The Youth Ambassadors (YA) program emerged to highlight young leaders across America who are working to end all forms of bullying by developing change-making campaigns, organizing fundraisers, and leading activities, on and offline, to help prevent bullying.
In 2019, the Youth Ambassadors will help recruit Upstanders as part of the Million Upstander Movement with the goal of mobilizing over one million #Upstanders nationwide to stand up to bullying by the fall of 2020, marking the 10th anniversary of Tyler’s death.
As a Youth Ambassador, youth leaders are responsible for organizing two actions to promote TCF’s mission, as well as regularly attending monthly Individual and Group meetings with their fellow Youth Ambassadors.
Learn more about this year’s Youth Ambassadors below:
- Anushka Dalvi
- Katherine Gelshenen
- Annika Quynh Pham Hilladakis
- Sunny Hu
- Shreya Krishnan
- Stephanie Nelson
- Jared Orlov
- Manas Ponnam
- Melissa Reifman
- Erin Roberts
- Jacob Sedesse
- Carly Waggoner
Anushka Dalvi is a 16 year old junior in Troy, Michigan. Anushka is confident in voicing her opinions and likes to take initiative. She works well in groups and encourages her peers to work together to achieve their goals. Anushka is part of the Superintendent’s Student Advisory Board (SSAB) in her city’s school district. At SSAB, Anushka represents her school along with her peers where she takes a leadership role in managing and organizing programs like the Martin Luther King (MLK) Day of Service in her school district.
Katherine Gelshenen is a 14 year old high school freshman in Ridgewood, New Jersey, and knows all too well what bullying can do to a person. Through volunteering and tutoring, Katherine has worked with many young kids, some who have been bullied as well as those who were on the other side of the story. Katherine leads in her community by promoting young minds to push themselves past the stereotypes they were given. She is an active member of the Homework Helpers club at her school and has tutored children at the Boys and Girls Club of Paterson. She believes that the best way to prevent bullying is to begin to combat it from a young age and educate people on the different types of bullying. By teaching acceptance, respect, and inclusion, Katie’s goal is to help children build awareness of how to help others and themselves deal with bullying and to be positive role models in their communities.
Annika Quynh Pham Hilladakis
Annika Quynh Pham Hilladakis is a 16 year old, 11th grade student in San Francisco, California. Annika’s goal is for all students to be included socially and for any differences they may have, to be appreciated and embraced. While Annika hasn’t dealt with much bullying in her own life, her older sister is quadriplegic with a speech disability (as a result of cerebral palsy), and has faced a lot of teasing, especially in middle school. To deal with this very painful situation, Annika and her mom have become involved with a disability awareness organization that brought speakers (including her sister, eventually) with disabilities into classrooms to move beyond stereotypes, celebrate differences and find things in common. Annika grew up seeing these presentations, and her sister’s experience inspired Annika and her older brother to start a Best Buddies club at her San Francisco middle school to try to prevent what happened to my sister from happening to other kids with disabilities. Best Buddies is a program that builds one-to-one friendships between people with and without intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), while promoting inclusive attitudes and respectful language; like ending the use of the R-word.
Annika is the secretary of the Best Buddies club, as well as the organizer for the annual Friendship Walk fundraiser; she is scheduled to be the club’s president next year. Annika is also an honor student and a member of the “Girls Who Code” and “Spoken Word” clubs. She is an advanced dancer in jazz, contemporary, hip hop and tap, and has recited her very own poetry while dancing for “Poetry in Schools.” In addition, Annika often assists and interprets for her older sister when she advocates on behalf of the rights of people with disabilities and on behalf of the rights of domestic workers.
Annika has enjoyed performing in musical theater productions (both in and out of school) since she was eight, and this year is her third year serving as the dance captain for Musical Theater Works (a youth theater company in San Francisco). At the theatre company, bullying is not tolerated, so Annika works with the adults to try to prevent and address any issues that may come up. Finally, Annika was born in Vietnam, and proudly celebrates her cultural heritage along with her family’s Greek heritage. Happy Year of the Pig!
Sunny Hu is a 16 year old high school student in Princeton, New Jersey. In Sunny’s freshman year of high school, Sunny was publicly bullied on social media after speaking up to a classmate who had posted a photo and caption that dehumanized Korean pop artists for receiving plastic surgery. Being in a school district for over six years that stressed the importance of acceptance, Sunny was dismayed that her school administration decided not to respond to the cyberbullying she faced. In her sophomore year, Sunny transferred to her current school and is grateful to understand what it means to lose your voice, but to recapture it once again within a loving, nurturing environment. Throughout her journey of self-growth, Sunny has learned to strengthen her voice through her passions.
