in the name of reaching her dream.

Kevin Miura

Age: 14
City: Irvine
School: Sierra Vista Middle School
Grade: 8
Why he is a Whiz Kid: The violin prodigy placed second in the prestigious Menuhin Competition and was awarded a two-year loan of a rare and valuable Stradivarius violin.

Not many can recall the details of their preschool graduation, but Kevin Miura remembers that his was the first time he was captured by the sound of the violin.

“I don’t know exactly what went through my mind that day,” he recalls, “but I told my mom I wanted to do that.”

At age 5, Kevin began violin lessons. By 8, he had become a student of Danielle Belen at the Colburn School in Los Angeles and was winning competitions and soloing with orchestras in places like Carnegie Hall.

He’s not one to refer to himself as a prodigy, so when Kevin set an ambitious goal to be chosen for the Menuhin Competition, a prestigious international competition for young violinists, he didn’t expect to be selected.

But to his surprise, he was. And in April 2016, at age 13, Kevin stood on stage at the Royal Academy of Music in London and played over an hour’s worth of pieces, without letting his nerves get the best of him.

“What helped me is I reflected and enjoyed the music as I played it,” he says. “I tried to show everyone what I love to do.”

The road to that moment included four months of preparation, practicing four to six hours a day and traveling to and from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where Belen had taken a position.

His dedication resulted in a second-place finish in the junior division, a $10,000 prize and the opportunity of a lifetime for a violinist, a two-year loan of a Stradivarius violin worth nearly $5 million by owner Jonathan Moulds.

In September, Kevin traveled back to London, where Beare’s International Violin Society presented him with the instrument, built in 1713 during Antonio Stradivari’s “golden period.” Playing on a piece of history has been a dream come true for Kevin.

“It’s very clear and warm and amplifies everything I want to do,” he says of the Stradivarius.

Despite Kevin’s unusual path, his family keeps things as normal as possible at home, where he attends Irvine public schools and receives enthusiastic support from his teachers and friends.

Future plans include an appearance in December with the Nuremberg Symphony Orchestra as well as intensive training with the Perlman Music Program, all of which add up to what is likely the beginning of a long musical career for Kevin.

“Being able to share what I love with people and bring them joy,” he says,   “there’s something special about that.”

Sean Oliu

Age: 15
City: Anaheim
School: Servite High School
Grade: 9
Why he is a Whiz Kid: The musician placed in the finals of a Latino music competition and is giving back by working to establish music programs in his school district.

When Sean Oliu’s parents enrolled their 7-year-old son in a local mariachi program, the intent was to give him the opportunity to be immersed in the Mexican culture and use Spanish, a language they did not speak at home. What they quickly discovered is that their son was a naturally gifted singer and musician. “That experience really opened my eyes and launched my interest in music,” Sean recalls.

At age 11, Sean found himself on national television as a contestant on “La Voz Kids,” a Spanish-language singing program for Telemundo and counterpart to NBC’s “The Voice.”

Although his parents at first hesitated to let their son participate in a reality show, his top-six finish afforded Sean the opportunity to share his love for music in an indelible way. The singer took his $4,000 prize money and chose to invest it back into his community by bringing mariachi music programs to two schools in Anaheim, including his alma mater, Adelaide Price Elementary.

“I saw that there wasn’t much music in the schools,” Sean says. “They offered a bit of exposure, but no hands-on opportunities, and I wanted to change that.”

In an effort to reach more schools, Sean started Kids Giving Back, a nonprofit that has partnered with the Anaheim City School District and to date has raised more than $30,000 to support orchestra programs in 20-plus Anaheim schools.

His commitment to bringing music to local students caught the attention of Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait, who selected Sean to join him in New York City in December as the two attended an event with Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation to promote the organization’s #ShareKindness Experience.

Sean remains active in music with The Colony Boys, an early rock ’n’ roll/rockabilly band that can be seen locally at places such as the Anaheim Packing House. When he’s not performing or focusing on his studies, you’ll find Sean on the ice as a member of both Servite’s varsity hockey team and the Anaheim Jr. Ducks hockey club.

As to where the road will take him next, Sean is open to the possibilities.

“I’m not one to close doors,” he says. “It would be great to turn what I love to do, which is music, into a career. I want to grow as an artist and bring more attention to the causes I support. There’s a big transformation you feel when it’s your goal to be kind.”

Emmy Perry

Age: 12
City: Dana Point
School: St. Margaret’s Episcopal School
Grade: 6
Why she is a Whiz Kid: The actress created the charity Emmy’s Hope, which  helps find homes for local homeless animals.

Emmy Perry’s journey into acting began around the age of 3 when she performed in regional theater productions of stage favorites such as “Annie” and “The Sound of Music.”

By age 7, her repertoire had expanded to include commercials, television and film, and Emmy now has an appearance on the television show “Glee” as well as a role in the 2015 film “Wiener Dog Internationals” to her credit.

Her latest project is the starring role in a new film set to be released this year, a fantasy, coming-of-age story about becoming a mermaid titled “Scales – Mermaids Are Real,” in which the actress appears alongside Morgan Fairchild and Elisabeth Röhm.

But as much as Emmy loves acting, her heart is in finding homes for abandoned animals, especially dogs, so they can have the life she feels they deserve.

From a young age, Emmy’s family took her to visit local shelters, and it didn’t take long for her to make a connection with the animals in need. She would often spend time bringing in food and supplies to care for the dogs, even fostering them for periods of time until they could find permanent homes.

But Emmy wanted to do more, so she began posting photos of the dogs to her social media channels to bring attention to the ones that were in most urgent need of placement.

