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Kids to Watch
Take a look at some SJ kids who are jumping at the chance to be awesome

By Madison Russ
Photography by David Michael Howarth
Shot on location at Launch Trampoline Park in Deptford

 

Sarah Hullihen, 12

Sarah Hullihen has the type of confidence that makes her comfortable handing out business cards announcing her presidential bid in 2044 (seriously).

That confidence propelled the 12-year-old to go toe-to-toe with other kids on Food Network’s “Chopped Jr.” and to even compete in the National Constitution Center’s costume contest dressed as Abraham Lincoln, right down to the top hat and beard (she won, of course).

So it’s no surprise that when Hullihen applied to become a Buddy Bison Student Ambassador for the National Park Trust that she nabbed the gig, making her one of only two kids in the country to hold the title. The program lets Hullihen share her knowledge of the great outdoors and passion for history with other kids in a totally modern way.

“My basic job is to help get kids out to national parks and historical sites, mostly through social media,” she says. “If I just connect to them that way, then I can really grab ahold of them and get them outside.”

You can usually find Hullihen hard at work, tweeting or posting Instagram photos of things like behind-the-scenes tours at the Liberty Bell or clean-up days at area parks. (You can follow her @jrrangersarah.) She also posts about her extensive volunteering projects, like the wildlife garden in Millville she created or the first-ever “Kids to Park” – the Park Trust’s national day of play – she brought to her hometown of Vineland.

Hullihen is a student at Veterans Memorial Intermediate School and manages another social media presence – the Twitter account for her future presidential bid (@sarahhullihen), which she says is all planned out: First she’ll become mayor, then state governor and then congresswoman.

 

Steven Udotong, 17

Knowing the kid down the street is building a nuclear device in his basement would probably raise a few eyebrows. But Steven Udotong’s parents didn’t bat an eye, even when parts he needed to construct a nuclear fusor started arriving in the mail.

“They have supported me,” says Udotong of his Cinnaminson family. After all, his mom taught physics at Rowan University, his dad is a computer scientist, two of his brothers are MIT grads and another brother is a computer science major at Princeton (his younger brother is still a pre-teen).

“Other parents are more concerned than my parents are. People say things like, ‘Don’t blow up the neighborhood.’ If that was a possibility, my parents would have stopped me a while ago,” says Udotong. (The fusion device he’s building isn’t the kind that can blow up anything – it’s a small-scale version of the energy process that takes place in the sun – just in case you were worried too.)

Udotong, who’s a senior at Cinnaminson High School and a first generation Nigerian-American, says he’s clocked in at least 100 hours building the device and is nearly finished. To fund his ambitious project – many of the parts are difficult to get and can be pricey – Udotong launched a GoFundMe campaign and raised $2,563, far exceeding his goal of $1,500.

“People say they feel motivated seeing a kid do this, so it also makes me feel motivated to get it done and set a good example, encourage others and prove to them nothing is too ambitious, despite your age,” says Udotong, who spent last summer studying in Singapore as part of the Yale Young Global Scholars Program.

The ultimate goal, he says, is to use the nuclear reactor to advocate for clean energy use in South Jersey and the nation, because “nuclear energy shows great promise to drastically reduce our greenhouse emissions That seems to be the best option for our future. I want people to not forget about this source of power and remember it is still out there, and we can still continue funding research on it.”

 

 

Amaya Diggins, 11

When Amaya Diggins decided to start wearing a hijab – the traditional headscarf worn by Muslim women as a sign of modesty and identity – there was one hitch: she wasn’t crazy about the colors, and they were all too big for her kid-sized head.

“I said to my mom, ‘I like them, but can I get a different kind?’” says Diggins, who lives in Willingboro.

Diggins and her mom searched for hijabs that would better suit young girls but came up empty. So instead of waiting for someone else to design the hijabs she had in mind, the 11-year-old took matters into her own hands. With the help of her mother, Diggins, who is homeschooled, launched Hijabi Fits, a line of colorful, chic and age-appropriate scarves designed specifically for preteen and teenage girls.

