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Meet the 2021 Florida Youth Institute Participants

High school students from Florida and beyond will meet virtually for an engaging and interactive experience during the 2021 Florida Youth Institute (FYI). Throughout the weeks of July 12 and July 19, 27 students will engage with local leaders and experts on global challenges, visit UF/IFAS College of Agricultural and Life Sciences labs and explore ways to make a difference in Florida and around the world.

Prior to FYI, students researched a developing country, identified a global challenge, such as water scarcity, climate volatility or malnutrition, and examined solutions for that issue. During FYI, students present these findings with other participants and a panel of experts. By participating in FYI, students are contenders for acceptance at the Global Youth Institute in Des Moines, Iowa, named Borlaug Scholars and eligible for United States Department of Agriculture fellowships and international internships.

As an additional way to prepare for the program, students examine ways to improve food insecurity in their schools and communities. Meet the 2021 FYI participants below and read about the country and topic they chose and learn about to propose solutions for global challenges.


Addison Anderson, Jacksonville, FL
Country/Issue of Focus: Haiti, Nutrition
From a young age, Anderson has been thinking critically about solving food waste challenges farmers face and making a difference in their local community. “I want to encourage my high school to set aside a tract of land for our own school garden, or for rental/fundraising purposes,” Anderson said. “This would help students, who would not otherwise have exposure to agriculture, to gain an appreciate and potential passion for creating their own garden for their family now or in the future.”

Ansh Bansal, Gurgaon, India
Country/Issue of Focus: India, Sustainable Agriculture
As a way to improve food security, Bansal believes efforts should focus on food waste and food safety. Bansal lives in a metropolis and sees the amount of food that is wasted in homes, at restaurants and at other events. Food safety also plays a key role in food security. “If the food being consumed is unsafe then it undermines the health and ultimately the food security of an individual,” Bansal said. “Education about nutrition and food preparation can improve this pillar of food security.”

Robert Belcher, Fort Meade, FL
Country/Issue of Focus: Kiribati, Climate Volatility
Belcher feels that his FFA chapter could serve an integral role in distributing and supporting food donations at local food banks and food pantries. An additional avenue Belcher explores to improve food security is agricultural bioengineering. “Through the help of the FFA community and the advancements in bioengineered foods, we can increase food security within our communities,” Belcher said.

Lewis Bevis, Tallahassee, FL
Country/Issue of Focus: Puerto Rico, Policy and Governance
As a volunteer with Second Harvest, Bevis distributed food donations to people in need and saw the impact the organization made on his community. “To fully address the issue of food security, new programs need to be made that not only provide individuals and families with short-term solutions but long-term, sustainable solutions as well,” Bevis said.

Jake Brice, Ponte Vedra Beach, FL
Country/Issue of Focus: United States of America, Malnutrition
As a way to assist with food insecurity in his community, Brice founded the DoSomething Club, a local chapter of the nationally established non-profit organization, which inspires students across the country to make their communities better. Through the organization, Brice facilitated a donation of non-perishable food from SE Grocers and delivered it to a local homeless shelter. “I am passionate about my community, and I seek ways to improve it every day within my organization and my daily life,” Brice said.

Helena Eisert, Tampa, FL
Country/Issue of Focus: Nicaragua, Sustainable Agriculture
Through advanced high school courses, Eisert gained a global perspective in social, agricultural and environmental challenges. Eisert volunteers at a community food pantry and warehouse through Feeding Tampa Bay to improve food security in the local community. “Doing simple things for your community like volunteering some time to local food banks that organize and distribute food to families in need can really make a difference,” Eisert said.

Addie Ferguson, Avon Park, FL
Country/Issue of Focus: Botswana, Malnutrition
Food insecurity is a prevalent challenge in Ferguson’s hometown with 15,960 food-insecure people. COVID-19 increased food insecurity and led to greater challenges for food-insecure households. With this in mind, Ferguson’s school is planning a food insecurity awareness event where community members can drive through the high school parking lot and drop off food items. The collected items will then be donated to community organizations.

