Blog | The HALO Awards
- Posted on 11/11/2013 by Rachel1016
Meet Denzel Austin Thompson: The co-founder of Philadelphia Urban Creators (PUC), a youth-led organization that grows sustainable and healthy food in urban gardens. Growing up in North Philadelphia where a childhood obesity epidemic plagued the well-being of his community, Denzel was inspired to make a grassroots change (no pun intended!).
After a service trip to New Orleans in which Denzel helped build greenhouses and transform vacant lands into urban gardens, he decided to bring organic farming back to his own neighborhood. Four years later, the Philadelphia Urban Creators and its loyal volunteers successfully cultivate sustainable gardens rife with fresh, healthy produce! We caught up with Denzel to learn more about his organization and hear about his giveback experience with Queen Latifah!
From seed to plant, PUC's sustainable gardens grow a large variety of produce, including veggies, fruit, and micro greens (think: SUPER healthy stuff like wheatgrass). When we asked Denzel to pick a favorite, however, he was quick to single out a tapered fruit called Tabasco peppers. (If you've ever heard of Tabasco Sauce, you'll know that the peppers can be pretty hot. But Denzel insists that he loves to eat of the vine!)
Much of the food that PUC grows is sold in local farmers markets or distributed to local restaurants. PUC either funds that money directly back into the community, or uses it to support the project itself. Interesting enough, Denzel noted that when PUC was is its early stages, community outreach was one of his biggest challenges. With hard work and persistence, however, members of the community began to grasp the concept and benefits of urban gardens, and Denzel proved that his was a cause worth supporting.
When we asked Denzel about his giveback experience with Queen Latfiah, he said he was completely surprised. "Everyone tricked me that day," he said. "It was really great and inspiring. [The experience] made me want to push myself harder and have faith in what I'm doing."
Finally, asked Denzel to share a few important tips for anyone who might want to start their own garden! Here's what we gathered:
1. Develop a core group of dedicated people with diverse skills and ideas.
2. Determine your role. For example, if you enjoy planting and growing, you might be the urban farmer!
3. Choose an area for your garden. It can either be a backyard or a plot of land. If there is an area that might need immediate assistance, such as a food desert, that's the best place to start!
4. Canvas. It's important to reach out to your neighborhood and community for support before you begin any physical planting. The more people who know about your project, the better!
There you have it, TeenNick fans! Check back here all week to learn more about our amazing honorees and how they're changing the world. And don't miss the 2013 HALO Awards on Sunday, November 17th at 8PM ET!
- Posted on 11/08/2013 by Rachel1016
Ever dreamed about being one of those lucky teens in the audience at the HALO Awards? You know, the ones who have front-row seats and get to brush shoulders with TeenNick celebs all night?
Well, seeing as the HALO Awards honor teens who 'Help And Lead Others' in their community, it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that those who scored a ticket to the show on Sunday, November 17th did just that. This year, we're honoring the work of three outstanding organizations, Amigos de los Rios, Boys & Girls Club of America, and Key Club, by giving a select few of their members tickets to the live event! (So when you see that lucky someone high-fiving Pete Wentz from Fall Out Boy, you'll know that they probably deserve it.)
Check out just how excellent these organizations are.
BOYS & GIRLS CLUB OF AMERICA
For more than 100 years, the Boys & Girls Clubs of America has made it its mission to help young people realize their full potential as productive, caring, and responsible citizens. Today, there are more than 4,000 clubs across the nation that provide adult mentors, after-school activities, community service opportunities and, ultimately, a safe space for American youth who might need it most.
Just a few weeks ago, The Boys & Girls Clubs of America led a volunteer event at the Thomas House homeless shelter in Los Angeles. Fifteen volunteers got together to lead activities with families, host a movie night, and cook a special meal for the residents.
