20 Delawareans Under 20
These ambitious individuals prove that age is only a number. In areas as diverse as fashion and chess, philanthropy and sports, they're looking to make a difference—and inspiring the rest of us.
From left: Devon Ragolia, Dhruv Mohnot, Jenaya Vann, Elias Randall, Blair Isken, Ariel Friedlander, Hope Abbott, Jonathan Scurato and Braeden Mannering (Photo by Luigi Ciuffetelli)
Devon Ragolia, 17
“When I was growing up I was told kids of any disability were not capable of what most other kids are,” says Ragolia, a student at Cab Calloway School of the Arts. She didn’t let the naysayers or her hearing impairment stop her. Ragolia is giving a voice to the voiceless—namely marine animals—through her Gold Award project with the Girl Scouts. She worked with the Marine Education, Research & Rehabilitation Institute in Lewes to create informational signs that educate the public on who to call if they see distressed marine animals, helping these animals get the aid they need, when they need it. She plans to study environmental science at Kutztown University or University of Delaware next year. “I’m proud of my achievements,” she says, “but, honestly, I’m most proud of being able to prove to everyone what I am capable of.”
Dhruv Mohnot, 17
During a family vacation to his home country of India last summer, Mohnot did anything but relax. Volunteering at a local hospital in the small city of Baewar, he saw firsthand the effects of underdevelopment. “It was an eye-opening experience,” he says. Mohnot is head political correspondent for Polethia, a nonpartisan website that organizes the views of presidential candidates on global events and hot button issues in an easy-to-use (and understand) platform. Six high school students from across the United States make up the Polethia team. As a junior at Concord High School, Mohnot now has his sights set on a degree in economics or finance from Harvard and to travel back to India one day in the hopes of using his economics background to improve the country’s infrastructure. With his 4.96 GPA and commitment to helping others, that seems within reach. “Professionally, having the knowledge of both sides of the coin,” he says, “I can understand the inner workings of the global economy.”
Jenaya Vann, 11
Music has always surrounded Vann thanks to her musician parents and she’s been singing as long as she can remember. When most elementary students are forcing out a couple notes on the recorder, Vann learned to play acoustic guitar. She went on to master electric guitar, drums and violin. Now tackling piano, she shows no signs of slowing. Music may come naturally to Vann, but that doesn’t mean it always comes easily. She practices constantly on her own and with the rock band, orchestra and chamber choir at Jones Elementary School. “In the beginning it’s hard, but once you learn the basics, it starts feeling natural,” she says. Vann hopes to study at Cab Calloway next year and to one day perform with some of her idols, like Taylor Swift or Justin Bieber.
Elias Randall, 17
Randall once designed a pair of sneakers for India Westbrook, star of the BET show “The Westbrooks,” but he didn’t always know that fashion was his passion. Now that his brand Lavish Boys Society has taken off, he considers fashion as more than a passion—it’s his career. For now, Lavish Boys sells modern streetware and its signature Solar light-up sneakers online, but Randall is hoping to establish a retail location. Between Randall’s studies, college applications and participating in his first fashion show with Delaware Fashion Week last July, LBS has flourished, grossing more than $30,000 in its first year. “I want to design clothes that people feel confident in,” Randall says. “I believe the world can be changed with design.”
Blair Isken, 18
After undergoing cross-eye correction surgery at a young age, Isken grew up feeling self-conscious about her vision, but as the daughter of a photographer, she always had an eye for the camera. “I always enjoyed how the shutter sounded,” she says. Over time Isken realized she didn’t need perfect vision to see clearly. “As a kid I hated having to wear glasses,” Isken says. “I allowed glasses to define who I was and limit my capabilities when really my glasses were what gave me strength.” These days she takes pictures for Tower Hill School’s athletic teams, senior portraits and graduation ceremonies. Now it’s her turn to graduate and move on to Bucknell University. “Whether it be a hobby or my career, I know photography will always be a big part of who I am,” she says. “I cannot imagine my life without it.”
Ariel Friedlander, 17
Two years ago Friedlander started one of Delaware’s first feminist clubs, the Cab Calloway Riveters, at school. “I was known as the stereotypical angry feminist,” says the Cab senior. “But in the past few years, we’ve really skyrocketed in membership.” Having started with a few friends, the Riveters now has more than 50 members. The group recently collected more than 3,000 feminine hygiene products for women in the Friendship House homeless shelter in Wilmington. This effort, like others, stirred controversy. “They hid collection boxes, tore down posters, but it only raised more awareness,” says Friedlander. She stays strong with the cause for one reason, she says: Feminism impacts everyone.
