3 young wonders changing the world

CNN Hero Yash Gupta collects used eyeglasses and donates them to children in need.

Story highlights

  • Three young people were honored this year as CNN Heroes
  • Blair Brettschneider is helping young refugees adapt to their new life in the United States
  • Yash Gupta collects used eyeglasses and donates them to children in need
  • Nicholas Lowinger started a group that gives new shoes to homeless children

Think kids today are spoiled? That they only care about themselves?

CNN Hero Yash Gupta says that's far from the truth.

"I think there's a misconception with our generation," said Gupta, 17. "Many of my friends are doing things to improve their communities.

"Kids are passionate and can make a difference. It's just a matter of finding out what you care about and focusing on that."

For Gupta, it's helping children see clearer. Since 2011, he has given out more than 9,500 pairs of donated eyeglasses through his nonprofit, Sight Learning.

But he's not the only young person who was honored this year as a CNN Hero.

Two others, 24-year-old Blair Brettschneider and 15-year-old Nicholas Lowinger, have also come up with ideas to improve the lives of others.

Here's how that trio is changing the world:

Blair Brettschneider

Blair Brettschneider has made it her mission to help young female refugees adjust to life in the United States.

Her nonprofit, GirlForward, provides mentoring, tutoring, life skills and social support to nearly 50 young women in Chicago.

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"Mostly, they are just normal teenage girls. We talk about celebrities and movies and books," Brettschneider said. "But then at the same time, a lot of them have lost parents who've been killed. They've seen bombs in their city. They've lost people to disease and grown up in really dire conditions."

When they arrive in America, often from war-torn places such as Iraq, Ivory Coast and Myanmar, they face major challenges in building their new lives.

"It's hard enough to be a teenage girl in the United States. ... It's even harder to be a refugee teenage girl," Brettschneider said.

"Girls are, along with the rest of their family, learning the language, adjusting to a new culture, trying to get used to school. At the same time, they are usually in charge of taking care of their siblings or grandparents. They have to translate all the mail that comes, any bills, help go to doctors' appointments."

GirlForward mentors these young refugees to help them adapt to their new surroundings, and it teaches them the skills they need to become successful, independent young women and productive members of society.
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Yash Gupta

When Yash Gupta broke his glasses, he realized how hard it was to learn without them. Then he started thinking about the millions of children who cannot afford corrective eyewear.

So at just 14, Gupta started Sight Learning, an organization that collects used eyeglasses from optometrists and donates them to organizations that can deliver them to children in need.

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Since 2011, Gupta has donated more than 9,500 pairs of glasses, worth nearly $500,000, to young people in Haiti, Honduras, India and Mexico.

"That dazed look the first time (children) get glasses, and just seeing that turn into joy and happiness ... it's just really inspiring," he said.

Gupta knows that the glasses he's providing can make a big impact.

"A lot of times, these families are in poverty," he said. "With a good education, you know, they can get a good job and get a good career."
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Nicholas Lowinger

When he was 5, Nicholas Lowinger visited a homeless shelter and was shocked to find out that some of the children there did not own a pair of shoes.

A few years later, he started a nonprofit, the Gotta Have Sole Foundation, that has provided new shoes to more than 10,000 homeless children since 2010.

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"I've been very fortunate to grow up in a family that is able to provide me with whatever I need," Lowinger said. "A lot of kids here in the U.S. don't have the same opportunities."

There were 1.6 million homeless children across the United States in 2010, according to a report from the National Center on Family Homelessness. With no permanent place to live, many stay on the streets or in shelters, motels, cars and abandoned buildings.

"Homeless children, they shouldn't have to worry about how they'll be accepted or how they'll fit in," Nicholas said. "They shouldn't have to worry about not being able to play sports or go to school because they don't have a pair of shoes."
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Check out all of this year's CNN Heroes