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2017 SCOLARSHIP winners.


Aaditi Tamhankar became vegetarian at age 8 when she realized that the meat from the store in the Saran wrapped package was actually "dying for my meal. My epiphany at eight-years-old turned me vegetarian for life." She then turned vegan at age 16.

At her high school, she started the Health and Wellness Club with the goal of organizing her school's first Health and Wellness Fair. This resulted in over 25 exhibitors, including a gardening stand, Whole Foods giving out samples of fruit smoothies, and representatives from the Vegetarian Society of South Jersey. About 1,000 students attended. Aaditi said, "In my school, almost a quarter of students are on the free or reduced lunch program. Through the event, my peers could see the value and affordability of a healthy vegan lifestyle, and the integral role it plays in disease prevention."

Aaditi wrote, "On Saturday I volunteered all day with the Vegetarian Society of South Jersey (VSSJ) for a tabling event at the Burlington County Library Maker Fair. 1 spoke with Steve Fenster, the Vice President of the VSSJ. He informed me that the VSSJ had an educational license to show a special version of the documentary Cowspiracy created for high school and college students."

"Working with my school's administration, my club advisor, and the VSSJ, I organized a screening for the documentary today. Today was the date of the second annual Health and Wellness Fair that I led with my club members. Before the students attended the fair, they were seated in a large auditorium. The Vice President of the VSSJ came in and showed the documentary to over 600 students. After the documentary, the students got to interact with vendors such as the American Vegan Society and the VSSJ. They also ate delicious vegan date balls from Heartbeet Kitchen (a local vegan restaurant), cold pressed juice from Whole Foods, and black rice, quinoa, and black bean burgers from SuperFoods Culinary Innovations (a local vendor) among others."

"The documentary really opened the students' and teachers' eyes, minds, and hearts to the idea of vegetarianism and veganism as evidenced by the preliminary data coming in through my Google Forms survey. Over 75% of respondents expressed some desire to be a vegetarian or vegan after the day, and a full 80% of students said they tried a new food today. When asked, 'What is one thing you learned today?' many respondents said that they learned about the impact of animal agriculture on the environment."

Aaditi also founded the vegan club at her high school, which had booths at the local Earth Day festival and 8th grade education night. She and her high school principal met with the directors of food service for the Cherry Hill School District. Aaditi helped organize volunteers for the Vegetarian Society of South Jersey 30th anniversary event. During the event, Aaditi delivered a speech, greeted attendees, and assisted with clean-up and breakdown. She will be doing an internship with VSSJ this summer.

Aaditi plans to attend the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business. She would eventually like to start social entrepreneurship projects on a global scale to better public health.


On Easter at five-years-old Samantha Illius looked up from her family meal and complimented the food her mom and grandmother slaved over in the kitchen. Her uncle said, "It's baby cow." "Needless to say, I was sickened by meat and scarred by this event for the remainder of my life," stated Samantha. After a five year struggle with her family because she had allergies to nuts and soy, Samantha became a strict vegetarian at age 10.

In sixth grade Samantha started distributing vegetarian brochures in housing developments and throughout her high school. She put out information in her church and started a business,, selling cruelty-free vegan soap.

Her vice principal said, "I am familiar with her impact on our school lunches. She came to me ... and I guided her toward the business director for our district. She took off from there. She scheduled meetings with the director and our head kitchen staff. She persuaded them to provide additional vegetarian selections which proved to be a success. Because of her influence, more and more students are benefiting from vegetarianism."

Samantha was told by the school district business department that her meatless efforts have had an impact and that over $22,000 of the school's lunch budgets have shifted over to purchasing non-meat alternatives as opposed to animal products. At her school's health fair, she requested samples from Dole Food Company and gave away 720 fruit cups and 480 cans of pineapple juice, as well as materials such as a vegetarian food pyramid.

Samantha has given numerous vegetarian presentations in and out of her city, including over 20 in January of this year. A reference stated, "Not only has Samantha stood up in front of hundreds and hundreds of kids, but she sets up every single presentation on her own. She just walks into a school and speaks with administrators, always following up. And you know how hard it is getting around the bureaucracy of public schools.

Samantha has a long-term dream of becoming a writer who inspires open-mindedness and acceptance in others. She states, "With this I hope to make the world a more loving and caring place. In my free time, I completed a manuscript after three years and countless drafts, which I'm finally working to garner publication for... I will continue vegetarianism and changing lives as long as I live."


