CLOCC’s 20 Under 20 Awards

Kathy Kaufer Christoffel

When CLOCC founder and Lurie Children’s pediatrician, Kathy Kaufer Christoffel, retired in 2012, CLOCC was celebrating its 10th anniversary. To mark this milestone and to recognize Dr. Christoffel’s legacy, CLOCC initiated the “Founder’s Award.” Nominees for this award were seasoned leaders and visionaries in Chicago in fields aligned with our obesity prevention mission. They were boundary spanners, able to connect diverse sectors for collaboration to address the complexities of the problem. They were innovators who made advances in one or more of CLOCC’s goals. Seven individuals were selected over the years: Colleen Lammel Harmon from the Chicago Park District, Lucy Gomez Feliciano from the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Rob Castaneda from Beyond the Ball, Melody Geraci from the Active Transportation Alliance, Steve Whitman (posthumously) from the Sinai Urban Health Institute, Angela Odoms Young from University of Chicago Illinois, and Jennifer Herd from the Chicago Department of Public Health.

This year, as we launch our 20th Anniversary celebration, we find it only fitting to once again recognize our founder’s legacy, but THIS time by focusing on young, emerging leaders who are the future of childhood obesity prevention.

CLOCC is proud to recognize the recipients of our 20 Under 20 Award, young Chicagoans who are leading future generations to better health. Through participation in school and/or community programs, or through their own individual initiative, they inspire their peers to make healthy choices in their own lives, and build environments that support health in their schools, neighborhoods, and communities.

20 Under 20 Honorees

Markisha Ford
Nominating Organization: Girls in the Game

As a part of Girls in the Game’s Teen Squad, Markisha trained to coach numerous workshops for younger girls at local parks, schools, and community events. In a four-year span, she taught younger girls about healthy eating, emphasized teamwork, and led volleyball, kickboxing, and yoga workshops. She coached over 140 girls in 3rd-8th grade sports, primarily on the West and South Sides of Chicago. Markisha’s passion and enthusiasm has empowered younger girls to try new sports and facilitated conversations on nutrition and healthy habits. She also contributed to Girls in the Game’s clean-up efforts at Union Park, improving her neighborhood’s conditions for safe, active play. Her development into a young leader has supported Girls in the Game’s nonprofit work to provide and promote sports and fitness opportunities, nutrition and health education, and leadership development to enhance the overall health and well-being of girls.

Ernest Willingham
Nominating Organization: Chicago Youth Programs

As the youngest of eleven children, Ernest grew up in North Lawndale after his home in Cabrini Green was torn down. He graduated from Crane Medical Prep High School in 2020, becoming the first male in his family to graduate from high school. As one of 13 international recipients of the prestigious Torch Scholarship, Ernest is now a Northeastern University (Mass.) student, studying Emergency Medicine/Critical Care & Preventative Healthcare. He is researching health disparities in underrepresented communities while working on an initiative involving inmates and emphasizing the significance of health literacy and education. This past summer, Ernest served as a medical assistant in Bronzeville, performing health intake duties, vaccine and immunization administration and other functions to improve community health. Over the course of his life, Ernest has seen his brother, father, cousin, and best friend become victims of gun violence and, earlier this year, he testified to a United States Senate Committee on “Protecting America’s Children From Gun Violence.” Ernest recounted how the trauma youth experience growing up in Chicago impedes their ability to lead healthy lives. Through his advocacy on reducing firearm violence, Ernest is helping to create safer physical environments for youth so they can safely play, walk, and exercise in their communities.

Ana Perez-Acuna, Jai Li Hernandez and Angie Martinez
Nominating Organization: Namaste Charter School

Junior high school students Ana, Jai Li and Angie were nominated as standout members of the Namaste Charter School’s Wellness Committee. These three students combined to help steer the committee’s programs, activities and policies. These students also identified an external partner to facilitate work on a school garden grant. This group assisted the school’s 8th grade class with hosting a healthy-food fundraiser by selling fruit cups as opposed to chocolates or gourmet popcorn. They also took the initiative to participate in the state legislative process by completing and promoting witness slip opportunities in support of Illinois schools being able to have more choices in food vendors for school lunches. Jai Li has also worked to promote physical fitness by taking part in a filming opportunity with the CATCH Global Foundation, demonstrating various fitness exercises. The Namaste School is grateful for their leadership and civic roles and hopeful they will continue this leadership in high school to support their communities.