Key Club, the high school branch of Kiwanis International, is the largest and oldest service club for youth ages 14-18 years old. Members of the Key Club perform community service activities that range from cleaning up parks to organizing clothing drives to fundraising for various worldwide causes. The Key Club assists Kiwanis International in its mission to serve a very important part of our community: youth.
AMIGOS DE LOS RIOS
Since its inception in 2003, Amigos de los Rios has worked to create lively, sustainable communities in urban neighborhoods in and around the Los Angeles area. The non-profit works closely with local governments and residents to build parks, playgrounds, and other environmentally-conscious public spaces in areas that suffer from societal problems like high population density and poor public heath. Their mission is not only to protect the environment, but also strengthen the community. It's all about creating a synergy between the environment and its inhabitants because, y'know, we have to rely on each other!
Most recently, on October 19th, Amigos de Los Rios hosted a 3-hour, 125-person volunteer project at Hollydale Park in Los Angeles. Members of the Boys & Girls Clubs & Kiwanis joined Amigos de los Rios' own volunteers to plant and spread mulch for over 75 native California shrubs, paint over 300 feet of fencing, and remove graffiti throughout the park.
Even though we've only just skimmed the surface of the amazing, ovation-worthy service these organizations have performed, join us in a collective, virtual round of applause. *Claps*
During the live show, we'll feature pictures these various service projects that the awesome do-gooding teens collected themselves. Their pics will appear in our HALO Hive social media lounge with #HALOawards. And don't forget to look out for 'em in the audience on Sunday, November 17th!
- Posted on 11/05/2013 by Rachel1016
2011 Halo honoree Emily-Anne Rigal has no patience for bullies. After being put-down as a young girl, Emily decided enough was enough. In 2010, Emily-Anne founded and created WeStopHate.org, a teen-run website that tackles bullying through the viral power of social media videos. If you haven't heard of WeStopHate.org, let us enlighten you: the non-profit movement has grown to unimaginable heights. We caught up with the superstar HALO-er herself, and here's what she had to say!
What have you been doing since the HALO awards?
In addition to our social media initiatives, WeStopHate has expanded our program offline, by creating WeStopHate clubs in schools across the country. Any teenager can go to WeStopHate.org/clubs to download information about starting a WeStopHate club in their school!
What has been one of your favorite achievements since joining/starting your organization?
After the HALO Awards, Newsweek ranked me on their 2012 list of the "150 Most Fearless Women in the World" alongside my heroes like Hillary Clinton and Oprah. I was so honored to be included on this list!
October is National Bully Month, what are you doing to help get word out about WeStopHate.org?
WeStopHate received a $50,000 grant from Peace First this month and to celebrate, we were featured on The TODAY Show.
What advice do you give to teens who have been bullied?
We can never underestimate the importance of being open about our experiences. Even though it is difficult to share what you are going through, I feel strongly that having one-on-one conversations with people in your life who you trust is a good way to figure out how you can rise above the bullies.
What advice to you have for teens who bully?
I think it's important for bullies to realize that they are most likely bullying because they are dealing with their own issues and insecurities. I advise bullies to focus their energy on doing something they love (like playing a sport or making YouTube videos) because doing things that make us feel good will stop the bullying cycle.
- Posted on 10/30/2013 by Rachel1016
The HALO Awards are upon us, TeenNick humanitarians! The countdown to November has begun, and we're gearing up for the grandiose (but equally good-hearted) event that honors teens who Help And Lead Others. Every year, we bring in a new class of amazing do-gooders to showcase and reward the inspiring work to which they have IMPRESSIVELY dedicated their young lives.
Before we reveal this year's honorees, we're giving you a taste of the kind of work the HALO awards have recognized in the past. And really, one of the best parts about the HALO Awards is seeing how past honorees have continued to work for their respective causes AFTER they've been recognized by TeenNick!