Lana Guzman, Wesley Chapel, FL
Country/Issue of Focus: Puerto Rico, Climate Volatility
Communication could be a key factor for improving food security at Guzman’s high school. Talking with classmates, using the school’s social media platforms and creating posters for the community are a few of the examples Guzman provided. “Because I believe that we should leave this world better than we found it, breaking these barriers through the use of increased awareness and community involvement will help me in accomplishing this ultimate goal,” Guzman said.

Max Jeffrey, Tampa, FL
Country/Issue of Focus: El Salvador, Gang Violence
Jeffrey would like to address the challenges of food insecurity at his high school by implementing a community garden. A community garden would provide fresh produce for school lunches and increase access to fresh fruits and vegetable for classmates.

Kimerly Jolicoeur, Palm Beach Gardens, FL
Country/Issue of Focus: Haiti, Sustainable Agriculture
Jolicoeur’s interest in food security began at a young age as her elementary school had a garden club for students to learn how to grow fresh fruits and vegetables. Now, Jolicoeur continues to see how her school could improve food security by decreasing food waste and keeping unwanted foods for students in need.

Andrea Knoepffler, Coral Gables, FL
Country/Issue of Focus: Nicaragua, Sustainable Agriculture
As Knoepffler learned about the challenges of climate change and food security, she started the Human Right To Food Security, Nutrition and Health Club. The club’s goal is to increase the well-being and nutrition of Miami’s vulnerable communities by planting a community garden and food trees. “While club members are learning about nutrition and sustainable agriculture, the perennial food forests will improve food security and wellbeing in the Brownsville community,” Knoepffler said.

Yoo-Shin Koh, Gainesville, FL
Country/Issue of Focus: Yemen, Malnutrition
Volunteering at farms, increasing availability of food, and decreasing food waste are ways Koh found to improve food security in the area. “If we make better plans on using the food, widen our range of foods that we tend to purchase, and donate food before it expires to shelters, food security would increase drastically in our community,” Koh said.

Dorothy Kowkabany, Jacksonville, FL
Country/Issue of Focus: Nigeria, Water and Sanitation Crisis
Although the community that Kowkabany lives in has an accessible grocery store and farmers market, households still face food insecurity challenges. Kowkabany believes that increasing access to fresh, healthy food to students, requiring students to learn about budgeting and preparing nutritious meals and developing a school garden could improve food security in the area.

Ella Ladd, Palm Beach Gardens, FL
Country/Issue of Focus: Brazil, Water Scarcity
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Ladd helped to deliver healthy foods from farms to those in need. Ladd also started a fruit and vegetable garden in her backyard. Now that students are back to learning in person, she shares the food from her garden with her classmates. “Working with our local governments and farmers to connect locally grown healthy food to those in our community who are in need is imperative to ensure food security,” Ladd said.

Karina Lopez, Clermont, FL
Country/Issue of Focus: Mexico, Infectious Diseases
Students at Lopez’s high school are part of the Community Eligibility Program, a partnership with the United States Department of Agriculture, which provides free breakfasts and lunches at school each day. Lopez noticed that even though each student has access to meals at school, the amount of wasted food needed addressed. “By having nutritious meal options and giving students individualized choices for lunch can result in reducing the amount of food wasted in schools,” Lopez said.

Ben Mathews, Gainesville, FL
Country/Issue of Focus: Comoros, Health Care
Matthews found that increasing access to fresh food and ensuring children have adequate nutrition are ways to improve food security in his community. One idea Matthews had to address these challenges was to increase the number of mobile fresh markets, which would transport fresh food to different locations in the community.

Victoria Poliak, Key Biscayne, FL
Country/Issue of Focus: Dominican Republic, Malnutrition
In Poliak’s research, she found the impact food waste is having on food insecurity and the environment. Her school is taking the initiative to accelerate food donations and making a plan to avoid food waste. “Tackling hunger will take a multi-dimensional approach which should start in communities and schools themselves,” Poliak said. “Eliminating food waste is only one part of the solution as we also consider the importance of increasing the availability of healthy food in nutrition assistance programs and empower residents to grow food in their own communities.”

