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Teen leader making a world of difference with international youth organization

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OVERLAND PARK, Kan. -- The second annual Seven Days: Make A Ripple, Change the World campaign in memory of those killed in shootings at local Jewish related sites two years ago wrapped up Monday.

This week’s FOX 4 young achiever had a big role in it as a leader on the youth board of the foundation that plans and carries out the Seven Days activities. She also has launched an ambitious international non-profit organization to get youth empowered, educated and inspired to take on big issues and problems that plague our world.

“We all have things we want to do, things that we see, problems potentially, things we want to fix,” said FOX 4 Young Achiever Caroline Kennedy. “Ideas, I guess.”

Caroline is full of ideas about important issues to address and problems to fix. And she is drawn to activities like last week’s Blue Valley School District Multicultural Festival. Caroline was there with a few peers as leaders on the Youth Board of Faith Always Wins, the foundation that puts on the Seven Days: Make a Ripple Change the World campaign that promotes kindness, social understanding and appreciation of diversity.

“There are social injustices today,” said Caroline. “There are global issues in the world today that need to be addressed, especially by youth because we are the coming generation.”

Caroline is a dynamic leader or active participant in countless community service and charity organizations, especially those centering on issues of human suffering.

“If I see a problem or if I see something that I can engage in that can better the people around me, their lives, our community, I don’t know why I wouldn’t partake in those activities,” said Caroline.

A powerhouse in academics, sports and activities at Blue Valley West High School where she is now a senior, Caroline is the principal founder of a now flourishing international youth organization that she got started at West as an after-school student club. It’s called Empower: Educate and Inspire. It’s a rapidly growing organization with chapters now in parts of the metro area, several other states and some foreign countries.

“We want it to be an open environment where students can learn from one another,” said Caroline. “They can share their ideas.”

Members research and develop study guides and lessons plans to tackle big global issues like social justice and religious tolerance. And they also help each other with ideas on fundraising and how to start their own non-profit organizations.

“We think it’s important that if we’re giving them the educational resources to be inspired and empowered that we give them the support, as well,” said Caroline.

“Caroline is a mover, she’s a doer, said Blue Valley West history teacher Lauren Garcia. “And what is amazing about her is she does it with such humility and grace.”

Garcia works closely with Caroline as faculty sponsor for the Empower chapter at West High and taught Caroline in demanding Advanced Placement U.S. History.

“She is truly intrinsically motivated,” said Garcia. “And she has a very collaborative approach to everything she does. And so the people that are around her feed off of her internal drive to be successful. She also has a very good eye for picking peers to work alongside her that are also highly motivated students but somehow Caroline seems to continue to bring out the best in them, as well. She elevates their game, as well.”

Caroline’s determination to create Empower: Educate and Inspire and make it global in both reach and impact sprang from an encounter she had in 8th grade with a survivor of The Holocaust.

“And she completely changed my life,” said Caroline.

Caroline got inspired and motivated after attending a presentation by Sonia Warshawski. And she got engaged in an ongoing documentary film project about the 90-year-old who travels the world from Kansas City teaching people, especially young people, about genocide, racism and religious intolerance -- and how it all continues to happen today.

“And so if this old woman can go around and talk about it, then I can do,” said Caroline. “And I, I don’t see why I wouldn’t."

“I don’t think this is a blip on the radar for her,” said Garcia. “I think this is truly a life long thing she is going to pursue and be successful at.”

“I know it’s a little strange that I’m so interested in being involved in all of these issues that are so much bigger than I am,” said Caroline, “but I do it because I have people who have done it before me that I look up to and that I want to be like them.” And now people everywhere are looking up to Caroline – and want to be like her.

Caroline recently found out she’s won the very selective Morehead-Cain scholarship to attend the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill. She plans to start studying there this fall and traveling the world exploring many more ways to solve big global problems. While she’s at it she’ll continue to help establish many more high school and even college chapters of Empower: Educate and Inspire. Check out the organization’s website for more information and to get involved.

FOX 4 News is Working 4 You to spotlight outstanding young people and their positive accomplishments. In our weekly report called Reaching 4 Excellence we meet young achievers in subjects like academics, the arts, leadership, community service, volunteerism, career exploration, overcoming obstacles and heroism. Watch for Reaching 4 Excellence every Wednesday on FOX4 News at 9 p.m. and every Thursday on FOX 4 News at 8 a.m. and noon.