Three Young Women Making a Global Difference

Contrary to some people’s beliefs, today’s teens are not all disengaged, self-involved consumers of pop culture. In my work developing Firelight Foundation’s Youth Engagement Program, I have found teens who are philanthropic, responsible, and generally, good. They are also bright, globally minded, empowered grassroots community builders. They possess a great capacity to affect change and motivate others to act for good. Here are three incredible young women I’ve worked with this year. They’ve taught me a lot about the power of youth. Phoebe Dlott, the young woman in the picture above, is an eighth grader who loves to cook and wants to do something about hunger. Her aunt, Besem Obenson, who works for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, led her to Firelight Foundation. While attending her aunt’s wedding in Cameroon, Phoebe noticed a strong contrast between the lives of the haves and have-nots. As Phoebe put it, “I want to help the global imbalance and narrow the giant gap between those who have enough and those who suffer, I feel it’s wrong that kids die from hunger, poverty, and AIDS. I want to make a difference.” Phoebe saw Firelight as an organization that would help her make that difference. This past March, Phoebe gained donations from local businesses to host a dinner where she cooked for and served a four-course meal to nearly 40 people and raised nearly $2,000. By bringing her local community together, she was able to support something she believes in: Firelight’s mission to improve the lives of children in sub-Saharan Africa.


Madie Darbonne is an International Baccalaureate student at Scotts Valley High School. Madie interns in our office, learning about Firelight’s work, developing promotional materials and giving her insights about how to involve more teens in international philanthropy. She says she most values Firelight’s decision to “let organizations decide how to solve their own problems.” She once told me, “I want to do your job.” I responded, “Okay, you can have the Earth Day project.” Madie then found two local businesses that allowed her to set up tables outside of their stores, recruited over 20 teen volunteers to help her, and promoted three of our African Grantee partners she chose to exemplify sustainable practices. This past Earth Day weekend, Madie and her peers educated the public on how Firelight employs and supports sustainable practices in Santa Cruz and in Africa.


Holly Borg is a high school senior and a fundraising powerhouse who runs Interact District 5170 as District Governor. An organization of over 80 clubs and 6,000 teen members, Interact 5170 is a grassroots fundraising phenomenon. Holly wants to be a doctor and work in Africa in the future. She believes in Firelight’s ability to find the small community based organizations that greatly improve the lives of thousands of children. Firelight is one of the nonprofits to receive funds from Interact 5170 this year. Holly can sit at a table with well-educated and successful adults, and without blinking an eye, negotiate a deal to benefit an organization she believes in. She manages large groups of teens and keeps expectations high. She oversees events, keeps tabs on income, and even takes her team to task when she has to. It is no small talent that, at the age of 17, she can head an organization comprised of over 6,000 teens and raise hundreds of thousands of dollars in the name of benefitting the greater good.  


The burgeoning development of Firelight Foundation’s Youth Engagement Program has been inspired by what these young women have contributed. If they want to contribute positively to the lives of others, we at Firelight Foundation are glad to partner with them to do just that.