A few weeks ago, we featured the all-star efforts of student environmental advocacy group Team Marine.> This week, we caught up with Leah Stoltz, a 2009 honoree who, after developing a spine condition called scoliosis, founded a support group for young girls called Curvy Girls. The year she was honored, Leah got to meet JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE (and totally told him to start making music again! THANK YOU, GIRL!). Since then, she's been marching full speed ahead to make Curvy Girls bigger and better than ever, and trust us, this girl's passion will give you chills. Check out our interview below!
How is your health and scoliosis?
I am great! Honestly, I forget that I have a fused spine a lot of the time; it's so second nature to me. My brother still makes jokes about my hardware in my back and my parents still worry too much, but I wouldn't go back in time and trade my curvy back for a straight one for a billion dollars!
What have you been doing since the HALO awards?
When the HALO awards filmed me I was a senior in high school on Long Island, New York. How time has flown! Presently, I'm a senior at American University in Washington, DC. I'm getting my Business Administration degree with a specialization in Sports & Entertainment Business and I'm hoping, this time next year, to have a job!
What has been one of your favorite achievements since starting Curvy Girls?
Oh there's just no way I can only give you one! My three top favorite moments have been each time we expanded to another country � first to Canada, then Brazil, and then Australia! What an amazing feeling it has been to know that our message is spreading across not only the nation, but also the world.
Could you tell us about your new book Straight Talk With Curvy Girls and why you decided to start writing?
Straight Talk with the Curvy Girls is a compilation of the original (pre-HALO) 9 Curvy Girls and their moms' stories, medical information, fashion advice, and complete guidance from diagnosis through post-treatment. It needed to be written for two reasons. One: we needed to tell our stories because every girl I have ever spoken to, no matter where in the world they are from, says the same things�"I feel so alone. I thought I was the only one going through this." So even if there isn't a group in their town, by reading our stories they won't feel so alone. And two: we have set out to advocate changing the standard of care for adolescent scoliosis.
Sometimes adults may forget that we're kids/pre-teens who need to be spoken to and spoken to in a way we can understand. They need to know that we are not just a body, but an emotional mind that sometimes guides our decisions. When professionals, like doctors and orthotists, are sensitive to that, there will be much better treatment compliance.
You have attended the HALO awards since 2009! What was your favorite memory of the HALO awards?
I absolutely love getting to meet the honorees and reunite with everyone from the past years! We all get to reminisce about our time in their shoes as well as hopefully inspire them with how much the HALO effect really can aid their movement. It's also been wonderful to create this network of people from our generation who are really changing the world. We're friends on Facebook and are always there to cheer each other on or lend a hand. For example, this summer, Allyson [Ahlstrom] was on tour with her Threads for Teens truck and I got to volunteer with her on her DC stop. I loved meeting her and getting to know what she does, but having the opportunity to really be a part of her project was so special.
When Leah isn't advocating for Curvy Girls, she enjoys biking around DC with her friends, listening to music, and watching a Nickelodeon favorite, Legend of Korra. Stay tuned for some more AWESOME updates on HALO honorees, and look out for the 2013 HALO Awards coming to you in November!
- Posted on 09/20/2013 by Rachel1016
Photo Credit: Benjamin Kay
As you've probably heard, the 2013 HALO Awards are coming this November! Since 2009, the HALO Awards have recognized outstanding teens who go above and beyond to make the world a better place. One of the coolest things about the HALO Awards is being able to see the amazing work of past honorees long after they've been recognized by TeenNick. So this week, we caught up with 2009 HALO Honorees Team Marine, a Santa Monica-based student environmental science and advocacy group, and we learned that they're about unveil a mind-blowingly AWESOME project.
Photo Credit: Benjamin Kay
Four years in the making, the all-star students of Team Marine have completed the conversion of a '71 Volkswagen Bug into an all-electric vehicle. Basically, this means this cruiser can take on the freeway without relying on gas. The record-breaking car is the first known 100+ mile range plug-in retrofitted by high school students, and when it comes to incorporating sustainability into our everyday life, electric cars are a large part of the solution.