Sunny’s dream is to be a civil rights attorney as she aims to create a nurturing environment for adolescent girls to grow up feeling loved and confident about their identities. Thus, Sunny strives to advocate for women’s rights and against bullying and Asian-American racism. In her junior year of high school, Sunny and her classmate started Women’s Voices, a club dedicated to be a safe space for girls to raise awareness on women’s rights, and Sunny has used her hobby of photography as a vehicle for confronting societal expectations of women. Moreover, Sunny is a member of Corner House’s Growing up Accepted as an Individual in America (GAIA) team where she and the other members manage workshops for the younger generation on acceptance and inclusion. In addition, Sunny is one of the heads for her school’s Diversity Club, a safe space that holds discussions on various topics ranging from socioeconomic factors to gender and sexuality. Besides clubs and leadership programs, Sunny uses her love for public speaking and photography to further advocate for the voiceless. Sunny has performed at a poetry program on Asian fetishization at Princeton’s Open Mic Night and plans to develop a photography portfolio on her self-growth journey after being bullied.
Shreya Krishnan is a 14 year old high school student living in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Shreya was selected to be the spokesperson for the anti-bullying and suicide prevention campaign spearheaded by the Colorado Springs Conservatory. Last year, during the campaign, she had the opportunity to engage with 10,000 elementary and middle school students in the Pikes Peak region. Shreya also spoke at the Colorado Springs City Council and El Paso County Commissioners meetings. She was recently selected to be a Young Champion Ambassador for the City of Colorado Springs, a youth leadership program, and will be traveling next year to Ancient Olympia Greece, the birthplace of the Olympics. She was also selected for the two-year Mayor’s leadership program Ticket to Success in middle school. As a Principal’s Honor Roll student since elementary school, Shreya is a strong competitor for her school’s speech and debate team. She is a pianist, violinist, dancer, singer, and actress. She has performed in state, regional, and national honor choirs and has been invited to sing in the Paris Choral Festival this summer. She has also served as a dance mentor for kids with disabilities.
Stephanie Nelson is a 17 year old junior in Gaithersburg, Maryland; one of the most diverse cities in America. Growing up in this city has made Stephanie who she is today, including the trials and tribulations that came along with it. Stephanie has always wanted to become an activist due to knowing what it feels like to be helpless and silenced as a child since she often felt out of place in school. Being a first generation daughter of an immigrant, Stephanie has experienced taunting, bullying and name-calling. She was able to withstand the taunts and be truly who she is 100% of the time which has made her stronger. She was being taunted for her unique and beautiful features to make her feel inferior. Stephanie’s overall goal is to become a lawyer and speak for people in a system that does not always represent everyone. In her school, Stephanie is currently the class of 2020 President and has assumed this position for the past two years, as well as President of a sisterhood called ROYALS, member of ebony awareness, sound/lighting manager for her school’s drama department and member of Shout, a community service club. Stephanie’s hope is to make the world more inclusive and understanding one person at a time because no one should be bullied or harassed for being 100% themselves.
Jared is a 15 year old social activist in New York City. His goal is to become a kindergarten teacher and model behaviors that help kids develop and nurture kindness, in which he believes profoundly. That requires working to end prejudice, bias and bigotry to make the world more just.
His interest in the Tyler Clementi Foundation was sparked by attending a TCF event, listening to stories about bullying and suicide, and connecting them to his own experiences. As an Upstander, Jared has intervened in bullying situations. He believes that his personal mission is to help others to the best of his ability, thus ensuring a better future for following generations. Jared’s mission is to prevent and intervene in bullying, and to spread the word about its implications for suicidal thoughts and actions.
His preferred approach is to affect kids through contact in their everyday lives. Kindness and thoughtfulness can be learned behaviors. Jared believes if children acquire or hone those life skills at a young age, they will be less prone to bullying others and more prone to working to understand others.
Jared has worked at his Taekwondo dojang teaching martial arts to children. He has also been a Taekwondo summer camp counselor for 3 years, and is now Lead Junior Counselor. Jared provides kids with concrete, replicable examples of how to be kind and supportive to each other, and how to look out for kids who are isolated. Child by child, Jared emphasizes the value of cooperation and the concept of the “indomitable spirit” – when you get knocked down, you get right back up again; you may have a bad day being bullied, but hang on to your self-worth and keep moving forward.
