These 9 South Bay Teens Make a Meaningful Impact Both Within and Beyond Their Communities
Faces of the future.
- Written byDarren Elms, Kailani Melvin & Quinn Roberts
- Photographed byShane O’Donnell
Even as a child, Angelina Lazar was keenly aware of bees—from her backyard on the Palos Verdes Peninsula to the patches of plants along busy highways. In school she learned how bees play a leading role in food production, biodiversity and sustainability in the world, and she also learned they were in trouble. Declining bee populations—due to pesticides, climate change and habitat destruction—are costing the U.S. economy billions and creating yet another stress factor for the environment.
While a sophomore at Palos Verdes Peninsula High School, she volunteered with the Palos Verdes Peninsula Land Conservancy’s (PVPLC) Adopt-a-Plot program on the Chandler Preserve to help restore the El Segundo blue butterfly population. For her junior year internship, she turned her attention to the bee populations at the White Point Nature Preserve, providing valuable data for researchers and local beekeepers and helping inform the PVPLC’s restoration plans for future habitat projects.
“I’ve always been interested in pollinators,” she says. “When choosing my topic for my science research class last year, I knew I wanted to make this my focus.”
Angelina, now a senior, will study environmental science and international relations at New York University. Her first year of study takes place in London. She hopes to follow her dream of working for an international organization, such as the United Nations Environment Programme, to help solve challenges to the planet like the recovery of bees.
According to PVPLC’s education director Holly Gray, “It is gratifying to see how a motivated teen like Angelina can make such a wonderful contribution to our local knowledge of threatened species and to see how mentoring can help inform future career goals that will benefit the planet.”
“The next time you snack on an apple or savor a berry pie,” Angelina says, “say a quiet thanks to the bees who made it happen.”
During the pandemic quarantine, Justin Huebner dug deeper into the possibilities of a virtual world. In the summer of 2020, he signed up for a virtual externship with New York-based venture capital firm Livingston Capital Management. “This program taught the art of investing in new companies while emphasizing the firm’s philosophy of investing in diversity—a relatively unique approach,” he says.
While a freshman at Vistamar School, he took it a step further and applied to Columbia University’s Academic Year Immersion program, which inspired him to study with the Wharton Global Youth Program at the University of Pennsylvania the following summer. “Through these experiences and my own research, I learned how important the flow of capital is to our overall economy, yet those money flows don’t always benefit everyone,” he notes. “Often current wealth, social networks and perfect credit scores play considerable roles in who gets their businesses funded. I wanted to find a way to help society become fairer and more just.”
In 2021 he sought out an internship at the WOCstar Fund, an early-stage investment fund founded and managed by women of color who invest in women of color entrepreneurs and diverse teams. One of its founders, Gayle Jennings-O’Byrne, published a well-received Bloomberg op-ed piece describing how investors can fight structural racism by providing capital to black venture capitalists.
“Working under Gayle and her team really showed me change is possible,” he says. “I also started volunteering with Ally Capital Collab, a public charity whose mission is to solve the problem of underinvestment in BIPOC companies.”
Justin is also an Eagle Scout and a member of Hermosa Beach’s Troop 860. During a gap year while in eighth grade, Justin reached out to connect with international scouting organizations and troop leaders in different countries, including China, France, India, Malaysia, Brazil, Singapore and Nepal. For his Eagle Scout project back at home, he led a team of Scouts and volunteers to refurbish Vistamar’s out-of-service garden beds, adding ground mulch and pebbles to the surrounding area. The project, which represented 180 volunteer hours, benefitted the school by improving its appearance and allowing it to grow its own fruits, vegetables and spices, which are now being used to supplement the free lunch served in the school’s cafeteria.
“Justin demonstrates a genuine kindness and desire to help others,” remarks Chris Bright, Vistamar’s head of school. “His research is a true reflection of Vistamar’s founding principle of embracing diversity, equity and inclusion.”
THE BIG PICTURE
When the COVID-19 pandemic prevented Eva Asidao from taking part in the arts education program because Hermosa Beach City School District could no longer support in-person and online learning, she made it a priority to do everything she could to change that. As an eighth-grade trumpet player at the time, she went to school board meetings and kept talking to Superintendent Jason Johnson about the importance of the program.
“We were all struggling in isolation and lost the right to have an arts education,” says Eva. “Later I spoke with Dr. Johnson, and he said that they reinstated the music program the next year because I fought so hard for it. I thought, ‘It’s not just for me; it’s for all the kids coming after me so they can be exposed to the arts.’”
That’s when her advocacy really began to take shape. The 15-year-old began volunteering with the American Civil Liberties Union and meets with other volunteers once a month in Downtown Los Angeles and online every two weeks.
She’s also participated in a panel with LA vs. Hate. The program is a community-driven approach to empower all residents of Los Angeles County to unite against, report and resist hate. On that panel she was joined by a representative from the Anti-Defamation League, Mira Costa school psychologist Janet Allen and community religious leaders.
“It can be difficult to be that young person in the room. I enjoy that challenge and trying to change minds and break habits. The youth voice is the most important voice, I believe,” says Eva.