Photo Credit: Benjamin Kay
So, just how did these environmental whiz kids make it happen? Former Team Marine co-captain, Ivan Morales, gave us the lowdown: "This project began in 2009 when the Poon-Fear family donated the Bug to Team Marine for a gas to electric conversion project. Team Marine members from different years have worked on making this conversion a reality. The first step was removing gasoline related components. Another team purchased and installed the motor while another performed measurements to find how many batteries could fit in the car. As such, this project was a collaborative effort among different students over a span of 4 years."
Being that the team is comprised of high schoolers, the number of students that make up Team Marine varies from year to year. Angelina Hwang, current co-captian of Team Marine gave us some insight on how different members take on different roles: "As members graduate and new members join the organization, we adapt to different roles. For members such as myself who have been part of Team Marine since the initial stages of the car, we have had the chance to work directly with the car conversion process. Members who recently joined Team Marine have been focusing on the media coverage and publicity aspects of the car project."
Photo Credit: Benjamin Kay
The team plans to debut the car, cleverly named Volts Wattson, at the Santa Monica AltCar Expo this weekend. But their initiative doesn't stop there! Team Marine member Katie Oran says, "After the debut of the car at the AltCar Expo we plan on using the car as a 'lesson plan on wheels' teaching as many people about electric cars, renewable energy, and the effects that combustion cars have on the environment; especially ocean acidification and climate change." That is a mighty check-list, my friends. As if you needed any more convincing, these kids are doing big things.
Photo Credit: Benjamin Kay
We asked the members of Team Marine what advice they might have for other students who are interested in becoming involved in environmental advocacy, but may not have an outlet like Team Marine. They said that activism doesn't necessarily mean that you have to join an official organization; it starts with lifestyle changes. Whether it's buying a reusable water bottle or cutting down on your plastic use, small steps can make a big difference. And we couldn't agree more.
Feeling inspired by the superstars of Team Marine? Want to show us how YOU work to make the world a better place?! We're collecting videos of teens giving back and we want to see you! Show us your HALOing moves by uploading a Vine or InstaVid to Twitter @TeenNick using the hashtag #HALOawards. There's even a chance your video could appear on air! Be sure to come back soon for more details about the 2013 HALO Awards coming to you in November!
- Posted on 09/17/2013 by Rachel1016
We're collecting videos of teens giving back and we want to see you! Starting now, we're asking all you amazing do-gooders to show us your HALOing moves by uploading a Vine or Instavid to Twitter @TeenNick using the hashtag #HALOawards — tell us, show us, inspire us! There's even a chance your video could appear on air! Be sure to come back soon for more details about the 2013 HALO Awards coming to you in November!
- Posted on 11/19/2012 by Lisa
We'll be live-tweeting the TeenNick HALO Awards tonight (8pm on Nick@Nite)! If you're on Twitter, please join us, using the hashtag #HALOawards.
Here's a pic of this year's honorees on the orange carpet at the HALO Awards ceremony. From left to right: Kylie Lan Tumiatti, Taylor Waters, Matt Ferguson, and Allyson Ahlstrom. Doesn't everybody look fancy?
Check out more pictures from the orange carpet, including Nick Cannon, Neon Trees, Ne-Yo, Carlos Pena, Jr, James Maslow, Lucy Hale, and Victoria Justice in this flipbook.
- Posted on 11/19/2012 by Lisa
I spoke with Taylor Waters, who volunteers with the Red Cross to help people prepare for -- and recover from -- disasters. Learn more about Taylor, and see her reaction to meeting Josh Duhamel, in this video:
Can you talk about the very first steps you took when you decided to get involved with the Red Cross?
In January of 2010, my grandmother's house burned down. I saw the assistance that the Red Cross gave her, and I really wanted to help people through the Red Cross, because they were such an amazing comfort for her. Not only did they help her out financially, she was able to get clothes and that kind of thing. They were also like a rock, not only for her, but for my family, because we were all in so much shock and we wanted to be there for her. They were able to provide amazing support during a personal disaster for her. A lot of times you see disasters on the news, but house fires are just as devastating.
