Skip to content
Thomson Reuters
Youth Perspectives

Youth Perspective: Sustainable Innovation for the World, The Barron Prize Winners

This brief overview is part of Sustainable Innovation for the World,  a series produced by Thomson Reuters Sustainability on innovation, either scientific or social, which could help make the world more sustainable.


The Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes celebrates inspiring, public-spirited young people from diverse backgrounds all across North America. Established in 2001 by author T.A. Barron, the Barron Prize annually honors 25 outstanding young leaders ages 8 to 18 who have made a significant positive impact on people, their communities, and the environment. The top fifteen winners each receive $5,000 to support their service work or higher education.

Here are some of the recent prize winners:

Deepika Kurup

Deepika Kurup

Deepika Kurup  age 17, Nashua, New Hampshire

Deepika has invented a practical, low cost, and sustainable method to purify contaminated water. Her solar-powered device destroys bacteria in wastewater within 15 minutes of filtration and exposure to sunlight. Because it is completely solar powered and its materials do not become depleted, the device can easily be used in developing countries and can be scaled-up for large water purification systems. She has two patents pending and in 2012, was named America’s Top Young Scientist as the national winner of the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge.

Deepika was inspired to begin her work three years ago following a trip to India to visit her grandparents, where she saw children collecting and drinking polluted water from nearby streams. She learned that worldwide, many children spend more time collecting water than attending school and that 4,000 children die each day from water-related diseases. Convinced that she could create an easy way to filter water, she began conducting research at the University of Massachusetts in Lowell, where an engineering professor supervised her work, which combines materials science, photochemistry, and biology. Deepika is committed to educating children about the importance of clean water and has spoken to groups and schools around the world. “My work has taught me to be persistent and not give up, and I feel it’s made me a more enlightened and humble person,” says Deepika.


Grace O'Brien

Grace O’Brien

Grace O’Brien age 18, Rancho Santa Margarita, California

Grace founded Ears for Years, a non-profit organization that provides solar-powered hearing aids to deaf children in developing countries. She has traveled to Haiti, Honduras, South Korea, and Sri Lanka among other countries to fit over 350 children with hearing aids. She has organized fundraisers and arranged corporate partnerships to raise more than $20,000 and has created multiple high school chapters of Ears for Years to ensure her project continues and grows.

Grace began her work at age 14 following her father’s diagnosis with a brain tumor, which left him with partial permanent hearing loss. She decided to volunteer at a theater center for deaf children, who taught her Sign Language, deaf culture norms, and the perspective that deafness isn’t a disability but rather a different way of life. Inspired by those children, she founded Ears for Years, creating a club at her high school, now 80 members strong. She provided her first hearing aids to a school for the deaf in Mexico where she conducted hearing exams, made ear molds, and then fitted the children, allowing some to instantly hear their mother’s voice for the first time. Grace uses low-cost hearing aids with solar-powered chargers and batteries, making them a good choice for developing countries. She squeezes her non-profit work into her school days, once having to leave history class to take a phone call from the FDA in order to get a shipment of hearing aids out of customs. “You start truly living when you start living for something bigger than yourself,” says Grace. “I’ve realized my capacity to create change in the world.”


 Olivia Russo

Olivia Russo

Olivia Russo-Hood  age 13, Deltona, Florida

Olivia founded Save the Earth Projects (S.T.E.P.) in order to help other people and the environment. With her cornerstone project, Leave a GOOD Footprint, Olivia collects gently-used shoes – 15,000 pairs so far – sending them around the world to those in need and keeping them out of landfills. She also receives $.50 for each pound of shoes collected, which she has donated to local families in need, a youth theater program, wounded warriors, and the global water crisis.

Olivia was inspired to help others following a 2009 flood that destroyed her home. Grateful for the outpouring of support her family received, she wanted to pay that back and landed on the idea of Leave a GOOD Footprint. She first partnered with her local YMCA soccer program, hoping to collect 100 pairs of shoes and provide soccer scholarships for a few children. Instead, she collected 1,500 pairs, provided dozens of scholarships, and realized the impact her work could have. “You don’t have to have something to start something,” says Olivia. “What you need is inside of you. It’s your heart and your thoughts and your imagination, and your willingness to work to achieve a goal.”


Rachel Parent

Rachel Parent

Rachel Parent age 15, Toronto, Ontario

Rachel founded Kids Right to Know to educate young people about genetically modified food and the need for proper testing and labeling. She first learned of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) at age 11 while researching the Canadian food system for a school project. She was shocked to find that 70% of the food we eat contains GMOs and that while over 60 countries in the world require mandatory GMO labeling, Canada and the U.S. do not.  She quickly became passionate about our right to know what’s in the food we eat and created her GMO Labeling Campaign.

Rachel has traveled to India, Argentina, and Australia to meet with environmental leaders and scientists and to witness firsthand the impact of GMOs on people and the environment. She has spoken at events and rallies around the world, reminding young people that their voices can and do make a difference. Her television debate over GMO labeling with Canadian commentator Kevin O’Leary on CBC has received over five million views on YouTube. Rachel has moderated a panel discussion with Dr. Jane Goodall and artist Robert Bateman on Inspiring Youth to Take Action and has landed a meeting with Canada’s Health Minister (the country’s top health official) about mandatory GMO labeling. “These experiences have taught me that we must all find our true purpose in this world and must act on our passions,” says Rachel.

Please link here for more information on the Barron Prize.

Media Contact: Liz Ammirato   845-621-2005


Youth Perspective: In a new climate fiction course, students will imagine solutions Youth Perspective: How this teen was inspired to join the climate movement Youth Perspective: Reflections as a youth in Kenya Youth Perspective: “Shouting Chambers” have splintered the nation Youth Perspective: Take Ownership of Social Media Youth Perspective: Eco-Leadership in the United States Youth Perspective: Open Innovation for Africa’s Future Agenda Youth Perspective: Acting on Gender Diversity Initiatives Youth Perspective: Why the crisis in Djibouti affects us all Youth Perspective: I can see land more clearly underwater