Diggins, who says she’s now thinking about a career in fashion, crowdfunded more than $10,000 online to launch her company. She’s poured herself into Hijabi Fits, doing everything from designing the company logo to carefully selecting soft, jersey fabric in colors that range from bubble-gum pink to lemonade yellow.

Diggins estimates she’s sold a few hundred hijabs so far (she carefully packages them in purple bags, because she wants customers to feel they’re getting a gift when they receive their order), and response from girls her age has been positive – many of her customers even send her pictures of themselves wearing the stylish hijabs.

Several media outlets have taken notice of the young entrepreneur too, and Diggins confesses that seeing her face on TV and online is still surprising. She plans to continue to grow the business, offering more colors and clothing options. She also hopes her line will help other young Muslim girls feel confident, admitting even she was nervous to wear her hijab at first.

“I hope it makes them feel confident wearing hijabs,” she says. “They’re perfect the way they are.”

 

 

Joshua Greenspan, 12

It’s not unusual to catch Joshua Greenspan with a hot glue gun and yards of brightly patterned fabric spread across the dining room table inside his family’s Marlton home. The 12-year-old is also a familiar face at the local fabric store – which is par for the course when you’re a budding fashion designer.

“I’ve always loved bow ties. I started wearing them when I was 6 years old,” says Greenspan. “And then my mom’s friend showed me a way to make them.”

That craft lesson sparked Greenspan’s creative streak, and he started making a slew of colorful bow ties and wearing a different one nearly every day. His friends and family members took notice of his dapper accessories – and began asking Greenspan for their own.

Sensing an opportunity, Greenspan founded Dude’s Bows (named after his family’s nickname for him) and began selling them at local craft shows and on the Facebook page he created. He now counts babies, senior citizens and even pets among his clients, and the budding designer says he particularly likes making holiday-themed bow ties, which might be decked out with tiny skulls, gingerbread men or even shamrocks.

“I’ve sold at least 200 bow ties over the past two years,” says Greenspan, a Marlton Middle School student who hopes to become a history teacher someday (he thinks Abraham Lincoln had the best ties).
Greenspan is also using his business for good – he’s already given $600 of his earnings to the nonprofit Faces 4 Autism.

As Dude’s Bows continues to grow, Greenspan says his “work” is mostly just for fun. “I just like putting smiles on people’s faces.”

 

 

Julian LeFlore,16

Chris Crawford, 15

Jake Lapp, 14

Thomas Hunter, 15

Ask any teenage member of The Quin-Tones if they thought they’d ever be part of a barbershop quartet, and you’ll quickly hear them all issue a resounding – and likely harmonious – no.

“I didn’t know much about barbershop at all,” says Chris Crawford, who sings alto in the group and is a student at Arthur P. Schalick High School in Pittsgrove. “Like most people, if I thought about barbershop, I pictured old men in stripes.”

The young men have been putting their own stamp – including performing in stylish suspenders and bow ties – on the time-honored a cappella singing style since the group formed last February, after previously singing together as members of the award-winning Wildcat Harmonizers at Quinton Township School.

“We’re a performance-based quartet – we try to drill into what each song’s message is,” says lead singer Julian LeFlore, who attends Woodstown High School. “We think, ‘How can we show this song? What can we do to tell a story with this song?”

The Quin-Tones use facial expressions and choreography – which, along with their musical ability, are judged during competitive performances – to emphasize the story of the songs they sing, including oldies like “Bye Bye Blues” and “Love Walked In.”

That can be a tall order, considering that they’re just teenagers, says Woodstown High School tenor Jake Lapp. “I’ve been getting better at finding how things in the songs relate to my own life and tell my own story.”

The young group members, who practice several times a week, are already making waves in the barbershop community. They recently studied with top vocal and performance coaches – including a renowned coach who worked on the hit movie “Pitch Perfect” – at Harmony College East, an intensive barbershop seminar, and have performed across the country, including a special appearance at the International Barbershop Convention in Las Vegas.

“It’s always so surreal and such a ‘wow’ moment performing onstage. I never really catch the whole moment until we sing our last chord and everyone claps for us and is screaming,” says Thomas Hunter, a Salem High School student who sings baritone. “It’s jaw-dropping, like, ‘We really just did that?’”

 

November 2017
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