Does the Red Cross encourage young people to volunteer?
As an organization, they definitely encourage youth involvement, and there's TONS of youth involved in the Red Cross. My age wasn't an issue, and they had open arms to welcome to me.
What kinds of stuff have you done with them?
Right after my grandmother's house burned down in February, I raised over $30,000 for disaster services. That was just having different fundraisers: holding a concert, having a spaghetti lunch and dinner, making bracelets, selling cookies... things like that. A bunch of things that went on throughout the month of February.
That's really cool. What have you found challenging about your volunteer work?
Yes. I think one of the most challenging things that I've done with the Red Cross was work on the tornado in my hometown, because it really was devastating to see all the things that you see all the time, just flattened. That was really, really hard for me. It was so amazing and so rewarding to give people a little peace of hope after that happened, but it was really hard, emotionally.
Out of all the time you've spent working with the Red Cross, are there any moments that really stand out?
Gosh, there's so many. After the tornado, there was this family that we were working with, and their house was literally gone. There were steps going up to where their house should've been, but there was no house there. And this little boy... he was like 5 years old, and he and his dad hid under a mattress, and pretty much them and the mattress were the only things that were left. So he was scared and he was upset, and we were working with the family, and I found a stuffed duck that was underneath some rubble in the road. It ended up being his duck, and it was amazing to give that to him. It was like I'd just handed him hope in the form of a stuffed duck. He had something familiar, and he knew that he could make it to tomorrow. To be that person, in such a hard time, for such a small child was amazing.
I am totally crying over the stuffed duck. That is so wonderful.
I'm tearing up explaining it to you.
I feel like the HALO awards probably inspire so many young people to get involved for the first time. What advice would you give someone -- another teenager -- who maybe wants to get started, but doesn't know how?
I think a lot of teens want to get involved, but 1. They don't know how, and 2. They don't think they can. You can make a difference and change the world. I know it sounds so clich�, but I really feel that if you want to do something, you can. For the Red Cross -- and other organizations, too -- all you have to do is call. The worst thing anyone can ever tell you is "No." And when you work with the community like that, you don't realize it at the time, but you're changing yourself, too. There are so many great opportunities that can come out of it, and you grow as a person. It's really a great thing. When you're working with the Red Cross, people are amazing. They're so supportive, and so nice, like a family unit. You may walk in and have your reservations, but they'll make you feel so at home and so comfortable. In one sentence: You can make a difference, and all it takes is a phone call.
That's so true. Can you tell me a bit about your HALO hit?
It was crazy. I had no idea whatsoever. Usually, I'm pretty good at telling when people want to surprise me. I'm usually that person that ruins the surprise because they figure it out. But I had no idea. So I was holding a Red Cross interest meeting at my university, and we were having a scavenger hunt... [SEE THE REST TONIGHT AT 8PM on NICK@NITE!]
What was it like meeting Josh Duhamel?
He is amazing! He does amazing work for the Red Cross, and he's a real person. [Watch what happened when Josh and Taylor met, tonight at 8pm on Nick@Nite!]
What is one thing you'd like everyone who reads this interview to do?
Get involved! Find something that you really enjoy, and get involved with it.
Are you on Twitter?
I am: @_astoldbyTaylor
I hope you'll live-tweet the show with us! It'll be like we're all watching together. I'm so excited that I got to talk to you.
One last thing I'd like to add if that's okay is that I'm really thankful for this entire opportunity. It's been a really great opportunity for myself, for the Red Cross, for my hometown, and everybody has been so nice and so supportive. I'm really really really really thankful.
Well, I'm thankful you exist! Thanks for talking to me.
Thank you! Have a great day.