When asked one Christmas what she wanted from Santa, she said she wanted to start a charity to help homeless animals. From that idea, Emmy’s Hope was created.

“I saw so many dogs in need of help and love,” she says. “I just wanted to help them.”

At emmyshope.com, visitors can connect with a number of local shelters and organizations that care for rescued animals, such as OC Animal Care and The Pet Rescue Center.

Additionally, information and photos are listed for several dogs in need of forever homes. Nonmonetary donations such as blankets, toys, food and sweaters are also accepted.
Emmy’s efforts have made a difference: She has helped save the lives of more than 500 dogs.

As an actress, her dream is to star in a Tim Burton film. But Emmy’s true desire is to see Orange County become a no-kill county for abandoned animals, a mission she will continue to pursue.

“What’s sad is if we know about it,” she says, “but don’t do anything about it.”

In the future, Emmy would like to write a series of children’s books chronicling the stories of some of the dogs that have been saved, possibly selling plushies to accompany the books, with proceeds going back to the shelters they support.

Alexa + Avery Roemer

Age: Alexa, 11; Avery, 10
City: San Clemente
School: Alexa, Bernice Ayer Middle School; Avery, Truman Benedict Elementary School
Grade: Alexa, 6; Avery, 4
Why they are Whiz Kids: The sisters formed a band called A. Rae and The Rescue Dogs and made an original CD titled “Songs About Dogs,” with a portion of the sales donated to support Orange County-based animal shelters.

Inspiration can sometimes come in small packages, and for Alexa and Avery Roemer, it was their rescue dog, Sketch, who inspired them to use music to bring awareness to animal rescue and adoption.

Born into a musical family, the two are the daughters of singer Kelly Rae of the country group Kelly Rae Band and father Jack, who plays bass guitar for tribute band Monsters of Rock. The girls have had a love for singing and the stage for as long as they can remember.

Wanting to expose his daughters to different aspects of the music industry, Jack came up with the idea of helping the girls produce their own original CD. The Roemers had recently added a rescue dog to their family, a Chihuahua they named Sketch, whose antics and personality provided the perfect inspiration for song lyrics. Utilizing the shared middle name of the girls, and bringing in Jack and some of Kelly Rae’s band members, A. Rae and The Rescue Dogs was born.

“We thought it would be a good idea to inspire other people to adopt animals too by sharing our talents through a CD,” Alexa says.

In June of 2015, the band released “Songs About Dogs.” Featuring a wide range of music styles and titles such as “Rescue Me” and “Don’t Take My Bone,” the band began performing and selling its CD at local concert-in-the-park events alongside the Kelly Rae Band.

The following year brought even more exposure for the girls and their cause, as 2016 saw the band perform at America’s Family Pet Expo, held at the OC Fair & Event Center, and on the Half-Pint Hootenanny stage at the Stagecoach festival in Indio.

Their music can be found on their website, songsaboutdogs.net, as well as Amazon, iTunes and Spotify, with 50 percent of proceeds from sales going to support Orange County-based animal shelters. To date, more than $2,500 has been donated to organizations such as the San Clemente-Dana Point Animal Shelter.

Future plans for the girls include a new nondog-related CD under the group name A. Rae, with both projects continuing to support local pet shelters and adoption.

While their success was unexpected, the girls are grateful for it, and for Sketch, who has changed their lives in more ways than one.

“I had no idea it would go this far,” Avery says. “I love having Sketch as a part of our family. He’s a great inspiration.”

Alicia Serratos

Age: 10
City: Mission Viejo
School: Viejo Elementary School
Grade: 5
Why she is a Whiz Kid: The Girl Scout started a petition campaign to make Girl Scout cookies GMO-free.

Aparticipant in the Girl Scouts of the USA since she was in kindergarten, Alicia Serratos embodies what it means to be a Girl Scout and serves her community by organizing activities such as recycling projects and making care packages for the homeless.

“I love being a Girl Scout because it’s so fun,” Alicia says. “I get to make other people happy.”

But there’s one aspect of participating in the youth organization that has found  Serratos deliberately absent: selling Girl Scout cookies.

When her mom, Monica, began teaching her daughter about aspects of healthy eating, it included some education on genetically modified organisms. And once Alicia discovered the presence of those ingredients in the wildly popular cookies, she decided that cookie sales were not for her.

But the then-first-grader didn’t just sit on the sidelines of the issue. She began reaching out with letters and emails to the Girl Scouts organization, as well as its  bakers, ABC Bakers and Little Brownie Bakers, to request that they make their cookies with non-GMO ingredients.

Her mission took a much stronger hold when Serratos established a petition online through change.org. With the help of social media and support from groups such as March Against Monsanto and Moms Across America, the petition quickly spread and collected more than 35,000 signatures.

The overwhelming response prompted Alicia to request a meeting with Girl Scout executives at their national headquarters in New York City, a request that was initially granted but then canceled prior to Alicia and her family making the trip.

Discouraged but not defeated, Alicia traveled to New York with her petition and delivered it to staff members with the hopes it would get into the hands of those who could initiate change.

After years of pushing for that change, Alicia and those who have supported her platform finally attained a small victory. As part of its 100th anniversary celebration, the Girls Scouts introduced a new s’mores-inspired cookie with non-GMO ingredients produced by Little Brownie Bakers.

Alicia knows there is still work to be done. She wants to see ABC Bakers make its version of the s’mores cookie GMO-free. Addtionally, she would like any non-GMO cookies to be Non-GMO Project verified. And her ultimate goal is for all Girl Scout cookies to be produced without GMOs.

“I’m proud of myself,” Alicia says. “I learned that if you never give up and you believe in yourself, you can make anything happen.”

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