Extraordinary Teen Awards 2017

This years winners are pouring their talents into humanitarian work, the arts, environmental protection, social justice and dreams of Olympic gold.

Photo by Michael Ventura

Elizabeth Woolford

Yorktown High School

Many teens might just say “ewww,” but Elizabeth Woolford jumped at the chance to don a Tyvek suit and dig through several days’ worth of trash at Yorktown High last fall.

It all started when Woolford noticed that her school’s recycling efforts weren’t working—in part because the recycling and trash bins were haphazardly scattered in separate locations throughout the building. So she lined up a few volunteers and spearheaded an “audit” of the trash situation. It revealed that about half the refuse that was being hauled off to the landfill could have been recycled.

“It took a student to realize, ‘Heck, if you’ve got random bins around the school, no one is going to do it properly,’ ” says Elenor Hodges, executive director of the nonprofit Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment (ACE).

Woolford didn’t stop there. She made videos to show students and faculty how to engage in proper recycling, designed signage and worked with her school’s custodians to have all trash and recycling bins positioned side-by-side. Then she packaged all of her materials into a starter kit that other schools could implement. (The project helped her earn a Girl Scout Gold Award, the equivalent of an Eagle Scout.)

As an ACE-certifi ed Energy Master, Woolford also helps residents of low-income neighborhoods make home improvements that cut their electricity and water usage, while lowering their energy bills. “I love doing grassroots environmental education,” says the 18-year-old. She now heads to Wesleyan University in Connecticut, where environmental science and public policy classes are a good bet. “Taking care of our environment should be most people’s top priority,” she says. “If we don’t have a habitable planet, what are we doing?”

Categories: Parents & Kids