For more about how Taylor Waters Helps And Leads Others, don't miss the TeenNick HALO Awards tonight at 8pm on Nick@Nite!
- Posted on 11/14/2012 by Lisa
I talked to Matt Ferguson, one of the 2012 TeenNick HALO Award honorees. He started Matt's Chemo Bags after his mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. Watch this clip to see how Matt reacted when he met Emma Stone:
When you decided to start Matt's Chemo Bags, what were the first steps you took?
Well I was kind of already involved in something similar. From the fifth grade, I was making tie blankets with a bunch of elementary school classes for retirement homes, and so I did that for probably five or six years, until my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. Then I started making those tie blankets for oncology clinics.
When my mom first started visiting the oncology clinic, I started delivering blankets, and it evolved into something completely out of my hands. It's so big, it's crazy. I got the idea for the bags from my aunt, who had given a bag to my mom for Christmas that was full of like, pretty much the same things that I put in my bags. I thought it was just so neat how my mom took that bag with her everywhere she went. It was like Mary Poppins' bag in there -- she was pulling out all sorts of fun stuff, and it seemed like it was just endless.
A big bag of useful stuff!
Yeah, there was a tie blanket in there, a small lap pillow, Sudoku, candy, everything. The idea of the bag is to have all these things that kinda keep one comfortable while they're away from home, and bringing that home aspect with them. When I visited the oncology clinics, I saw that a lot of the ladies didn't have what my mom had with that bag. They just came in with like a book and a blanket or something, and that's it. They were all alone, and I wanted to give what my mom had to everybody.
That's so cool. What has been your biggest challenge so far with this project?
The most challenging part is getting it spread out, getting it to other states.
And how do you do that?
It's mostly just through school, with the OASC and 4H and stuff like that. It's just word of mouth. I would deliver the bags, and every bag has a little pamphlet on my story and what I want them to get out of the bag. A lot of times, people will contact me asking how they can help, and they're involved with so-and-so organization, and they can do something for the bags... and that's usually fantastic. Like, I've had people from quilting clubs and girl scout troops contact me, and they've made like 40 or 50 pillows and really nice quilts.
I love that you're getting other community groups involved in it, too.
I've kind of evolved from just some kid making blankets in a basement for oncology clinics to something that has the entire community involved. So many different members of the community come together for this common purpose, because so many people have been affected by breast cancer, and cancer in general.
Do you have any one single moment from this project that you're really proud of?
I receive a lot of thank you letters, I try to take the time and read every single one, and reply to the emails. I received a letter from the oncology clinic, from a lady's daughter, and the letter pretty much said that the daughter was upset that her mom couldn't have written the letter. She said when her mom received the blanket, it was the first time she smiled in months. She wore the blanket with her everywhere she went, she always had it around her, and I later heard from the oncology clinic that the lady died in the blanket that I gave her. It's that stuff that lets me know that I'm doing the right thing.
I think a lot of people are interested in getting more involved in their communities, but they don't know where to start. What advice would you give someone in that situation?
One thing I say when I speak to schools is that it doesn't matter what you're given in life, what walk of life you're from... if you have time, you can give back to your community. I strongly believe in that. You don't have to have money or anything like that. It can be as extreme as starting your own nonprofit, or just going and helping at a soup kitchen in your community. If you have a passion for something, you've got to find how your passion can help people.
Ooh, I love that! This is a more personal question, and you don't have to answer it if you don't want to. After everything you've been through, what advice would you give a teenager who just found out that their mom or someone they love has cancer?
It's actually really hard, because everybody takes it a different way. I've spoken to a few kids who went through what I went through. I'm one of those people that tries to stay strong for the people around me. I bottle up my emotions. I would say to channel what they feel and make good out of it. Take your family's adversity and make it into an opportunity to do something awesome. Whether it's helping out your mom at home, or volunteering to help out at a clinic... just don't turn it into something bad. Don't channel your anger into doing something bad. That's not the right way to handle it. In the end, it just makes it worse.
