2015 Scholarship Winners

Many semifinalists in this year's VRG scholarship contest were off the charts. They are beyond their peers in their accomplishments. Imagine being vegetarian and overcoming the challenges of poverty or being the only vegetarian in cattle-raising country. Though certainly more of these amazing students deserve awards, here are this year's winners of three college scholarships from The Vegetarian Resource Group.

Chloe Falkenheim, Virginia

Chloe said she became vegetarian at age 9 during a family dinner. Though her parents didn't become vegetarian, she feels lucky they were supportive.

Chloe wrote: "I founded my vegetarian club at Yorktown High School, called Students Advocating Vegetarian Eating (SAVE) in my sophomore year, and have been president since. Through the club, I met with the Food and Nutrition Services directors at Yorktown High School. The directors agreed to add falafel, bean wraps, couscous salad, and tomato sauce (instead of meat sauce) to the school menu and we designed a labeling system to facilitate eating vegetarian and vegan in the cafeteria. I brought speakers, such as from the Humane League, to talk to 500 students about factory farming and the benefits of vegetarianism. I successfully advocated adding plant based nutrition to the Yorktown High School teacher's health curriculum. My club has given out 2,000 food samples. We were awarded $945, mostly from Veg Fund, to do so ... The club was originally called 'The Animal Rights Club,' but I decided to change the branding to focus more on vegetarianism ... I started the school garden through the Roots and Shoots club at my high school. I mentored a fellow club member to apply for a grant from the Pollination Project for $1,000. We also raised $842 through a fundraising partnership with Chipotle. We grew plants such as basil and broccoli and delivered them to the cafeteria to be included in the school's meals."

Chloe said when she started these activities, she couldn't find other youth activists. "I felt lost and unsure about how to make a difference. I felt isolated, rather than part of a movement, and I nearly lost hope in making a difference ... I needed a community to be more effective. Then I realized that if there was no youth vegan community, I would create one. That is how I founded Vegetarian and Vegan Youth (www.VegYouth.com), a non-profit network of student leaders and youth. I founded this organization to empower youth worldwide to make changes in their diets, learn about plant-based eating, and becoming effective spokespeople ... I built the VegYouth 110-page website myself. I wrote over 50 articles about vegetarianism and veganism and about starting student groups ... I hired three unpaid summer interns and managed 25 volunteers. I correspond with an advisory board of 16 leaders in the vegetarian movement." Chloe's references said about her: "I can wholeheartedly say that I have never met another 17 year old with such fervor and drive ... I consider Chloe to be a force of nature ... She is being viewed as one of the top movement builders for vegan and vegetarian youth nationwide."

Chloe said, "I had a shy personality growing up and had to overcome it to do much of my vegetarian activist work ... Initially I was perfectionistic and had extremely high expectations for activism ... I felt as if I had to give out 1,000 samples in each sampling event. With time I learned to let go and appreciate each small success, and I realized that they add up to a lot."

Beyond college, Chloe hopes "to have a career that addresses multiple world challenges. I would like to improve the food system and food policy to make healthy, sustainable food cheaper and more abundant ... Vegetarianism already encompasses so many social justice issues that I care about — the environment, human rights, hunger, health, and animal rights ..." Chloe says the financial support from this scholarship will free her to support more teens and college students in becoming vegetarian leaders.

Jairo Javier, Illinois

One of Jairo's references stated that, "Jairo has been a vegetarian in a community where vegetarianism is rare and not easy. Throughout his school career, he has attended a number of PETA protests and has volunteered with Mercy for Animals. I have never met a high school student so dedicated to the rights of others (humans and nonhumans)." Other references reported, "Jairo is the most environmentally-aware and animal conscious high school student that I know." "He has been an active member of buildOn Leadership Team, also know as b.L.T. His peers jokingly called it bacon, lettuce, and tomato club, but Jairo refused and insisted that its official nickname be the broccoli, lettuce, and tomato club. To my surprise, the entire group voted in his favor."

Jairo wrote: "I live in a Mexican/Latino based community. Some find it surprising because the Mexican culture is full of spices and meat ... I ran an after-school club called Students for the Ethical Treatment of Animals my freshman year. We made sure to be recognized in school by requesting a veggie burger for our lunch menu. We talked to the lunch personnel until we got it established. I have also been a major part in my school's community garden." Jairo helped with the setup of the garden and became the Garden Team's student president. He stated, "I teach people how easy it is to get a decent snack and meal out of the garden. My biggest success is my delicious ceviche, in comparison to its counterpart. Everyone loves it and they are surprised that it is vegan."

Jairo says he has attended various protests and proudly led protests himself with students from his animal rights club. At first, "No one believed that I was an activist because I was a quiet kid in school."

"I made a decision to major in business management ...with a bachelor's degree in business. I will know the ins and outs of owning a business and open my very own vegan restaurant. It will be named El Vegan. With this alone, I will show the mouthwatering food that is offered and therefore contribute to my community, with a healthier outlook."

Jairo says he does not want to be looked down on as a "helpless" minority. "I am Latino. I am vegetarian. I am a fighter, and I am an achiever. I set goals for myself and with my commitment and determination, I do as much as possible to get them done. I love community service. I like knowing that I have an input in the structure of my community. The more people see how we can help each other out, the less violent our streets will be. The path to equality and peace is through service and understanding."

Andrew Puccetti, Illinois

In eighth grade Andrew was on a biology field trip to a farm. He said, "When we first got there, they passed around a chicken and let us hold her and bond with her. It was then that they told us our first 'experiment' would be chopping this chicken's head with an axe and dissecting her ... On this same trip they took two of my classmates hunting and killed a deer ... The day after the trip I immediately stopped eating meat and decided that I would dedicate my life to speaking up for animals, because they cannot speak for themselves. It was a little later that I learned further about our food industry and chose to become a vegan."

Not too long after this trip, Andrew discovered that the Humane Society of the United States had a student advisory board. "I emailed them to see how I can become involved and they asked me to become a member. On this board, I advised the organization on how they can best reach the youth with a message of compassion for animals. It was there where I met a girl not too much older than me who had started her own nonprofit organization. I was extremely impressed and inspired. It was then, at age fourteen, that I started Live Life Humane (www.LiveLifeHumane.org)... Along with these accomplishments, I have been on the youth advisory boards for both peta2 and Mercy for Animals, advising them on their campaign. As someone who was so dedicated to educating young people about vegetarianism and showing compassion towards animals, I became a youth outreach intern with Mercy for Animals... Another organization I have been involved in is Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp, a summer camp that empowers teenagers to take action on a cause they care about." YEA Camp is all vegan. Andrew was an intern and counselor-in-training for three summers.

"A huge thing I learned in my activism career is to only take on what you can handle, and only work on the effective projects. I now try to take on the projects that I know will save the most animals. I am lucky in that I know exactly what I want to do with the rest of my life, as I have chosen to dedicate my life to helping animals. I plan to get my undergraduate degree in biology and then apply to veterinary schools ... There are also not too many vegan veterinarians and I would like to set an example for that community ... Awarding me a scholarship is an investment in the future of the vegetarian movement as a whole. I will be working to help animals and spread vegetarianism throughout my career. I plan to be involved in the vegetarian movement for my entire life. The (scholarship) money will truly be used to make the vegetarian movement stronger."

To apply for the 2016 scholarships, go to https://www.vrg.org/student/scholar.htm.

To financially support additional scholarships or internships, you can donate at

The Vegetarian Resource Group
P.O. Box 1463
Baltimore, MD 21203
or call (410) 366-8343.