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.
At the Tyler Clementi Foundation, we believe that achieving our goal of creating more compassionate schools should be led by ambitious, talented, and compassionate youth across the country. That is why we started our Youth Ambassador Program: 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.
We welcome applications from High School and College-aged youth (13-20) who are interested in being change-makers in their local communities. We support our Youth Ambassadors’ work through education, awareness, and coaching.
New Cohort 2020 Application to start August 2020
Youth Ambassadors 2020
In 2020, 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
- Shreya Krishnan
- Jared Orlov
- Manas Ponnam
- Melissa Reifman
- Maria Cheng
- Abby James-Vickery
- Bhavik Ponnam
- Jitin Ponnam
- Michael Reifman
- Gianna Rodriguez
- Christina Wong
- Pelin E. Cokuslu
- Smriti Suresh
- Emma Belfay
Anushka Dalvi was a senior in International Academy East in Troy, Michigan. She will be attending the University of Michigan this Fall of 2020. “I joined the youth ambassadors program last year because I have always been in a safe space and have never experienced bullying. Reading the news, it upsets me that not everyone has a safe and comfortable environment. This is why I want to take an initiative to help others live in a positive community”. As a senior, she started a kindness program, which provided an opportunity for the students to write positive shout outs in our school newspaper. Also, as an aspiring medical professional, She researched anxiety due to social and academic reasons, which is very common among high schoolers and got the opportunity to share and raise awareness about mental health to some students through Health Occupation Students of America (HOSA) club in her school. She is planning to continue this program in the future!
Katherine Gelshenen is a 15 year old high school sophomore in Ridgewood, New Jersey that attends Ridgewood High School. 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. In her first year as a youth Ambassador, she and a fellow youth ambassador Melissa Reifman, started the #Day1Reps. This program brings together like-minded students from Bercan County high schools to help spread the Upstander movement. She is an active debater at her school and is a math instructor to children as well as a tennis instructor. Katherine promoted the education of young minds when last year she ran a book fair 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, Katherine’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. As a second year Youth Ambassador, Katherine hopes to expand her knowledge and continue to support the Tyler Clementi Foundation with the #Day1Reps and more.
Shreya Krishnan is a 15-year-old sophomore at Discovery Canyon Campus, Colorado Springs. Her path to TCF began when she was selected to be the spokesperson for the anti-bullying and suicide prevention campaign spearheaded by the Colorado Springs Conservatory. In 2018, during the campaign, she had the opportunity to engage with 10,000 elementary and middle school students in the Pikes Peak region and spoke at the Colorado Springs City Council and El Paso County Commissioners meetings. She is actively involved in her community and was selected to be a Young Champion Ambassador for the City of Colorado Springs, a youth leadership program, and was selected to be a torchbearer for the Tokyo Olympic Games in 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. She has volunteered her time teaching dance for kids with disabilities and choreographed community shows and musicals. In school, as a Principal’s Honor Roll student since elementary school, she has lettered in Academics, Choir, Speech, and Future Business Leaders of America. She is inducted in the French Honor Society, Thespian Honor Society, and will serve as the Secretary of the Tri-M Honor Society. She is a pianist, violinist, dancer, singer, and actress. She has performed in the state, regional, and national honor choirs, including Carnegie Hall, and the Paris Choral Festival. She is excited to continue her work for TCF as a youth ambassador
Jared Orlov is a 16-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 patterns 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 some way 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 the 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 17-year-old, junior 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.
Maria Cheng is a 15-year-old high school student from Houston, Texas. She is passionate about the upstander movement in schools and community groups and is excited to be working with the Tyler Clementi Foundation as a Youth Ambassador. Maria volunteers with various organizations and advocacy campaigns to empower underserved groups in her own community, including the Houston Museum of Natural Science and the Houston Food Bank. Most notably, she is an active part of the climate justice movement, serving as one of the Texas State Leads with the US Youth Climate Strike. Additionally, she is a student leader of her school’s East Asian Affinity Group and has had plenty of experience combatting various forms of bullying online and offline, including bigotry, microaggressions, and harassment. She can’t wait to get started as a Youth Ambassador and is excited to make a tangible impact on the youth in her community.
Abby James-Vickery is a 17-year-old high school student in Hackensack, New Jersey, and believes that all people have the right to be happy. Abby has worked hard to raise awareness for many social justice issues, for example being president of the Social Justice Club at her school. She became involved in TCF by becoming #Day 1 representative. She has always had an interest in raising awareness of bullying, especially when it has to do with race, gender, sexuality, and religion. She believes that people deserve to be themselves without fear of what others will do. She believes that kids should live their life to the fullest and should be accepted. She applies her beliefs to the summer camp that she works so that she can make kids feel safe and loved. In addition, Abby is very involved at school, she is treasurer of the student council, a school ambassador, drama club representative, social justice club president, and is a member of the Spanish Honor Society. After high school, she plans to become a social worker. Abby’s goal in life is to make people feel loved, accepted, celebrated, and safe, and she believed that being a youth ambassador can lead her in the right direction. Abby is very excited to work closely with the TCF Youth Ambassadors and help make a difference where she can.
