April 17, 2024

Young People Doing Big Things: Six High Schoolers Making Their Mark

These students excel in art, entrepreneurship, activism, and building community
By Ross Boissoneau | Feb. 24, 2024

You don’t have to be an adult to change the world. Just look at Greta Thunberg, Malala Yousafzai, and the like and all that they accomplished while in their teens.

Locally, there are plenty of young people doing their part to stand out from the crowd. Beyond academic or athletic accomplishments—and sometimes in concert with them—a number of students across the region are reaching out to their peers and their communities through a variety of endeavors, from businesses to clubs to nonprofits.

Here are the stories of just a few of the young people doing big things in northern Michigan.

1. Alexis Ball

She’s an outstanding runner earning all-state honors and an academic star with a 3.94 GPA at Traverse City Central High School. But what really sets Alexis Ball apart is the fact that she already owns her first house.

She purchased and refurbished a home that she is now renting out, providing a monthly return on her dollars. “My parents are small business owners, and I grew up thinking of investments to pay for college,” she says.

So she and her parents began looking into purchasing a home that they could renovate and rent or sell. They found a two-bedroom, one-bath in the Grayling area and purchased it while Ball was still in 8th grade. They worked to refurbish the home, painting and installing new flooring, and waded through the purchasing and then the rental processes together.

“I’ve learned a lot,” Ball says, listing some of the things she’s focused on. “How intentional you have to be in the real world. Time use management, not wasting time. Sacrifice. You have to be intentional about what you prioritize.”

While the thought originally was that selling the home would be the best way to get a return on her investment, Ball says she’s now rethinking that. “The original intent was to sell it for college, but currently it’s doing so well I’m going to hold onto it for the next few years,” she says.

Indeed, the rental income pays the mortgage plus provides additional funds she’ll use as she heads to Calvin University, where the young landlord will once again run track and cross country.

2. Liam Dreyer

Readers may remember Liam Dreyer from the Fascinating People special section in 2021. He believed younger people could offer local governmental units a unique perspective, and at 14 became the youngest-ever member of Charlevoix’s Downtown Development Authority.

Not satisfied with that step, he founded Government For Tomorrow, a nonprofit dedicated to placing students in governmental bodies of all sorts. “The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive,” he says.

One of the first communities to similarly move to including students was Traverse City, and City Planning Director Shawn Winters speaks to its success in Government For Tomorrow’s latest annual financial report. The nonprofit has now reached as far north as Sault Ste. Marie and as far south as Kalamazoo. Dreyer says he will be looking at national possibilities in the coming year.

Dreyer feels input from younger people can be invaluable, particularly as they will be the decision-makers in the future. “The risk is they will make uninformed decisions,” he acknowledges, though that is mitigated by the fact most are in non-voting positions (though his position on the DDA became a voting position after serving two years on the board). On the other hand, “The reward is they become instrumental in creating their own future. To understand their values and what they want, poll them today.”

The Charlevoix senior will be leaving the state this fall for college, but hopes to retain his seat on the Charlevoix DDA. Regardless of that, as founder and CEO of Government for Tomorrow, he intends to continue championing a role for young people in local governments.

3. Meena Karimi

Even among the many talented students at Interlochen Arts Academy, Meena Karimi manages to stand out. The skilled cellist from Afghanistan is president of the student body and received an early acceptance to Harvard. In most of the all-community meetings she leads as president, she reads poetry in her native language and provides the translation, sharing her culture with the Interlochen community.

“I came to the United States two and a half years ago,” Karimi says. Traveling 6,000 miles from home was a challenge, but she was hopeful that she would find others as interested in classical music for cello as she was. “In Afghanistan … I was one of the few playing [cello].”

Karimi actually moved to the U.S. just before the Taliban took over her home country, and she has not been back since. “I was fortunate. The situation [there] gets worse every day, girls and women being removed from society.”

At Interlochen, Karimi found she fit in with the student body composed of students from across the world engaged in study of the arts. “It was a very big change, but Interlochen is very diverse. I’m the only Afghan, but others are from Syria, Turkey, other places,” she says.

Karimi will be studying international relations and government at Harvard, but vows to make time for her first love of music as well. She points to “the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra, New England Conservatory, Berklee College of Music, Boston Conservatory—there will be many opportunities to find lessons and play in chamber groups.”

4. Araya Collins

Cadillac Innovation High School junior Araya Collins believes in positive reinforcement. “I’ve always loved helping people,” she says. So she came up with an idea to help if someone is having a bad day: Telling them they’re loved and appreciated, and just not with words.

Her brainchild is Positive Teez, a line of T-shirts that embraces those feelings and messages of positivity with sayings like “You’ve Got This” and “I Believe In You” emblazoned on them.

“I’ve always been interested in designing stuff, but I’m not the best artist,” Collins says, noting that her favorite subject is English. “Yet I wanted to do something artistic.”

She believes the shirts can help the wearer and those who see them feel better about themselves and the world around them. “I know people who have struggled with their mental health. I’ve seen stuff like that and it helped me,” Collins says.

She’s purchased a machine to print the T-shirts and has produced a couple of prototypes. She is waiting on her LLC and will then design a website. Collins says a number of teachers are excited for her to begin production. And her parents? “They’re supportive. And in shock,” she says.

5. Ava King

Traverse City West Senior High senior Ava King got hooked on running at an early age. “My mom got me into it when I was little,” she says. It was a good way to get King and her twin brother to spin off some of their excess energy.

Her brother immediately took to it. King, not so much. “I didn’t like it. It was a chore. My brother loved it; he’d do lap after lap after lap. I had to keep up.”

Eventually, King embraced running—“It kind of stuck,” she says—and it just became part of her lifestyle. But as a member of both the track and cross-country teams in school, she felt let down out of season, with no meets and no friends to run with.

That’s when she turned some of that energy to creating the Traverse City Northern Lights running club.

The group is open to students from across the region, though it’s geared primarily toward high schoolers, and in its first year of existence has proven popular. “It’s worked really, really well. We’ve doubled the number of kids and hope to grow more. It’s a lot of fun,” King says.

One of the unexpected benefits is that the participants have gotten to know runners from other schools. “It provides a sense of community. We compete in-season,” she says, but the club is about camaraderie. “It builds friendships.”

6. Reese Bey

Who doesn’t love a good shot of dopamine? Longtime skateboard and snowboard enthusiast Reese Bey, a junior at Boyne City High School, found his niche when he went to Camp Woodward, a camp for action sports in Pennsylvania. “That’s when we started talking about dopamine. It’s a neurotransmitter,” he says, a hormone secreted by the body that acts on areas of the brain to give feelings of pleasure, satisfaction, and motivation.

He found that feeling in his athletic exploits and thought it could translate to a brand: Dopamine clothing, something he could wear while engaging in his favorite activities.

So he sketched some designs and sent them to a friend of his father’s, who made them into vector images that could be imprinted onto clothing without pixelating. The designs included a logo he designed, a sketch of a brain, even a head showing the brain inside. “I think the simplicity is what grabbed people,” he says.

Bey also credits his schooling with leading to his clothing brand. “I’ve taken three years of art at high school. It definitely played a role. My art teacher has been super helpful.”

Bey is learning the ropes of running a business, from pricing to stocking the right products in the right sizes. He’s not yet set up either a website or a physical store, but sells his Dopamine hoodies and crewnecks to friends, schoolmates, and those who have heard about them or seen him wearing them while out and about, like on the slopes.

“I love talking to people and trying new things,” Bey says of the adventure so far. “I looked up to people who weren’t afraid to put themselves out there.”

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