Henley Wu
Nominating Organization: Working Bikes

While learning the intricacies of bicycle mechanics at Working Bikes to help build bicycles to empower others, Henley Wu also took the initiative to lead a group bike ride among his peers promoting bicycle love, fun and healthy self care habits. During his internship in summer 2021, he shared homemade food and would describe how he made it to everyone in the shop, encouraging his peers to prepare and eat healthier meals. His desire to live a healthy life connected seamlessly with the Mission of Working Bikes as he was able to deepen the usage of a bicycle from leisure riding by extending it as a tool of empowerment. Henley continues to motivate people to ride their bicycles, eat healthier and he continues to stay active in school through sports

Itzel Montes
Nominating Organization: West Park STEAM Academy

A two-year volunteer on the West Park Student Health Committee, Itzel has set a healthy example for her classmates by assisting with the planning and production of her school’s inaugural breast cancer walk and fun run. Over the course of her school career, she has stepped up to distribute healthy snacks as an incentive during report card pickup. She has also taken the lead on school gardening projects, helping West Park earn grants which will expand its gardens. Itzel extends her volunteerism to assisting other classrooms with caretaking their planting, and visits with the pre-k students to introduce them to the gardens.

Emanuel Hernandez
Nominating Organization: Chicagoland Vaccine Partnership

Emanuel served his community as a Chicagoland Vaccine Partnership Learning Community Fellow, facilitating the partnership’s aim to to learn and advocate for better outcomes for those impacted most directly by the COVID-19 pandemic. Emanuel was selected to be one of eight fellows from a candidate pool of over 70, as he demonstrated an extreme commitment to lifting up his Back of the Yards community. Throughout the fellowship, Emanuel mentored his fellowship on how they could access SAT prep and other college readiness programs. He would organize continuing education meetings for adults. According to his CVP staff, “Emanuel is going to make Chicago, his community, his family, and those of us so proud in the coming years, as he starts college this fall.”

Rebekah Robinson
Nominating Organization: Chicago Park District

Rebekah Robinson served as a Wellness Ambassador leader for the Chicago Park District through the “Move Your Way Grant” and the Sports Recreation Leadership program. To perform her ambassador role, Rebekah completed trainings and education on the importance of physical activity for health. Rebekah evolved as a social media wellness influencer during the COVID-19 pandemic and partnered with fellow 20-Under-20 honoree Tolu Adejuyigbe to attend local events in order to build and spread youth and teen-focused health messages throughout the city. She also led peer discussions on a town hall platform discussing teen input on creating a healthy community. Her work spanned Columbus Park, Humboldt Park, and LaVillita Park in Little Village. Rebekah took a difficult time where many teens were suffering from pandemic isolation, and became a champion for eating healthy and moving more through dance, walking and other exercise, while remaining transparent about the challenges teens face.

Tolu Adejuyigbe
Nominating Organization: Chicago Park District

Tolu Adejuyigbe was chosen as one of the Chicago Park District’s first Wellness Ambassador leaders through the district’s Move Your Way Grant, along with the Sports Recreation Leadership program run via After School Matters. Tolu shined through her ASM program and generated the concept of the “teen wellness mentorship model.” She completed trainings and education on the importance of physical activity on chronic health. Tolu stood out as a social media wellness influencer during the COVID-19 pandemic and partnered with fellow 20-Under-20 honoree Rebekah Robinson to attend local events in order to build and spread youth and teen-focused health messages throughout the city. Touchpoints included a skateboard event, 5K runs, a Unity Walk and the Summer Kickback Series. Tolu also moderated a peer discussion about teen efforts to create healthy communities in Chicago. Tolu overcame a difficult time where many teens isolated due to COVID-19 and rose to positively influence her peers by encouraging healthy eating physical activity through dance, walking and other forms of exercise, while being transparent about the challenges teens face.

Derrick Anderson
Nominating Organization: Young Men’s Educational Network

Derrick Anderson is a current freshman at Wheaton College and recent graduate of Lawndale College Prep. As a member of Young Men’s Educational Network (YMEN), he advanced the organization’s mission by using his talents to serve the community. He improved the health and safety of Chicago children by volunteering at the YMEN Community Garden, the Bike Lending Library, and the Food Distribution Program. Derrick was also honored by the Chicago Police for intervening and helping resolve a fight between two young men in a public park. He used his training as a Peace Warrior to help deescalate the conflict and prevent a violent outcome. Derrick’s actions have consistently demonstrated leadership to the next generation.

Jay Jenkins
Nominating Organization: Supreme D. Doulas

Jay was nominated by Supreme D. Doulas, an organization providing community doula services and outreach interventions, due to “his compassion for helping children and meeting them where they are.” Jay has worked in the organization’s Project Soar Program since the age of 13. He enjoys working with children to prepare healthy meals, and facilitates meal planning as well as healthy food and smoothie demonstrations for children. Over the course of his efforts, he has developed a daily exercise program for kids, incorporating education about fruits and vegetables and fun ways of preparing them.