Leah Kelly became vegetarian in sixth grade after watching undercover animal rights videos, and within a few years she and her family became vegans. Leah said, "I have always been unusually empathetic. In 5th grade, I would go home crying after witnessing some boys bullying a girl with a disability. I talked to my elementary school principal about the bullying and we created the first anti-bullying club in the school."

When Leah started 10th grade, she founded an animal rights club Coalition for Animal Respect and Equality (CARE). With all the group's accomplishments, she learned hard lessons that made her stronger and more prepared for future situations. "I've learned that most people, even adults and administration, don't answer their emails even after I've tried to contact them five or more times. I've learned that sometimes people just don't feel like making the same commitment that I do. I've learned that staying calm and compassionate is the best possible way to spread my message. One of the best unexpected results of becoming an activist is meeting so many incredible, like-minded people. The vegetarian/vegan Community is like an extended family."

Leah served on the youth advisory boards for Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp, peta2, and Farm Sanctuary. She volunteered on the campaign of a state senate candidate who speaks out on animal issues.

In 11th grade, Leah worked to implement Meatless Mondays into the West Hartford Public School system. "I had attended YEA Camp for the second time the summer prior and when I got home I planned for this goal. It was a slow process at first. One strategy I've learned as an activist is that it's always beneficial to ask for support. I reached out to the Humane Society of the United States and met Katie Scott, New England Food and Nutrition Coordinator. We started working together on a plan.

"We talked to the Food Service Director of West Hartford Public Schools, to come up with an easy lunch menu that would meet federal nutrition guidelines, while still upholding the Meatless Monday mission. Meanwhile, I made surveys to get feedback from the school community. I emailed all teachers, collected responses from students in the hallways and in the cafeteria, and even asked parents. I also sought support from the assistant principal and gained approval from the local parent non-profit organization for nutrition in schools.

"During the soft launch of Meatless Monday, we held sampling stations in cafeterias where students could taste some new meatless options. I wrote posts and articles and made handouts all for the purpose of opening people's minds to the idea of vegetarianism, even if just one day a week. In April 2016, I looked at the new school lunch menu and was so excited to see the words "Meatless Monday!" typed across each Monday box on the calendar. All 15 public schools in my town were now only offering vegetarian entrees on Mondays. Every school also offered vegetarian options every day of the week. I had helped make history.

"In May, I met with the current mayor of West Hartford to talk about Meatless Monday and help her draft a proclamation encouraging ... residents of West Hartford to try Meatless Mondays."

In order to institute Meatless Mondays, Leah had to learn the art of compromise. "Part of the conclusion we compromised on was that many of the popular already existing menu items that happened to be vegetarian would simply be moved to Mondays." These are not all vegan-friendly. However, Leah stated, "The good news is that at all 15 schools in my district, every single day of the week now offer a vegetarian option, and many of these options are actually healthier than just the Meatless Monday meals. Some examples I've found listed on the lunch menus include: various fresh salads (there is a salad bar open as well on many days), veggie burgers, vegetarian beans, Asian mixed vegetables, roasted butternut squash, seasoned green beans, seasonal fresh fruit, vegetables dishes, corn on the cob, vegetable soup, roasted chick peas, vegetarian fiesta wrap, baked potato, chili bean soup, red beans and rice bowl, three bean salad, steamed broccoli, sauteed spinach, carrot raisin salad, tomato and cucumber salad, potato salad, and steamed brown rice.

"A few months into my senior year I received a text from a student at Bacon Academy in Colchester, CT, who had heard of me from a chance encounter with a mutual acquaintance. Her school was interested in implementing Meatless Mondays and so she, her classmate, and two teachers took the day off to drive to West Hartford to sit down with me and the Food Service Director to learn about our journey ... They invited me to talk to their Community Activism class in the spring. Small world. It turns out that past VRG awardee Lauren Hickey, who also worked with Katie Scott, started a farm-to-school initiative in their school district. I've recently been in touch with Lauren, who is using her VRG scholarship at Bowdoin College and has just decided to try to bring Meatless Monday there. The meeting with these girls from Colchester reminded me of something very important: a movement doesn't exist in a bubble or in a single town. It exists everywhere. Every action we take influences another. I had helped the Meatless Monday movement by inspiring people I didn't even know to follow my lead."

The deadline for the next Vegetarian Resource Group college scholarship contest for high school seniors is February 20, 2018. For details and information about other winners, see:

To support Vegetarian Resource Group internships and scholarships, donate at: and indicate the purpose. You can send a check to VRG, P.O. Box 1463, Baltimore, MD 21203 or call (410) 366-8343.
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Publication:Vegetarian Journal
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2017
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