Hope Abbott, 16
After learning that many skincare products are made with harmful chemicals, Abbott went organic. Then, with the help of the Mastronardo brothers and their “Shark Tank” funded Nardo’s Natural Organic Skin Care, Abbott designed and produced her East Coast Chemistry line of paraben-free, cruelty-free and gluten-free beauty products. “Obviously there are people who are doing this just to put it on their resume for college, but this is something I want to do for the rest of my life,” Abbott says. “I really want to do this for our skin.” She hopes to have East Coast Chemistry in shops statewide soon, starting with local surf shops.
Jonathan Scurato, 19
Few college freshmen file tax returns for fun, but Scurato isn’t your average college student. “I love looking at the happiness on people’s faces when we tell them they overpaid and the government is giving them something back,” Scurato says. Now a freshman at UD, he started helping others file their tax returns through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program at Appoquinimink High School last year. He helped implement the program with his accounting teacher, Cheryl Apparicio. Since then VITA has helped more than 100 people. Scurato is definitely a numbers guy, but he’s also a teacher, a volunteer, a friend and somehow also finds the time to be a student.
Braeden Mannering, 12
About three years ago Mannering brought home a flier about a Healthy Lunchtime Challenge, a national contest to promote healthy eating at a young age. He ended up winning the challenge and the opportunity to meet first lady Michelle Obama at the White House, where she stressed the importance of paying it forward. Deciding to take healthy eating to the hungry and homeless, Brae’s Brown Bags was born. Since July 2013, 3B has delivered more than 5,000 bags full of healthy snacks, clean water and information about local shelters—thanks to donations from Mazda and the community. Mannering never leaves home without a bag to give to a homeless individual. “I want to be able to end hunger,” says Mannering, a sixth-grader at Gauger-Cobbs Middle School. “I think we could if we all work together.” The effort earned a nomination for a national Jefferson Award for public service and gained him an invitation to sit with the first lady during President Obama’s State of the Union Address in January.
Clockwise from left: Nick Barbato, Chase Marvil, Chase Christiansen,
Finley Jones IV, 10
As Jones was learning how to talk, he was also learning how to call ducks. “I’ve been around ducks and duck calls my whole life,” says the Milton Elementary School fourth-grader. Coming from a hunting family, Jones started calling eight years ago, rising through the world rankings to the No. 4 spot in the junior league of CallingDucks.com, the governing body of duck calling in the United States and Canada. With a Rich-N-Tone duck caller always hanging from his neck, Jones practices every day. “I want to be known. I’m going to try to win the world championship,” he says. Come November, Jones is ready to take over the duck-calling dynasty at the world championship contest in Easton, Md.
Chase Christiansen, 9
Christiansen knows how to run a successful campaign: Make a moving speech, create some catchy posters, keep the right attitude and, of course, hand out lots of lollipops. “Campaigning is fun and easy when you do what you say you are going to,” he says. Christiansen has been re-elected by his peers at South Dover Elementary three times to serve as sergeant and then lieutenant on the school’s safety patrol. He takes his position seriously, going to school early and staying late. “I think the job needed me, and I wanted to help out,” he says. Principal Jeffrey Sheehan jokes that Christiansen could run the school: “He’s always the first to lend a helping hand.” Christiansen hopes to continue in public safety and maybe become a state trooper one day.
Nick Barbato, 12
In the three years Barbato has competed in archery, he has risen to No. 2 in the country in the 10-12 age division and represented Delaware in the 2015 State of Games. This year the Conrad Schools of Science student moved up to the 12-14 age group. The competition is tough, but Barbato proved tougher, having placed first in his new age division at the Nevada State Championship. “I like going to all the tournaments and meeting the professionals,” Barbato says. His success may be part genetic—he follows in the footsteps of his archer father and grandfather—but he is also committed to practice. The New Castle 100 Archery Club is his second home. He’s aiming high and hopes to secure a spot on the USA Junior Dream Team in Chula Vista, Calif., and one day go pro.
Chase Marvil, 18
Like many high school seniors, Marvil enjoys relaxing with friends, surfing the Internet and the like. But unlike his peers, he receives thousands of “likes,” comments and hand-written letters from followers of The Inspiring Project, his award-winning grassroots effort to build others’ confidence and prevent suicide. Along with his stream of positive messages and pictures on social media, Marvil’s virtual open door policy ensures no one feels alone. Marvil’s project started on Instagram in 2013, but has since grown to a worldwide movement reaching teens from Australia to Switzerland to Delaware. “I’ve seen so many kids get bullied,” he says. “I want people to know there’s someone that does care.” Marvil’s school, Woodbridge High, created the Inspiring Wall, which asks the question, “What inspires you?” Many students have responded with “Chase Marvil.” The Inspiring Project effort earned Marvil a nomination for a national Jefferson Award for public service.
