The Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes, an award that honors outstanding young leaders who have made a significant, positive difference to people and our planet, announces its 2010 national winners. The 2010 slate of winners represents great diversity from all across the country. Winners each receive $2,500 to be applied to their higher education or to their service project.
Cole took a second-grade homework assignment and turned it into a large-scale environmental action campaign involving his entire elementary school. Asked to write a government official on behalf of an endangered species, Cole instead chose to help protect an entire forest ecosystem. To help, he contacted the Dogwood Alliance, whose mission is to protect Southern forests. (He exchanged emails with the Alliance for nearly a month before Alliance staff found out he was just 8-years-old – not the high school student they’d assumed!) Through the Alliance, Cole learned that many of North Carolina’s coastal forests are owned by large paper packaging mills, and are being destroyed to make paper for fast-food restaurants.
He resolved to write McDonald’s to ask the CEO to use less packaging and more recycled paper, and hand-drew four postcards representing different forest habitats for his campaign. Betting that many voices would speak louder than just his own, Cole printed 2,250 postcards – enough for his entire school. He wrote a speech explaining his research and project, and over the course of three days, led a team of 24 students as they stormed all 51 classrooms to present the speech and get the postcards signed. Soon after sending his massive mailing, Cole heard from McDonald’s that they would soon be switching their bags to 100% recycled paper. Cole and his classmates are working to get other schools involved in their work, and have inspired the Dogwood Alliance to develop a youth organizing program. “I have learned that children do have a voice in the world and can make changes,” says Cole.
And Cole isn’t quitting there! He is currently working on an even bigger project asking KFC to improve their packaging and stop destroying the forests of NC! Go Cole!