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This year’s crop of Kids to Watch defy the notion of the gum-chewing, lazy, phone/text/video game-obsessed adolescent. These SJ kids have found ways to impress everyone they meet. Take a look at how SJ kids are truly awesome.

 

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Brandi Bolden, 10
Kierra Hunter, 10

Brandi Bolden and Kierra Hunter have added a twist to their friendship: They are co-captains of Brandi’s Lemonheads.

The Garfield East Elementary School students began raising money for Alex’s Lemonade Stand two years ago. In a matter of hours, they had $1,000 for pediatric cancer research. In 2012, they added facepainting, pretzels and temporary tattoos to the mix. The result was $1,500 — with $505 of that coming from the stand alone — for Alex’s cause.

There is no limit to what the girls will come up with to make their stand, well, stand out. If Brandi can find a way, there will be water ice along with that tasty lemonade at this year’s event, set for 10 am on June 8 outside the John F. Kennedy Recreation Center in Willingboro.

“I wanted to keep going so all the kids and doctors will find a cure for cancer,” says Brandi, who was inspired to act when she spotted Alex’s story on TV.

There is no one better to serve as co-captain in the fundraising than Brandi’s best friend Kierra, a numbers whiz whose team placed third in her school district’s math competition. Math is a favorite subject, but the straight-A student excels overall and is in her school’s gifted program.

“I like giving to people. I do it all the time with my brother and sister,” says Kierra, a fourth grader. “When they are sick, I help them feel better. I get them snacks and stuff to drink. I make cards on their birthday. I share my toys with them.”

The lemonade stand and school are not the girls’ only link. Both are Junior Girl Scouts and both were moved by the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December. Their concern led, of course, to another project: braided bracelets they plan to sell to raise money for the affected families.

 

 

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Dwayne Cooke, 15

There is an old soul inside Dwayne Cooke that comes out when he sings.

“At first, I couldn’t get ‘A Change is Gonna Come.’ I couldn’t get the lyrics. They wouldn’t flow,” says Cooke, an honor-roll student and freshman at Woodrow Wilson High School.

A little practice later and, the Camden resident says, “It’s my signature. Everywhere I go, I sing it.”

Cooke’s powerhouse version of the late Sam Cooke’s 1964 song, which his mother introduced him to, blew up on YouTube last year. Cooke’s sister posted him singing the song on her Facebook page. It was quickly shared and found its way to the video site, where it garnered more than 22,000 views. His YouTube channel has had 27,000 views and his Facebook page has about 2,600 likes. Both are under his online moniker, The Singboii.

Cooke is no stranger to public performance and attention. He took second place at last year’s Charlie Mack Party 4 Peace Talented Teen Competition in Philadelphia and was invited to open Camden’s peace rally, Save Our City Invincible, this past spring. He is constantly being contacted to sing at events, but sometimes he just can’t wait.

“I could bust out right now,” says Cooke, who likes the sound of singers R. Kelly, The Weeknd and Usher. “It’s hard not to sing. If someone said I couldn’t do it anymore, it would crush me.”

This summer Cooke is headed to the studio to try his hand at recording in a professional setting. He may even go for a spot on any number of TV talent shows, which his loyal YouTube followers suggest constantly.

“I get that a lot – go on ‘The Voice,’ ‘X Factor,’ ‘American Idol.’ I’m doing something with my voice. I’m doing more soul,” says Cooke. “I’m starting from there.”

 

 

Kids_0533SChristina DeJoseph, 18

Christina DeJoseph sees the world from every possible angle. Sometimes it’s upside-down while snowboarding, other times it’s by absorbing other cultures on her travels. However she does it, she does it 100 percent.

“When I first hit the halfpipe, I said, ‘I have to do this.’ I started looking up anything to snowboard more,” says the Palmyra teen. “I wanted to get better.”

As her love of snowboarding intensified, Mount Snow Academy quickly replaced backyard ramps and trips to the Poconos. Since sophomore year, DeJoseph has split her academics and seasons between the Vermont institution for ski and snowboard competitors and Palmyra High School. Years later, the senior has a medal collection that belies the fact she didn’t stand on a snowboard until she was 14.