Bhavik Ponnam is a 14-year old freshman at Athens High School in Troy, Michigan. Bhavik learned about the Youth Ambassador while volunteering at a fundraising event at the Troy Telugu Association. Bhavik serves as Treasurer for the Troy Lion’s Heart Association, which encourages young people to complete 100 hours of volunteer community service. Bhavik joined Youth Ambassadors in order to improve his leadership skills by planning various events in his community.
Jitin Ponnam is a 14-year old freshman at Athens High School in Troy, Michigan. He is currently the Vice President of the Lion’s Heart Group, which connects teenagers to local social-impact service projects. He decided to become a Youth Ambassador after participating with his brother, Manas in anti-bullying events and fundraising for the Tyler Clementi Foundation in his community. Jitin believes that young people can make a big difference in the world by looking out for one another.
is a 15-year-old from Upper Saddle River, New Jersey and is currently a freshman at Northern Highlands Regional High School. Michael applied to be a Youth Ambassador after seeing the amazing work being done by the Tyler Clementi Foundation and wanted to take part in their mission to stop on and offline bullying. He is involved in his school newspaper, A Capella, and Model UN.
Gianna Rodriguez is 18 years old from Union City, New Jersey and is a senior at Union City High School. In the fall, Gianna will be going to Kean University and major in Speech Language Hearing Sciences. Through the Tyler Clementi Foundation, Gianna wants to bring up more conversation about effects bullying has on a person’s mental health. As someone who suffers from anxiety, depression, and insomnia, Gianna knows what it’s like to be a prisoner to your own mind. Gianna wants to help those who are suffering from mental health due to bullying.
Christina Wong is a 15-year-old high school student from East-West School of International Studies. Not fond of pictures, Christina loves to avoid taking selfies as much as possible. In her free time, she plays the Guzheng. Although she knows that bullying as a whole can’t be eradicated, Christina hopes that by joining the Tyler Clementi Foundation, she can try to prevent bullying as much as possible. Despite how futile it may seem to hinder something eternal, Christina believes that it’s not always about how hopeless it is to fight a never winning battle, but rather the efforts people make to mitigate a situation. As the boy in “The Starfish Story” responded to the wise man, “It made a difference for that one.”
Pelin E. Cokuslu
Pelin E. Cokuslu is a 15-year-old sophomore in Fairview, New Jersey. She attends Cliffside Park High School. Pelin has always had a deep curiosity for learning, and it is through such engagement with all branches of knowledge which express her diverse range of interests. Her passions unfold into meaningful experiences. Pelin not only has the honor of being the youngest member of the Academic Decathlon team but also being the only underclassman representative in her Student Council. Since the age of six, she has been dedicating her time to two rewarding passions: dancing and singing. Alongside having expertise in the modern and hip-hop dance styles, which developed under the training she received at CMDE dance academy, she is also a long-standing member of The Young People’s Chorus at Thurnauer in JCC Tenafly. Being a target of emotional and verbal bullying, Pelin has taken the righteous stand of blossoming this moment of rottenness in order to spread awareness. She was chosen to represent her high-school in the #Day1 Representatives program. Pelin’s strong interpersonal skills, diligence, perseverance, and leadership qualities allowed her to take the initiative to create her own club in order to implement the Tyler Clementi Foundation’s mission to prevent bullying and educate young children on the important virtue of empathy in her local community.
Smriti Suresh is a 16-year-old high school student from Troy, Michigan. Smriti Suresh is a sophomore from Troy, Michigan. She is a dedicated, hardworking girl who strives to help those in her community. She is very confident and outgoing and is a very good team worker. She helps out in her community by tutoring elementary school kids, as well as doing many community cleanings and event organizing. She has led many projects in her school district and hopes to move these projects to a wider audience through the Tyler Clementi Foundation. Smriti’s goal is to give all kids the knowledge needed to make their community a safe, inclusive place. She hopes to create many kind role models that will lead future generations.
Emma Balfay is a 15-year-old sophomore at McKinney Boyd High School living in McKinney, Texas. Emma’s goal is to encourage inclusivity and diversity throughout all high schools in America. As a friend and ally to the LGBTQ+ community, Emma has dedicated her life and time to making the school environment a better place for teens of different gender identities and sexualities. Being born and raised in Texas, one of the most diverse places in the nation, but also one of the least accepting states in the nation, has become the main part of her identity as well as her motivator in activism. Emma first started taking action in middle school as a part of the YMCA’s Youth and Government program, which awakened her to the disparity in equality legislation towards LGBTQ+ people; forming her end goal of changing legislation in Texas to become more inclusive and fair towards all Texans. Noticing the pattern of ignorance that starts in childhood and at our elementary schools, Emma recognizes the importance of teaching young kids about diversity while they are still fresh-minded and unbiased, in order to help further prevent bullying when they mature and go to upper-level schools.
Emma is also a very involved member of the community and finds herself spending large hours of her time doing volunteer service. As a member of both her schools Key Club and a participant in Green Cord, she is required to complete upwards of 130 hours of service per school year. Due to her love of art and history, she often finds herself volunteering at the local history museum and local performing arts center. Emma was first pointed towards the Tyler Clementi Foundation by a Youth and Government advisor, who recognized her passion for LGBTQ+ rights, thought the organization could be a vessel for her goals of activism and change. Emma is looking forward to working with the TCF to change the perception of bullying in America and to make the world a more inclusive and friendlier place.