*six-two 35 under 35 changemaker of 2018 - young leaders of tomorrow category
Ava Santos-Volpe is not your average teenager. She’s an active campaigner for homeless and LGBTQ+ youth in her hometown of Chicago, paving the way at a young age to not only be a future leader, but make a significant change to her city.
At only 13-years-old, Ava has been nominated by Craig Kielburger in the Young Leaders of Tomorrow category for six-two’s 35 under 35 changemakers of 2018 initiative. The daughter of same-sex couple Theresa Volpe and Mercedes Santos, Ava was front-and-center for the battle for marriage equality in Illinois, and was inspired to lend her own voice as the next generation to make the world a better place.
“Forty percent of homeless youths identify as [LGBTQ], and that was something that was really important to me,” Ava tells the Columbia Chronicle, so two years ago when a leadership project in class meant she had to invite a speaker along, Ava went with a youth homelessness advocate to discuss Chicago’s youth housing crisis.
“All my life, my moms influenced me to make a difference, to try and help people.” - Ava Santos-Volpe, AIDS Chicago.
Ava knew she still needed to help but didn’t know how until she travelled. While on holidays Ava got her answer about how she was going to do it: parking meters. On a family trip in Florida, she spotted a parking meter collecting coins to donate to a homeless shelter and she thought, ‘I could do that!’ Ava’s Change4Youth movement was born. Chicago now has colourful meters that people can donate their spare change to.
Ava is a strong advocate for many other causes too, including women’s rights. Ava’s Change4Youth program is unique because funds raised go specifically towards impacting youth, while actively engaging them to help with a problem affecting their lives.
Ava was selected from a pool of over 300 applicants to be the official Youth Ambassador for the Women’s March on Washington. She is the founding member of her school’s Gay Straight Alliance, and made participating in the National Day of Silence a school-wide event.
“Ava has shown true leadership by raising her voice to affect change.” – Craig Kielburger
Ava is a passionate ambassador and activist who is always happy to lend her voice to the fight for equality amongst all people. Everything Ava does is to not only help the people in need, but also to raise awareness in the community that their neighbours need (and are worthy) of help, encouraging them to hold themselves accountable. “I really hope it not only helps the youth, but also raises awareness,” Ava told the Columbia Chronicle, “so that not only is it changing their lives, but it’s also changing other people’s, and it’s making them more aware and more obligated to help.”
And if that’s not enough to keep Ava busy, she also works on a monthly newsletter for her middle school community about LQBTQ+ homeless youth! We can’t wait to see where Ava’s journey takes her and the rights of so many vulnerable groups. What a truly amazing young lady!
To learn more about the six-two 35 under 35 initiative, and to see the individuals who made the list, head here.