“My talent was so small, but I wanted people to see that if you worked hard then anything could happen,” she says.

DeJoseph’s grit was on display in 2011 when she took the gold in her first regional competition in Vermont; she walked away with 12 medals overall. The wows piled up when she headed to the National Championship in Colorado, where she beat 34 others to place third in the superpipe.

Last year proved just as rewarding. DeJoseph placed first at regionals in two categories, including her beloved half-pipe, and returned to nationals to claim seventh place in the superpipe. The competitive Snowboard Revolution Tour extended DeJoseph an invitation to battle in Colorado.

While nursing an injury that has kept her off the snow, she has had time to think about what the future holds.

“I think I’ll take a gap year to dedicate to travel to broaden my global perspective. Do international service, then local and domestic,” she says, adding some time may be spent at a Kenyan orphanage. “I want to go everywhere.”

 

 

Kids_0466SJason Garstkiewicz, 14

Sports most likely saved Jason Garstkiewicz’s life, and he has wasted no time getting back in the game.

When Garstkiewicz returned from playing basketball one day with a swollen, achy leg, initial exams showed no broken bones. A family friend who is also an orthopedic surgeon suggested a visit to the hospital, where another orthopedic surgeon wasted no time getting a biopsy. Garstkiewicz would soon learn he had bone cancer. In a matter of months, Garstkiewicz and his family decided the only course of action would be to amputate his right leg below the knee. He was 13 years old.

“It was the only sure way for the cancer to be gone, and I could participate in activities. When I first heard, I didn’t think I would play sports or run with my friends,” says the Haddonfield Middle School eighth-grader.

Six months post-surgery, he has resumed playing lacrosse and basketball with the help of a prosthetic leg. There are lacrosse positions that do not require intense running, but basketball had Garstkiewicz worried — at least, for a few seconds.

“It has a lot of stop-and-start running, but with timeouts and halftime, there was time to get my breath,” says Garstkiewicz, who hopes to try surfing and play football in high school next year.

Outside of sports, Garstkiewicz spreads the word about the Go4theGoal and Canuso Foundations, two Jersey-based nonprofits that raise money for research and for families coping with pediatric cancer. The Lace-Up 4 Pediatric Cancer campaign supplied 10,000 neon shoelaces that many purchased — and wore — to support Garstkiewicz as he went through chemotherapy in early 2012. The Canuso Foundation is also dear to his heart. Last year’s The Chicken Runs at Midnight, a fundraiser that has a carnival-like atmosphere, helped raise money to offset the cost of his first prosthetic leg, he says.

“It was pretty overwhelming. It wasn’t just about me; they wanted to help kids with cancer,” he says.

Garstkiewciz is providing reinforcements for others who are fighting cancer. He talks with families dealing with similar diagnoses (most recently a Georgia girl and her mother) and hopes to one day become a prosthetist so, he says, he can help others resume their lives like he did.

“My goal is to help other kids going through this. I care how they are doing, not just how I am doing now,” he says. “I always tell them to keep their head up. Forget about what happened and move forward.”

 

 

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Max Levin, 15

Not a day goes by that Max Levin doesn’t think “show me the money,” but his real ambition is to show everybody the money.

The Eastern Regional High School sophomore has launched stockpick101.com for investors both young and new, which Levin says could be two very distinct creatures. The young investor, he says, could be like him a few years back, when his retired grandfather schooled him on the stock market.

“He taught me how to trade, the ins and outs, the general basics,” says Levin, who sees Harvard and Wall Street in his future.

New investors, on the other hand, could be any age. Both types may be curious about investing, but lack a teacher. His site is teacher, advisor and forum all rolled into one, where people can post about stocks, read articles and tailor the experience to their level of interest.

“It’s almost like Facebook for stocks,” says the Voorhees resident. “It’s anywhere from simple to complex.”