She continues to work with Dr. Johnson as part of the school district’s Equity Task Force and is the chairperson for the partnership between the district and Indivisible Arts. Eva created a popular T-shirt for Indivisible Arts that is sold on the nonprofit’s website and painted a mural along Herondo Street. It took her more than three hours to conceptualize the mural, which shows the earth being held up by a set of hands and the words “peace and love” written around it. A ribbon with the word “unity” also runs across the mural.
“We have the power to control our lives and how the world will evolve in the future,” says Eva. “That’s so important for me as a young person. I have so much ahead of me. How will I change the world and create ‘good trouble,’ like John Lewis said?”
COURTS & CONCERT HALLS
The first time Caleb Tsai heard the violin was on television when André Rieu played with an orchestra. “I absolutely loved the sound of the instrument and started trying to mimic Rieu and play my own ‘homemade’ violin, which was just a walkie-talkie and a chopstick,” he shares. “My parents started taking me to violin lessons to focus my energy, and I’ve enjoyed playing the violin ever since.”
The young musician will enjoy the honor of performing at Carnegie Hall in New York City for a second time this May. “In one sense, it was rewarding to realize where my musical journey had gotten me as I viewed the beautiful architecture inside the hall and stood on the stage that legendary violinists had performed on for more than a century,” he says of his first experience. “But in another sense, it truly gave me a love for ensemble playing, as I got to experience playing in an orchestra with talented musicians my age from all over the world.”
In the future, Caleb hopes to incorporate music into his interest in health and medicine. “Music has been proven to be a source of healing. So as I pursue a career in medicine, I would love to be part of pioneering discoveries that show how music can have a positive impact on all aspects of health.” He recently traveled to a refugee center in Tijuana on a medical mission and highlights the need to take medical and dental services to those most in need.
At school he joined the El Segundo Unified School District Equity & Inclusion Committee because of his family’s history. “As immigrants, all of my grandparents worked multiple low-income jobs to feed their families, and my dad himself immigrated to America at 9 years old,” he explains. “I really wanted to share this perspective that I had from learning about their lives and represent immigrant minorities in this group filled with diverse individuals.”
In addition to his musical and philanthropic pursuits, Caleb is the captain of the El Segundo High School boys’ tennis team. “During the season, my focus is on motivating the group to train diligently and helping them bond with one another. When an event for our school orchestra approaches, I focus on leading others to find their unique musicianship and joy for music to share with the community.”
A soccer player since the age of 3, Peter Chang played at different levels before his arrival on the Palos Verdes Peninsula High School team. His soccer journey has included trials with Bundesliga teams in Germany and selection to the Olympic Development Program and the Surf Select National Team.
“What I love about soccer is that you have to be aware every minute of the game,” he shares. “It is also a game that can be played anywhere in the world, with anyone and at any time. Soccer challenges me as an individual but has also taught me how to step up as a leader.”
When close family friends moved to Africa several years ago, Peter heard stories of Kenyan children playing soccer barefoot or with flip-flops using a ball made from plastic bags tied with string. This inspired him to create and fundraise for a soccer tournament for local youth called the Lama Lunada Cup, named after both his hometown and the community in Kenya hosting the event. He enjoyed the experience so much, he chose to visit Kenya this past December.
“I was able to give out jerseys, balls and cleats to three different teams,” he says. “Also, with money that I had fundraised, we were able to buy new team uniforms for two teams in Nairobi.”
This summer Peter will return to Kenya to help coach at the Mainstream Sports Academy in Nairobi. “I plan to take some of my high school teammates with me, and we will be volunteer coaches for some of the youth teams there,” he says. “The Kenyan people really made an impact on me, and I foresee being involved in some way in Kenya for a long time to come.”
Kina Desai began traveling at a very young age. Visiting multiple continents with her family, she nurtured a love of other cultures, food and people.
While Kina, age 17, has traveled to numerous conferences in New York, Vancouver and Berlin for Model United Nations, the most impactful destination she encountered is McAllen, Texas, and other cities along the United States–Mexico border. Just 13 years old at the time, she was the youngest person in an academic field study where she learned about immigration issues and saw firsthand the hardships facing immigrants.
The experience that stuck with her the most during that trip was meeting and working with children from Central America. She learned that many were without basic necessities such as underwear, which is rarely donated and cannot be donated used. “We think so much about toothbrushes and socks, but underwear doesn’t cross people’s minds. I didn’t think about it either until that trip,” says Kina. “I tried to look for existing organizations, but I couldn’t find anything. That’s when I decided to take action.”
She founded Draws For A Cause during the coronavirus quarantine in 2020. Kina successfully developed a business plan and started a Kickstarter campaign to raise $11,500—a goal she accomplished. For every piece of underwear sold, another is donated to a child in need.
Kina traveled to Antigua, Guatemala, and visited the surrounding villages two years ago to distribute more than 2,000 pairs of underwear with the help of The God’s Child Project. She specifically remembers a woman and her five children walking over 3 miles to get the underwear.