That's a great answerSo let's talk about your HALO hit. How did that go? How did Nick Cannon surprise you?
It was actually really cool. We were all sitting around making bags and blankets, and Nick was filming, but I thought it was just a normal thing. Then... [WATCH THE HALO AWARDS on Nov. 19th FOR DETAILS!!]
What was it like meeting Emma Stone?
At first I didn't recognize her because of the blond hair, but then she started talking and I could tell it was her by her mannerisms and stuff. She's exactly the same in movies as she is out of movies. She's, like, a really funny, goofy person. She's a lot of fun to talk to. It was awesome.
Did anything about her surprise you?
It surprised me how down-to-earth and cool she was. Also, she's really short! I honestly thought she'd be taller.
What is one thing you'd like everyone who reads this interview to do?
Find your passion and use it to your advantage. Help people through your passion.
Are you on Twitter?
Yes! I'm @matthew_fergie.
Thank you so much for talking to me! And please livetweet the show with us when it airs on Nick@Nite!
Yeah, that'll be really cool. Thanks for interviewing me!
For more about how Matt Ferguson Helps And Leads Others, don't miss the TeenNick HALO Awards on Monday, November 19th at 8pm et on Nick@Nite!
- Posted on 11/10/2012 by Lisa
I spoke with Allyson Ahlstrom, founder of Threads for Teens, an organization that collects clothing and distributes it to disadvantaged girls. Watch this video to see how she reacted when she met Tyra Banks -- and read the interview below for Allyson's tips on getting more involved in your own community.
Can you talk a bit about how Threads for Teens got started?
I read a book called Generation Change by Zach Hunter. It's about different service projects that other teenagers have done. I've volunteered my whole life, and I wanted to do my own service project, but I kept thinking I was too young to do anything. Reading this book, I was like "Oh my gosh, a 12 year old started an organization to stop human trafficking. I'm two years older and I can definitely do something."
On January 17, 2010, I came up with the idea to do a clothing project, and it was Threads for Teens. In the next week, I sent out over 300 letters to different companies that I found online. Within the first couple hours of sending emails, I had my first donation.
That's awesome! It's interesting to me that at first, you thought you were too young -- until you read that book. But do you think being young also helped you get attention for the project?
Oh yeah, of course. In the letter I send out, the first sentence is "Hi, my name is Allyson Ahlstrom, and I'm 17 years old." So when I started, it said "I'm 14 years old." So, I'm definitely going to be a little bit sad when I turn 18!
Awww! I'm sure you'll still be amazing when you're 18. When you decided to do a service project, what drew you to fashion?
At the time, I was super into fashion design. I wanted to be a fashion designer really badly. I've always been into knitting and sewing and crocheting and whatever, so I was taking a lot of sewing classes and drawing classes. When I first read Generation Change, I thought "OK, what can you do?" and I immediately thought of fashion. Then I started thinking about foster kids, and how clothing is definitely a needed item... I think it was just the right timing.
I love that you're helping people find clothes that really work for them, and that build their self-esteem. Can you tell me one or two items that you think EVERY girl should own?
One would be a blazer, because a blazer can really dress an outfit up professionally. Like, as an example, I was at an event the other night, and I was wearing this really cute polka dot dress. It wasn't exactly appropriate for the event, but with the blazer, it dressed it up a bit and made the outfit look more professional as a whole. Also: definitely a black dress, which is so common, but it's so helpful when going to events. I go to a lot of events, and having a go-to thing that's cute and simple really helps out. I think a black dress is great. It's just easy.
What would you say has been your proudest moment with Threads for Teens?
One thing that really sticks out to me is from when the boutique first opened. A girl named Britney, who was really shy -- but nice and smiley -- came in. She was really excited with the clothes she got. What was really a testament to how well Threads for Teens works was, a year later, I heard from her social worker that they'd noticed a change in her after her shopping appointment. Britney had gotten the motivation to be a mechanic, and she's in trade school for that. That's one of the things that I like to think about... that it's a long-term project, not just short-term.
