Many people want to make a difference in society, but they become overwhelmed by all the causes in need, so wind up doing nothing. For eight Long Island teenagers that was an unacceptable outcome. They believed that any contribution, no matter how small, has value, and that even helping just one person makes a difference. Their conviction has led them to help 48 children in Ghana, and 1,012 Americans, through their organization One Is Greater Than None—which they founded when they were only 14.
Kayla Barnofsky (16), Hayley and Jessica Feldman (17), Ariel Stern (16), Samantha Walnick (16), Samantha Malis (16) and Anjelica Mantikas (17), live in Merrick and attend John F. Kennedy High School in Bellmore; Chelsea Genden (17), attends Lynbrook High School.
In 2007, the friends were searching for a cause to support when they were moved by an Oprah episode that talked about children from Ghana, Africa, who are unwittingly sold into slavery for as little as $20 by their families. They were unanimous in their decision that they would work with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to sponsor rescue missions to save these children.
“We learned it would cost about $4,300 to save one child by providing rehabilitation and reuniting them with their families,” says Samantha Walnick. “We decided to make bracelets and package them on cards that would educate people about what was going on in the fishing villages of Ghana.”
It took them a while to figure out what materials worked best. And then they made enough bracelets to sell outside of Borders one weekend afternoon.
“From a parent’s perspective, I thought it was really cute that they were doing this, and I figured they’d maybe raise a few hundred dollars,” says Ariel’s mom Shari. “And of course we’d support them and do what we could. We moms were shocked when they earned $1,000 that day.”
Adds Angelica’s mom, Eleni: “It was also shocking the amount of negativity they received from people. That first day a man gave them $50 and told them `even though I know it’s a hopeless cause.’ If it were me I would have been upset, but it inspired them even more.”
From there the girls designed a necklace and T-shirts with their logo, 1>0, and their tag line “Be Part of the Equation,” which were sold at Bloomingdales, boutiques nationwide, and on their Web site, www.oneisgreaterthannone.org.
To date the girls have raised over $120,000 to help return 24 children to their families and have sponsored another 24 orphaned children through the Touch a Life Foundation in Ghana. In addition, in response to people who asked them why they don’t do something to help people in their own country, the girls began working with Remote Area Medical (RAM), which supplies free medical care to people in impoverished rural areas. The girls have already sponsored one clinic in Grundy, VA, and will soon be sponsoringand volunteering at another in New Jersey.
In addition to raising money, they also want to raise social awareness. “They wound up inspiring all of us adults,” says Karen Dallago-Barnofsky, Kayla’s mom. “Because of their message, they’ve mobilized adults to help with their Web site, printing, legal consultation, photography, T-shirts, publicity. All these people who donate their services to be part of the equation are all inspired by these teenagers.”
As part of their mission, the girls speak to other kids at local elementary and middle schools to encourage them to make a difference.
“We get letters and e-mails from the kids afterward,” says Samantha Malis. “One girl told us we had inspired her to have a lemonade stand and she sent us a check for $10.46. We just want to get teens to be inspired to do what they’re passionate about, to find their cause and do something.”
Their efforts have been recognized by the national community as well. They’ve appeared on Martha Stewart, the Today Show (twice) and CBS Morning Show and had two features in Teen Vogue. Just last fall, they were named America’s Most Encouraging Teens by the Encouragement Foundation, and their prize included $5,000 for their cause. They’ve also attended the AllyKatzz.com Tween Summit in Washington, DC, where they inspired tweens and met teen stars. Even President Bill Clinton recognized their efforts by sending them a letter. In January, they were invited to attend the Madison & Mulholland Golden Globe gifting suites to present their merchandise and their cause to celebrities.
“The girls have grown so much from this experience, learning business skills, and how to handle rejection and inspire others,” says Samantha’s mom Ruth Walnick.
The moms say they’ve all been motivated as well, and have become good friends through their daughters. “Kids today have so few role models their own age,” says Chelsea’s mom Sharon Dallago-Genden. “It’s all about the tight clothes and that lifestyle. But our daughters are making it cool to save someone across the world.”
The mothers believe parents have a role in encouraging their children. “As parents, I think it’s our job to walk the walk, to set an example, and make it a priority to do something for others,” says Jill Feldman.
Adds Shari Stern: “And we think elementary and middle school is a good time to start. In high school so many kids do it because it’s required for college applications. But younger kids do it just because they’re inspired.”
To that end Samantha Malis has a message for parents. “So many times when we’re at events selling our merchandise, kids want to talk to us, but their parents pull them away. Don’t walk away. Let us explain to you and your children what we’re doing so we can inspire others.”
The girls will be going on to college soon—in fact Chelsea leaves this fall—but they believe that their goals will continue to thrive. “We’ve been friends for so long, and having this charity binds us together,” says Samantha Malis. “It’s the drive and passion we have in common that keeps us going.”
They’re hoping to mentor others to continue what they started, including their younger siblings. Says Ariel Stern: “When you can do something so great with your best friends, it’s the best thing in the world. We want everyone to be able to have that experience.”
Liza N. Burby is publisher/editor of Long Island Parent magazine. Inspired by the girls, she and her daughter Laura are donating diabetes supplies to victims of the Haiti earthquake. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to help.
We need you, our readers, to “Be Part of the Equation” and help One Is Greater Than None sponsor another (RAM) Remote Area Medical Rural America Clinic. Our goal for February and March is to raise at least $3,500. (Just think: If 350 families each donated $10 we’d reach our goal quickly.) Just click here www.oneisgreaterthannone.org or send a check payable to One Is Greater Than None, PO Box 528, Merrick, NY 11566. Just put Long Island Parent in the memo line. One Is Greater Than None is a registered 501 c 3. Thank you for supporting the girls’ mission.