Going forward, Kina would like to get Draws For A Cause underwear into more shops in the South Bay and even Northern California, along with Etsy. If that plan is successful, she’s hoping to take another trip to Guatemala next summer to distribute more underwear.
“I have always been a problem-solver, and I’ve been happy with how things have turned out and all the support I have had along the way,” shares Kina. “While some things were trial and error, I couldn’t have done it without so many people.”
DOWN TO EARTH
As a young child, Graham Galusha loved animals. He started an Earth Club with friends where they learned about animals that lived around them, as well as endangered species. That love for animals turned into a love for the planet.
The 17-year-old is currently president of the Chadwick Sustainability Council. He has coordinated a student workshop with guest speakers from the Environmental Protection Agency, hosted an educational program for Chadwick families addressing sustainable practices at home, and participated in a school fair to debut green products for home use.
“We have an ethical and moral obligation for everyone to live a great life,” says Graham. “I would love a world where humanity can coexist with nature. I want that to remain strong.”
In February Graham traveled to Songdo, South Korea, with one other student—thanks to Chadwick’s collaboration grant—to work with sister school Chadwick International to reinforce sustainable practices on both campuses. While in South Korea, they met with Greenpeace East Asia, the United Nations Green Climate Fund and urban planners in Songdo.
Graham is so devoted to the environment that he traveled to South Korea on a low-emissions flight on Asiana Airlines. “It’s so exciting to learn about their processes and try to implement some of the ideas we talked about and saw firsthand,” he says.
Graham recently submitted a proposed piece of legislation to Congressman Ted Lieu in favor of retail waste reduction. Graham is just one of 22 students who are part of Lieu’s Youth Advisory Council that meets monthly. While he was intimidated when interviewing with one of Lieu’s staffers last May, he’s been amazed since becoming a part of the council in August.
“I feel so lucky to have a powerful voice listening to us,” he says. “Maybe one day I can be in that same position.”
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
There is a photo of Noelle Nelson sitting in a doctor’s office, holding a corn muffin with icing and sprinkles on it. Why? Noelle is not your typical teenager—she loves AP chemistry, speaks three languages and aspires to be a pediatric surgeon. But like many other teens and people of all ages, she has a plethora of food allergies.
The picture was from an oral food challenge Noelle completed in seventh grade, when she tried eating baked dairy for the first time. “It was a different world to grow up in,” she says, recalling her struggle with diagnosing her food allergies. “But it connected me to the medical field and really taught me empathy.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, two students in every classroom have food allergies, yet the severity is often downplayed. Noelle is working to change that. The Notre Dame Academy junior is a teen advisory group member for Food Allergy Research & Education, a board member and staff writer for Just Allergy Things digital magazine and an ambassador for the nonprofit Red Sneakers for Oakley. She is also the founder and creator of Teach Teal: Food Allergy Awareness, a learning program for fourth and fifth graders.
Originating as a Gold Award project through the Girl Scouts, Noelle says Teach Teal is “teaching kids about food allergies, empathy and compassion.” The three-day curriculum features teaching guides, videos, textbooks, activities and anecdotes from students with food allergies.
The program strives to help kids develop greater empathy skills. “That’s extremely important—not just with food allergies but with any difference,” Noelle says. Her latest project with Teach Teal will be a summer camp for kids who are dealing with this condition.
Hearing other students share stories similar to her own inspired Noelle to write a young adult novel, Teal Together, which will be released this spring. “I wanted other kids with food allergies to see themselves in a book,” she says.
Despite her challenges, Noelle sees the positives in her experience. “Having food allergies taught me how to understand people better and be kind to everyone—because you never know what someone is going through.”
Every Wednesday when Armand Taylor walks into school at Da Vinci RISE High, he can’t help but get excited. It’s time to do something he loves: work with different kinds of art supplies and cameras.
Armand takes advantage of the opportunity given to him by the Creative Wisdom Tools program developed by Rafael McMaster, the founder of Resin gallery and the South Bay Artist Collective in Hermosa Beach. Armand spends close to 14 hours a week thinking about what he wants to accomplish every Wednesday.
He uses spray paint to create his artwork and also loves photography. He gets ideas everywhere he goes. “While I always enjoyed the arts, it’s never something I thought I’d get the opportunity to pursue,” he says. “I’m unable to buy the supplies myself, so had it not been for this program I never would have found this creative outlet.”
Da Vinci RISE High in Hawthorne meets the unique needs of youth navigating foster care, housing instability, probation and/or other circumstances that have caused disruptions in their academic journeys. The 17-year-old was born in Sacramento, moved to Los Angeles about seven years ago and has been in the foster care system for about six years.
Armand’s art has drawn the attention of many of his teachers and their friends and families. He’s sold nearly 15 of his spray paint-based paintings—one even purchased by a buyer in Boston. He’s also sold an entire set of paintings for $450.
“Armand has a newfound love of the creative arts and has continued to evolve the more he’s been able to work on his craft. And now his artistic and photography skills are off the charts,” says Rafael.