Emily Moody, Treasure Mistretta and Bria Noel Evans. (Photo by Keith Mosher)
Treasure Mistretta, 13
As the only girl on Beacon Middle School’s football team, Mistretta has to be tough. “It’s a different sport that no other girl plays,” she says. “I like it because I’m tough.” Mistretta grew up in Oregon playing football with her three brothers. Since moving to Delaware, the middle linebacker has often been called the toughest player on the field, a quality she hopes will carry her on to high school, college and maybe even an NFL team. Last season she totaled four sacks and seven tackles. “I have to try twice as hard to earn respect and earn a spot,” Mistretta says.
Emily Moody, 13
Moody may be an “A” student at Sussex Academy, but what really makes the grade is her baking. As co-owner of Yum Yum Sweets & Treats, Moody and her mom have been feeding Southern Delaware’s sweet tooth with custom cakes and cupcakes for nearly three years. Baking started as a hobby for Moody. At 9 she asked her mom if she could open a business. Two years later Yum Yum was established. Moody spends about 10 hours a week baking custom orders, completing deliveries and testing new recipes. Everyone wants one of Moody’s cakes or cupcakes, especially her red velvet cupcakes. “I love baking. It’s such a big part of my life,” Moody says. She hopes to attend culinary school and become a pastry chef.
Rosetta Pierce, 16
When Pierce’s home burned down last year, many expected she would put her charitable quilting project on hold. “She was asked if she would like to keep the quilts and without hesitation she declined,” says Elayne Starkey, Pierce’s mentor. Since 2013, Pierce has donated more than 20 handmade quilts to Kozy Kovers for Kids, an organization supporting the Delaware Foster Program. “I know people around the world, and from where I’m from, can’t always afford too much,” Pierce says. “I already had enough things.” She was recognized in November by Gov. Markell and presented with a Jefferson Award for youth service. “I kept going on knowing everything would be OK.”
Bria Noel Evans, 16
Evans is always humming a tune, often one of her own. Since elementary school she has been playing guitar, writing songs and working up the courage to perform, which she has done at places like World Cafe Live at the Queen. “I still get nervous, but I think about how music can inspire, and that calms the nerves,” she says. Evans’ lyrics reflect her experiences. “I’ve faced a lot of bullies and struggled with my weight, but you only get stronger,” she says. Her song “Mint Condition” talks about having faith and following dreams. She writes, “Let your heart faithfully guide you, guide you to love, infinity.” Chasing her dreams wasn’t easy, Evans says, but, “Music really brought me out.” Way out, having auditioned successfully for NBC’s “The Voice.” Everything is still top secret, but keep your eyes peeled.
Aaron Latta-Morrisette, 17
You may have seen actor Latta-Morrisette playing Drewry Bell’s friend in a recent episode of “Cursed,” a mini-series on A&E. He is headed to the New York Film Academy next year on a full scholarship, though acting wasn’t always the plan. “I hated the idea of theater,” he says. “I thought acting was embarrassing.” That changed when he started acting at Cape Henlopen High School and discovered his passion. “It’s not about being famous,” he says. “It’s about being good at what I love.”
Johnny Means, 17
Six years ago Means, now a junior at Delaware Military Academy, picked up chess as a hobby, but it quickly grew into something much larger. In November 2014 he started Teaching Chess to Defy the Odds to give Wilmington kids a new kind of after-school activity. “There’s a lot of crime where I live in Wilmington,” Means says. “Chess builds confidence and strategic thinking skills, and boosts test scores.” Means now coaches more then 30 local kids, helping them stay out of trouble and learn something new. Means has attracted the attention of notables such as Gov. Markell and U.S. Sen. Chris Coons. He even got the opportunity to challenge the governor to a game. “He put up a good fight, but I beat him,” Means adds.
Regan Green, 18
Green’s high school softball career caught the attention of Gatorade’s Player of the Year competition not once, but twice (2014 and 2015), when she led Laurel High School to two state championships. Now she’s pitching for Mississippi State University, where the season is in full swing. Softball runs deep in the Green family. Her mother coached the Laurel team, and her older sister, Logan, went on to play for Jacksonville State. “You have to be mentally strong,” Green says. “If you give up a home run, you have to come right back and continue to fight.” Green vows to keep up the fight all the way to the collegiate national championships. Catch her and the Bulldogs live on ESPN.
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