BOULDER, Colo. - Bend 13-year-old Milo Cress is one of three Oregon teens honored Monday with the 2014 Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes -- and it only took frustration over wasteful, disposable straws to land him that honor.
Each year, the Barron Prize celebrates 25 inspiring, public-spirited young people – fifteen winners and ten finalists – who have made a significant positive difference to people and our planet.
This year's Barron Prize honorees are a highly diverse group of outstanding young leaders, chosen from nearly 400 applicants nationwide.
Milo created the Be Straw Free campaign to reduce plastic waste by working to make it standard for straws to be optional instead of automatically served with restaurant beverages.
He began his work nearly three years ago, wondering why every drink he ordered was served with a straw. He researched straw manufacturers and learned that we use about 500 million straws in the U.S. every day -- enough to fill more than 46,400 large school buses each year. End to end, those buses would stretch over 325 miles!
Milo started by simply talking to individual restaurant owners to encourage an "offer-first" straw policy.
He has since been invited to speak at the National Restaurant Association's Best Practices Conference, an annual gathering of the largest restaurant chains in the country.
The 13-year-old has also been invited twice to Washington, D.C., to meet with members of the House and Senate.
Milo has spoken to thousands of young people all over the world with his message "Let's Create the Future," encouraging kids to find their passion and drawing from Abraham Lincoln's quote, "The best way to predict the future is to help create it!"
"I want to encourage kids to take action, because even small steps are creating the future of our planet," Milo said.
Learn more here: http://www.ecocycle.org/bestrawfree
The other two Oregon honors are Winter Vinecki, 15, of Salem, and Kaylee Graham, 14, of Florence.
Winter founded Team Winter to use her athletic gifts as a runner, triathlete, and skier to raise awareness and fund research for prostate cancer.
In the past six years, she has raised nearly $500,000.
She founded her non-profit to honor her dad and his fight against a very aggressive form of prostate cancer that took his life at age 40, only 10 months after his diagnosis.
As an 8-year-old about to run her first 10k race, she decided to fundraise as she trained and had chosen childhood obesity as her cause. She'd raised $1,100 and was awaiting nonprofit status for her new project when her dad was diagnosed.
She immediately shifted the focus of her fundraising to prostate cancer awareness and research. Quickly, she learned that much of the world didn't want to acknowledge or talk about the prevalence of the disease, which affects one in six men. She decided she would.
Winter encourages both athletes and non-athletes to join Team Winter in fundraising for her cause and raises additional money through her extensive online apparel and gear store.
She is thrilled that some of the money she has raised has helped researchers develop a new drug to treat advanced prostate cancers like her dad's.
She has won numerous championship titles around the world and sends her first place medals and trophies to cancer survivors as symbols of strength and hope. Winter travels extensively to spread her message in schools, hospitals, and corporations.
She recently set a world record for the youngest person to run a marathon on every continent, traveling the world to do so in an 18-month period. Winter's sights are currently set on making the 2018 Winter Olympics in aerial skiing.
"I've learned that kids are capable of anything and truly are our future," says Winter. "They need to be inspired, shown that anything is possible, and encouraged to dream big."
Kaylee created a city-wide day of volunteering in her hometown that has involved over 3,000 people in completing 46 community service projects in the past four years.
The group has also raised more than $28,000 for local non-profits and has collected over 8,000 pounds of food for the local food bank.
Raised in a family that values volunteering, Kaylee held a garage sale at age 10 that netted over $2,000 to buy and fill 150 backpacks for local foster children.
Buoyed by that success and the feeling of helping others, she wanted to involve her friends and community in some sort of service and asked her parents if she could host a week-long volunteer camp at her house.
When they replied, "No," but said she could hold a one-day camp and invite as many people as she wanted, Kaylee replied, "Fine. I'll invite the whole town."
She approached City Council with her idea of a community-wide day of service, received their blessing, and did invite the whole town to her first Power of Florence.
Community members have helped with roadway and school clean-ups and have created a community garden and off-leash dog park. City officials have declared the third Saturday in July every year to be the Power of Florence.
"I've learned that kids can have a huge impact on their community," says Kaylee. "It's not the size of a person that really matters. It's the size of their heart that does."