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Teen gets nod in ‘Kids Who Give’ contest

Christopher Yao, 15, who started his junior year

Christopher Yao, 15, who started his junior year at Jericho High School in fall 2012, won second place in the spring 2012 "Kids Who Give" contest, receiving $1,500 for founding Kids Change the World, a nonprofit that helps fund cleft palate surgeries for children.

In 2006, Jericho’s Christopher Yao was diagnosed with an under-jaw bite that had to be fixed surgically.

“My jaw was protruding,” explained Yao, now 15 and going into his junior year at Jericho High School. “If I wasn’t able to get the surgery, I’d have to go through a life where I couldn’t eat or speak properly.”

Motivated by the experience, Yao started the Smile Train Read-A-Thon, which raised $2,000 in his community in less than a month.

The Read-A-Thon prompted the formation of Kids Change the World in 2007, and ever since has engaged schoolchildren across the country to help kids around the world, by collecting sponsors and funding cleft palate surgeries for children.

“I wanted to help other kids because I knew what it felt like and my situation was only a microcosm of what they have to deal with,” he said. Since its inception, Yao’s nonprofit has funded surgeries in Asian and African countries.

Late last month, Yao won second place in the spring 2012 “Kids Who Give” contest, receiving $1,500 for Kids Change the World, which has grown to include additional programs, with more than 19,000 supporters. His was among the 20 entries submitted between last May and June.

“We work independently with hospitals and aim at giving children surgeries and training local doctors, giving them innovative technology,” Yao said. “We can do surgeries in other countries for under $250, which could cost upwards of $15,000 in the U.S.”

The contest was sponsored by Farm Rich, a corporation based in St. Simons, Ga., that sells food products nationwide.

“This is our third year with the Kids Who Give” contest,” said Megan Grinstead, associate marketing manager of Farm Rich. “What they’re doing by sharing their story is inspiring other kids to do the same.”

Yao’s nonprofit has also started programs to uplift military morale overseas, raise the spirit of sick children in hospitals and offer free websites to kids who dream of beginning their own charities.

“Knowing that I’d be able to help so many of these families, I wanted to spread what I was passionate about to other kids across the world,” Yao said. “I wanted to leverage the power that young people have and give them the start-up grants and tools to create a better world.”

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