Two UNC students have emerged ahead of a year’s worth of fellow “heroes” to be named finalists for People Magazine’s annual Readers’ Choice Hero award.
Krissi Fajgenbaum, a freshman, and Gabriel Whaley, a senior, both founded nonprofit organizations that caught the magazine’s attention and put them in the running for a $10,000 prize to use for their respective causes.
Vote for Fajgenbaum and Whaley:
Time: Anytime until Oct. 13
Of the nine finalists from across the nation, Fajgenbaum and Whaley are the only college students.
“I was very surprised to hear that there were two students from UNC,” Whaley said. The nine finalists also range in age from 7 to 68 years old.
Fajgenbaum founded Teens 2 Teens, an organization that provides like-new clothing to high school students in two of North Carolina’s poorest areas — Graham and Swain counties.
Whaley’s Kicking4Hunger provides free soccer camps to children where he collects food to combat local hunger.
Voting is conducted online, and closes Oct. 13.
Teens 2 Teens
A documentary about poverty in Appalachia caught Fajgenbaum’s eye when she was in high school, and she was determined to help.
“I was shocked to see this kind of poverty going on five and a half hours away from my home,” Fajgenbaum said.
In response, she founded Teens 2 Teens, through which students identified by guidance counselors are bused to warehouses set up as boutiques. There, they can “shop” for free clothes they otherwise could not have.
Many students in Appalachia come from families so poor they cannot afford heating in the winter, let alone winter coats and shoes, Fajgenbaum said.
Her mother, Sylvia Fajgenbaum, said the program has changed her daughter.
“She started off just wanting to do a good deed, but now she’s a different person for doing it,” she said.
If Fajgenbaum wins the award, she will supply the boutiques with new coats and boots, she said.
She said the project has been nothing but rewarding. “The amount of work you do doesn’t even compare to how much you get out of it and how many people are getting helped,” she said.
Few in the Charlotte suburb of Midland could afford to send their children to soccer camps outside the area. Whaley wanted to change that.
“I was looking for a way to reach out to the town I grew up in,” Whaley said. “Other camps average around $100, but ours is completely free.”
The program encourages non-perishable food donations, which are donated to local soup kitchens or other charitable organizations, but does not require them, he said.
The program is quickly gaining momentum.
“Things have gone kind of crazy. We’ve received a lot of interest from states across the country,” he said.
Whaley said winning the prize money would be a blessing.
“It would enable us to get this program out to other states a lot easier and a lot quicker,” he said.
Kicking4Hunger’s Board Chairman Jacob Yaniero, who went to high school with Whaley and is a junior at UNC, said it creates a sense of community.
“It gives people the opportunity to make a difference when they don’t have money,” he said. “It takes money out of the equation of helping people.”
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