My son Ryan Traynor, who is now just 17, had a visit from the local police department at school several years ago where they talked about the rising gang violence, dropout rates, and crime. Their approach was to set up a gang task force to police the community more effectively. Ryan immediately came home and knew this was not the right way to handle the problem. The police were addressing the symptoms of the problem instead of the causes. He did a great deal of research and found out that only 40% of the third graders in our community are proficient at reading. Inability to read causes disinterest in school, increased dropout rates, and increased association with gangs. Ryan knew he had touched on the real problem. If he could work within the community to tackle the illiteracy problem, then the other problems would go away. He looked at ways to make something better, rather than imprison these kids when they got into trouble later. He wanted to open doors of opportunity for them by helping them read. He had been working as a volunteer with the local library reading to preschool children in a disadvantaged area of our community once a week. These children were excited about school and wanted to learn. The problem, he discovered, was that the families had no money for books and programs for their children, key indicators of future success in school.
At the end of each year Ryan was able to give these children a free book and he saw this book light up the eyes of these children. They had something of their own that could spark their imagination. Ryan wanted to do more. He set up a Youth Literacy Council of 9 teens from 7 different high schools to design and implement free programs for youth. He also set up a Youth for Literacy Club to engage youth in volunteering and working with others to better their community, specifically in educational opportunities. Ryan was able to motivate these youth to put on over 24 major literacy campaigns including a book drive that has collected over 30,000 books that have been given to 24 charities and 6 library programs, 3 Board Game Days for Families, Teen Read Week Book analysis, Fun with Robots Math and Science days, 5 Summer and Holiday reading challenges with prizes, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) classes for kids, Kindergarten Boot Camp teaching incoming kindergarten students basic skills needed for success, Money Smarts classes to 1800 teens, and the first-ever county STEM Festival which attracted over 3000 people with 30 booths, 12 speakers, and 3 contests. ALL of these programs have been free.
He inspires me and the whole community with his enthusiasm, creative ideas, and ability to recruit people to get involved. He has set up partnerships with the City Council, the police and fire departments, the City Parks and Recreation Department, the County Board of Education, over 25 schools, and local businesses such as Oracle and the Port of Redwood City. His Youth for Literacy Club has grown to include over 500 volunteers and he has raised almost $70,000 to put on his various free programs. He also has volunteered for Amazing Kids Magazine for the last 6 years and has been Editor-in-Chief for the last 2 years. Amazing Kids Magazine is a monthly online magazine for kids, by-kids, that showcases stories and articles meant to inspire and motivate kids to reach for their dreams. Under his direction, this magazine was chosen as a top website for children by the American Library Association. He has also added 3 columns including Sci-Tech, STEM kits in a box for schools and after-school programs, Money Smarts, and Writer’s Tips and run 4 contests to motivate kids to write. The magazine publishes 80 articles and stories each month and Ryan responds to over 200 emails a month. He manages 21 volunteer staff from 7 countries, showing his ability to work well with people of all cultures. He has worked with thousands of youth writers to improve their writing over the years.
Ryan always looks at things and finds ways to make them better. He never focuses on “why it can’t happen” but dreams of ways to “make it happen.” I am amazed by the groups of people he has gotten to work together on improving the community. They, too, are inspired and impressed by his work as shown by his numerous awards including: Jefferson Award, Prudential Spirit of Community Award, Lead 360 Jefferson Award finalist (to bring the STEM kits in a box program nationwide), Peace First Prize finalist, ABC7 Star, DoSomething.org VIP, Hasbro Community Action Hero finalist, National Point of Light Award, International Literacy Association’s top “30 under 30″ worldwide making an impact on literacy, 6 Gold Level Presidential Service Awards, and more. Locally he has received several Certificates of Recognition from the city, County Board of Education, House of Representatives, and even the President. Even in his summer job as a lifeguard, he is the Head Lifeguard which allows him to use his leadership skills to hire, oversee, train, direct, and develop the other 13 lifeguards at the club. His inspirational leadership skills are also represented by his rank of Eagle Scout with the Boy Scouts at the early age of 14 and he has continued on, receiving two advancement palms. With the Boy Scouts he has held numerous leadership positions including Crew President and Senior Patrol Leader.
In his community advocacy work he constantly tries to pass on his knowledge to others. He is a member of the Peace First Foundation Design Team Member, Peace First Ambassador program, generationOn National Youth Advisory Committee (chairperson), generationOn Teen Advisory Council, DoSomething.org VIP program, and TMI Health Advisory Council, all groups that meet monthly to discuss ways to improve their national social action campaigns and integrate more youth volunteers.
He is always writing inspirational, kid-friendly and uplifting new stories and articles in all genres to encourage kids to read and write. He has published 229 stories, art, and articles in 4 books and 6 magazines and will be having an interactive storybook published by Rhizome Books next year. He has also won numerous writing contests including a Best in Show at the San Mateo County Fair, first place in 6 national writing contests, and first place in two community writing contests.
He is known internationally as a literacy advocate and has been featured as a speaker on literacy at 7 events. His speeches are in high demand due to his eloquence and ability to communicate insightful, positive solutions to a major community problem. He also has been the creator and leader of 65 charity events (24 major ones) and programs where he has emceed the activities and/or led group discussions which required engaging participants of all ages. He has been featured on numerous television broadcasts including Good Morning America, NBC, ABC, and the Disney Channel. He has also been interviewed and featured in over 100 news articles. Last November he was chosen by the International Literacy Association as one of their “30 under 30″ people worldwide who are making a significant impact on literacy.
Ryan doesn’t do his volunteer work for any rewards or recognition. He just wants to help other youth become the best they can be. He sees the best in everyone and motivates them to want to become their best. At the young age of 17, Ryan has made a major impact on the community and on many thousands of children worldwide through his belief that everyone can make a difference, no matter what their age or circumstance, and that everyone has a drive inside themselves to want to be better. He uses his optimism, creativity, and resourcefulness to make things happen. He would be an excellent Hero of Optimism.