Manas Ponnam is a 15 year old high school student in Troy, Michigan. Since Manas was a child, he never liked unhealthy environments in which kids would be negatively affected. Manas is very interested in studying neurosciences to understand behavioral pattern of kids as a way to promote positive behaviors and strengthen human relations. Manas has noticed that modern day bullying is often very subtle and goes unnoticed by the victim’s family and people close to them. Generally, the affected children do not talk with their parents or tell anyone about the incidences since they are either too scared or feel embarrassed to admit bullying is happening. Manas feels like this causes kids to quietly become withdrawn in daily situations, especially if the person bullying is in someway related to their life. Manas wants to identify these kids and provide them with support because he believes if left unattended, these childhood problems can have serious effects on the personality of the child throughout their lives. Manas was awarded Troy Youth Award by the Troy school district in 8th grade. He is the founder of the Troy chapter for Lion’s Heart, an organization which helps lots of people by offering different resources. Manas is extremely excited to be a part of TCF’s Youth Ambassador program and wants to help in any way he can to stop bullying.
Melissa Reifman is a 16 year old, sophomore from Upper Saddle River, New Jersey. Combating bullying became an important cause for her after seeing its devastating effects in the news, particularly in the form of youth suicides. Seeing kids younger than herself taking their lives because of others’ mean words and actions broke her heart and motivated her to start making a difference. Melissa created an initiative called P.A.S.T. Bullying, which stands for Putting A Stop To Bullying. The week-long campaign included daily PSA’s (public service announcements), hand-outs, as well as an evening program. At the program, she interviewed Mrs. Clementi about her son Tyler, as well as Jenna Rose, who faced bullying as the result of a viral YouTube video. Along with P.A.S.T. Bullying, Melissa has led an anti-bullying workshop for middle school girls as well as made cards and bracelets for victims of bullying. In addition to preventing bullying, Melissa is passionate about her schoolwork and extracurricular activities. At her school, she is the Vice President of Sophomore Class Council, Vice President of Rotary Club, News Editor of the school newspaper, and an attorney on the school’s mock trial team. Outside of school, Melissa enjoys teaching and practicing taekwondo.
Erin Roberts is a 16 year old high school student from Michigan. In elementary school, Erin had multiple experiences as a victim and witness to bullying in the classroom. This quickly sparked Erin’s passion of standing up against bullying, both online and in real life. Erin has since become a member of the Inaugural Microsoft Council for Digital Good, whose goal is find solutions to online dangers and promote digital civility. In her capacity as an ambassador for Digital civility, Erin has designed an after school program for third through sixth graders which teaches young students about how to be safe, secure, and responsible online. Most of all, it teaches kids to be kind. She looks forward to working alongside her fellow Youth Ambassadors and learning about the important work they are doing within their communities across the nation.
Jacob Sedesse is a 16 year old, 11th grade student in Gainesville, Florida and is dual enrolled full-time at Santa Fe College. Jacob has dealt with bullying all throughout his life and has always put in the extra effort to fight against it wherever he can. For the past two years, Jacob was a part of Microsoft’s Inaugural Council for Digital Good, where he met with different technology executives in both Redmond, Washington and Washington D.C. Throughout his experience, Jacob worked on projects about online safety with a group of teens and the experience culminated with a meeting with the First Lady about her “Be Best” initiative. Jacob has now taken this knowledge into his community and has used it to help make an impact on other teens and kids when they are in a difficult situation online. He is very passionate about fighting bullying after seeing not much being done about it in his community, and now he wants to take his influence to a larger scale.
As a Changemaker, youth leaders are responsible for organizing one action to promote TCF’s mission, as well as regularly attending monthly Individual and Group meetings with Youth Ambassadors.
Carly Waggoner is a 14 year old high school freshman in Indianapolis, Indiana. Carly has not only witnessed other kids being bullied, but she has also personally been a victim of bullying. She is active with many clubs at her school such as Student Council, Just Say No, and We LIVE Inc., an anti-violence organization. Carly is also a member of her school’s basketball and softball teams. She would love to work to bring more attention to the effects of bullying and to educate as many kids as possible about how to protect themselves and encourage others to seek help if they become a victim. Carly was inspired to take a stand due to the lessons she learned and the situations she experienced this year. She wants to share how she overcame the situations where she was being bullied, without even recognizing it for herself. After her personal experience, she realized how much being bullied can affect your life and that motivated her to want to stand up and help other kids who may be in similar situations. Carly wants to take a stand against bullying and in turn hopefully prevent a tragic ending for someone who may be bullied. Given Carly’s busy spring semester, she has chosen to transition into a “Changemaker” who will be resuming her volunteer work with TCF in the Fall of 2019.