Levin’s stock smarts caught the attention of Jim Cramer of CNBC’s “Mad Money.” One email later and Levin is contributing “The Stockpick Whiz Kid” feature to Cramer’s mainstreet.com. Finding time for the column is not a problem for Levin, who already balances lacrosse, the debate club and the mock trial team at school with maintaining his site and managing his investments.

“We’re in this collaborative effort. We both have the same mission to educate people,” says Levin.

His online trading started in middle school yet only recently became common knowledge to his peers. Adults, on the other hand, have been picking his brain for years.

“My dad and mom ask for picks, their friends ask for stock picks,” says Levin, whose post-college plans include opening a hedge fund. “I love talking to stock brokers, investors, bank managers – anything involving finance.”

 

 

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Anthony Ragone, 17

Anthony Ragone has done something radical. He has launched a print version of his online magazine, teenclique.com.

“When I proposed the idea, everyone was, ‘Why? What’s the benefit?’ But it’s a goal I’ve had since I was a kid,” says the Blackwood resident. “There’s something about the tangibility, to see it on bookshelves.”

Ragone specializes in stifling naysayers and defying the odds. He launched TeenClique four years ago at the suggestion of an editor at The Philadelphia Inquirer, where Ragone was a theater critic. He was 12 years old at the time. The magazine about music and fashion quickly evolved, as did its CEO and editor-in-chief.

“Music was interesting to me, but fashion was so creative,” he says. “Fashion makes you more detailed. It made me have more depth and that affected my writing.”

The strength he found in describing a web of lace or an outfit’s color-blocking boosted his overall confidence. Soon, he was covering Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week and interviewing former Phillie Shane Victorino and pop star Adam Lambert.

Ragone does not limit his talents to fashion. He has written the children’s book, “Little Maya Brown and Mr. Blues.” Available on Amazon, he says it’s the first in a series. And while writing always will be his passion, he says it won’t necessarily be his profession. That could be psychology or philosophy at his preferred institution, Columbia University. A clearer focus is on his short-term goals: expand his brand and build a school in the Dominican Republic with his nonprofit, Mission: Children. His long-term goal: sitting at a Paris café. But for now, he is working in the present.

“I’m an honor student, play tennis and I’m constantly getting calls. If I’m not studying, it’s work. It’s work and studying,” says the Paul VI High School junior. “I have determination and motivation. It’s paying off right now.”

 

 

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Lindsey Michelle Williams, 17

Lindsey Michelle Williams appreciates a painting, but she also likes the blank canvas underneath.

The Eastern Regional High School senior believes in “multidimensional beauty,” which the cross-country runner and poet sees as embracing more than the visual.

“A lot of comments are, ‘but you’re a makeup artist.’ Makeup should be fun and expressive. It’s an art form, not a necessity,” says Williams, of Voorhees.

Entering the American Eagle Outfitters Project Live Your Life contest was a way to get exposure for her skills with liner and lipstick. Her video submission stood out from the 80,000 other applicants and, thousands of online votes later, she was one of 15 finalists headed to Los Angeles for a week-long fashion shoot. She modeled the spring collection for a worldwide campaign that appeared in Times Square and every one of American Eagle’s 929 stores.

This is not the first time Williams stepped in front of a camera or had an audience of millions. Her makeup tutorial site, makemeupology.com, has 18,000 subscribers and 2.5 million views. It is also where you’ll find “The Game of Perfection – A Short Film About Beauty,” a four-minute movie about acceptance created by and starring Williams.

Williams is taking the concept of being comfortable with yourself, inside and out, into her professional future. Her dream starts in the fall at Rutgers University, where she will pursue a chemistry degree on a full academic scholarship. To round out her self-designed cosmetic chemistry/creative marketing major, she will seek out internships with marketing and makeup companies. The result will be a cosmetics firm where she can combine real women and natural models with her love of storytelling and video.

“I want to make a difference,” says Williams. “I want to be the woman behind the company that makes girls feel beautiful.”

June 2013
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