Afif K. Nasseredine
Nominating Organization: Union League Boys and Girls Club

A basketball team captain from Kelly High School, Afif showcased his leadership skills on behalf the of the Union League Boys & Girls Club by mentoring 60 youth participants in a Junior NBA program for 2 months. The Union League Boys & Girls Clubs have served the after-school development needs of Chicago’s youth for over 100 years, with locations in Bucktown, Englewood, Humboldt Park, Pilsen, South Lawndale and West Town. Afif’s contributions facilitated the promotion physical activity and fitness, in addition to passing on basketball skills which can help open athletic doors for future players. He continues to promote fitness through his peers and continues to play basketball.

Bonfilio Joel Reyes
Nominating Organization: Increase the Peace Chicago & La Casa Norte

Bonfilio has played a significant youth leadership role in several Chicago neighborhoods, including Little Village, Brighton Park, and Pilsen. As a Youth Program Support Specialist, they have organized youth-led events which promoted COVID-19 vaccines, safe sex/care, and more. They have also promoted mental wellness and co-facilitated open discussion with youth participants in the Increase The Peace programs. “Bon” is driven by their passion to see our communities in a healed and safe light. Bon has led local canvassing groups promoting health resources, created flyers, agendas, and co-facilitated youth programs and community events. “A young person who never gives up, who finds solutions and, more importantly, someone who has an everlasting desire to see our city thrive.”

Arley Roman
Nominating Organization: Increase the Peace Chicago & La Casa Norte

A Public Health Ambassador with Increase The Peace & La Casa Norte, Arley is an amazing and outspoken young leader who resides in Back of the Yards. Arley has organized and created youth-lead events such as a Little Village Community Clean up, the Dia De los Ninos event, and more. At every event, Arley made sure to promote safe sex education, COVID-19 vaccines & PPE, and other health resources. Arley is also an advocate for mental health, using music to foster healing conversations. Arley has also canvassed to promote health resources in Little Village, Brighton Park, and Pilsen. Even after their program’s conclusion, Arley has continued to volunteer and donate time to the community.

Malachi Franklin, Rubiani Rivera and David Schmidt
Nominating Organization: CDOT Junior SAFE Ambassadors

Malachi, Rubiani and David are Junior SAFE Ambassadors, promoting the culture of “Streets Are For Everybody.” The wide ranging mission of SAFE Ambassadors is to educate cyclists and pedestrians to create safer streets and sidewalks. Junior SAFE Ambassadors also spend long summer days training kids to be the next SAFE Ambassador generation. Weeks would begin with new park assignments and a review of the previous week’s experiences. This trio of Ambassadors would then ride every day to their assigned parks in order to conduct bicycle safety trainings, including rides with groups of young trainees who were anywhere between five and 13 years of age. Trainings included discussion safe riding practices, as well as bicycle and helmet safety checks. With some days featuring multiple trainings, these ambassadors could log over 20 miles a day of cycling to and from events. These three Ambassadors powered themselves over hundreds of miles to ensure future generations of cyclists and pedestrians had the knowledge to be safe and active on the streets of Chicago.

Candace Banks
Nominating Organization: Children’s Place Association Child THRIVE

Cadence was a standout student as the Child Thrive program challenged its kids and families to be early adopters of a healthy lifestyle curriculum based upon CLOCC’s 5-4-3-2-1 Go! message. A neighborhood program for youth and families in West Humboldt Park, Child Thrive is designed to promote health and safety within the community. Cadence would come in every day with an open mind, ready to learn something new and make change in the community. She demonstrated a keen interest in the program’s interactive activities, and her enthusiasm during summer camp discussions helped inspire her classmates to stay healthy and prevent obesity within their life.

Zair Menjivar
Nominating Organization: Northwest Center

As a member of the Belmont Cragin Youth Leadership Council, Zair has been highly involved with organizing and facilitating neighborhood walkability assessments in his community. Zair recognized that due to the conditions of streets and sidewalks and difficulty accessing public transportation, kids and families would struggle to get to school, home, church and other essential destinations. Partnering with CLOCC, Zair and others in the Belmont Cragin community studied walkability of major corridors, including Diversey, Cicero and Laramie Avenues. He approached each study with a goal of looking at accessibility not just for a young person, but for pedestrians of all ages. The assessments served to produce walkability data that helped raise red flags to elected officials. Zair has continued his community advocacy in a new role, turning a summer internship with Alderman Felix Cardona Jr into a longstanding role as an aide with the 31st Ward. Zair intends to continue serving his community in whatever capacity is needed, from volunteering in schools to potentially one day running for office. This young leader is motivated by a desire to improve life for families in his community.