What has been the most challenging part of starting your own organization?
When I first started, I thought that getting donations of clothing would be hard, but I was completely wrong, because I got tons of clothing donations. But what I found out was really tough, and I was not anticipating this, was actually finding girls to shop at the boutique, you know... girls that would be eligible, that need the project, girls in foster care. That was tough at first. I had the opening date set for August 3, 2010, and I was scrambling at the end of July to round up a bunch of girls to come to the shop. It was tough, because I was explaining what I was doing to social workers, and I don't think they really understood it.
And they're probably so busy, too, that you're just adding another thing for them to think about.
Exactly, and it's so different. They're thinking, here's this 14-year-old trying to tell me to bring my kid to get some clothes... It was tough, but luckily I came in contact with a woman who's the head of an organization called CASA, which is Court-Appointed Special Advocates. She came to see the boutique before it started, and she just loved it and recommended it to people in her program, and thankfully ever since then I don't have to work as hard to find the girls. The social workers fill out a form on my website, and then they can make an appointment.
What advice would you give someone who has never done any volunteering, but wants to get involved in their community?
The first thing I would recommend is to talk to friends and family members, because there's gonna be someone that does some kind of volunteering. Let's say they talk to an aunt who's really into working with animals at animal shelters, and that's someone to talk to about volunteering in general. You can find more resources through networking, or just go straight to Google and look for organizations about things you're passionate about. One of the things I always say is that you need to find something you're passionate about -- or else you're not gonna want to go. What I recommend is to volunteer at several different places and figure out what you like, and what you don't like, until you find the perfect fit. That way you have fun when you're going, and that makes a difference. If you're just there because your mom made you or whatever, it's gonna show in the work you're doing. You need to be happy and give your full self. You need to be 100% present when you're volunteering. To go beyond volunteering and start a project, just go out there and do it and don't be afraid to ask others for help.
I love what you said about how you can just go Google it -- that's how I found the organization that I volunteer with! So, let's talk about the HALOs! How did you find out you'd won?
Well, Nickelodeon called me back in August saying they might want to interview me for a blog post about teenagers doing service work. So they got there, and there were like a million people! And then... [WATCH THE HALO AWARDS on Nov. 19th FOR DETAILS!!]
What was it like meeting Tyra Banks? Is there anything about her that surprised you?
I knew a lot about Tyra, but one thing that surprised me was just how much of a businesswoman she is. Behind the scenes, she is so powerful, and always wanting to learn more and do more. That's what I really admire about her... she does so much. She's not like, some puppet being told what to do. She's a decision-maker. I really admire her passion for the Lower Eastside Girls Club and for the Tyra Banks T-Zone.
What are your plans for Threads for Teens in the future?
Next summer, Threads for Teens is going on a 48-state tour. We're outfitting a semi truck to be a mobile boutique, and we're going to do the 48 continental states and D.C. About a thousand girls will receive a new outfit, and I'm really excited about that. We'd love it if people from around the country came out and visited the boutique while we're in their state. My plan for the far-off future is that I want to have brick-and-mortar store in all 50 states.
I would be so excited for that to happen, and I believe you can make it happen!
Oh me, too.
What is one thing you'd like to ask everyone who reads this interview to do?
Definitely check out the Threads for Teens Facebook page.
You're on Twitter, too, right (@threadsforteens)? Want to live-tweet the HALOs with us?
Yeah, that'll be cool. I just have to download a Twitter app for my phone.
Allyson, thanks so much for talking to me.
Thanks for taking the time to interview me!
For more about how Allyson Angstrom Helps And Leads Others (and to watch her be surprised by Nick Cannon and Tyra Banks!) don't miss the TeenNick HALO Awards on Monday, November 19th at 8pm et!