A 13-year-old from Mililani, Hawaii, is being honored for galvanizing youth to organize Christmas celebrations for children in need and initiating a variety of volunteer opportunities for young people.
Rylee Brooke Kamahele grew up volunteering with her parents in a program for at-risk youth, but by age 8 wanted to start making an impact on her own. “We had to fight for me to get involved,” she said, “because programs didn’t want to babysit kids during community service.”
But with a lot of persistence and hard work, she gradually persuaded charitable organizations to let her volunteer with them—and they recruited other young people to join her.
From there, Rylee started an organization called “Love Is A Verb” that organized numerous beach cleanups, provided Thanksgiving dinners for the homeless, and entertained kids at shelters. During Thanksgiving week, Rylee and her team passed out 320 turkeys with the NFL running back Marshawn Lynch.
But the jolliest project of all is her “Secret Santa Project” that makes Christmas brighter for children in need of holiday cheer. She holds donation drives and raises money to provide gifts for kids staying in shelters—and then hosts holiday parties for them.
This project has since expanded to include three shelters and one youth program, treating more than 300 kids to a memorable day with food, gifts, games, shaved-ice trucks and slush machines.
All of her initiatives, including environmental awareness campaigns, are under the umbrella of “The Catalyst Club,” an organization she founded to equip young people to be agents of change.
Throughout the pandemic Rylee has continued her volunteer efforts and this holiday season is continuing food distributions for families in need, distributing 2,500 boxes of food every other week.
Rylee is also running a donation drive for a nonverbal little boy who needs an iPad to communicate—raising money for the iPad, the programs he needs, and a protective case.
Named one of America’s Top Youth Volunteers by the 2020 Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, it’s young people like Rylee Brooke who make us remember what the holidays are all about.