Zeb Raulerson, Lake Butler, FL
Country/Issue of Focus: Belize, Climate Variability
For many students in Raulerson’s school, the meals they eat at lunch are the main meal they eat each day. If Raulerson could create a program to improve food security and nutrition, he would start a farm where people could volunteer and work to provide fresh food options for grocery stores and farmers markets in the community. “Kids and their families should have many options for getting fruits and vegetables so that they can eat healthy and well,” Raulerson said.

Tereeth Reddy, Saint Johns, FL
Country/Issue of Focus: China, Population
Technological advancements provide an opportunity to improve food security in local communities, according to Reddy. Reddy explained that a useful tool for food insecure households would be a resource that tracks the amount and type of food available within the community. “Having reliable access to data, educating the public and starting programs to advance the rate of food production are all efficient ways of improving food security in my school and hometown,” Reddy said.

Samantha Sadorf, Boca Raton, FL
Country/Issue of Focus: Paraguay, Sustainable Agriculture
Sadorf is making a difference in her Florida community through involvement in high school student organizations. The clubs at Sadorf’s school provide resources and necessities for those in need. “Through student-influencing school clubs, and community service programs, Florida’s community can improve its food insecurity,” Sadorf said.

Malak Sakallah, Coral Springs, FL
Country/Issue of Focus: Palestine, Conflict
Sakallah believes that improving the variety and quality of meal choices at his school would encourage students to eat healthier foods. From school lunches to the options in the vending machines, Sakallah would like for his classmates to have healthier meal options while at school.

April Rose Salva, Okeechobee, FL
Country/Issue of Focus: Philippines, Climate Volatility
As a member of the National Honor Society, Salva helps with the End of the Hunger Backpack Program, which provides weekend food packs for 150 elementary school students in Okeechobee County, Florida. During the COVID-19 pandemic, funds for the program were limited and society members raised money through grassroots efforts in the community. Salva raised $250, which contributed to the $20,000 total from 56 club members. “Even just a small step to deliver the food packages to the front door of the families or to endure the calluses that signifies the work of putting canned goods in a plastic Ziploc bag, would ensure that those who are vulnerable and in need of help can have food on their table,” Salva said.

Morgan Shapiro, Fort Lauderdale, FL
Country/Issue of Focus: Venezuela, Malnutrition
“I can help improve food security within my community and school by volunteering at food distribution centers, educating individuals regarding food distribution dates, collecting food, and teaching individuals about nutrition,” Shapiro said.

Sabeena Singh, Davie, FL
Country/Issue of Focus: India, Water and Sanitation
Singh has seen the impacts of supporting community members through healthful food options. “Healthy food and good nutrition should be accessible to anyone and everyone regardless of their social and/or economic status,” Singh said.

Alexander Sobol, Jacksonville, FL
Country/Issue of Focus: Eritrea, Water Scarcity
Seeing the impact COVID-19 had on Florida farmers and taking an AP environmental science course inspired Sobol to research sustainable farming solutions. With the help of his family, Sobol created a floating hydroponics garden. “If families can produce their own crops at their home or close by in their neighborhood, the food will not need to be shipped long distances,” Sobol said. “The decrease in the amount of fuel being used will in turn reduce emissions and the overall carbon footprint associated with transporting food.”

Andrew Tvrdik, Newnan, GA
Country/Issue of Focus: Madagascar, Famine
Sustainable community gardening is one way that Tvrdik can improve food security in his school and community. Tvrdik found a summer volunteer opportunity with New Leaf Community Garden where he could weed, water and harvest food. The food that is harvested at this garden is then donated to local food pantries.

Ezarius Wilson, Jacksonville, FL
Country/Issue of Focus: United States, Nutrition
Wilson has grown up in an area known as a food desert, a low-income urban area with more than 500 residents that lacks a grocery store in a 1-mile radius. “Living in a food dessert not only limits access to affordable and nutritious foods in the community, it also threatens the lives of the people that reside within the community,” Wilson said. Wilson believes that her community needs increased access to fresh, healthier foods and education about the impacts of healthy food choices.