NEWARK, NJ — Elina Brahmandam, a fifth-grader at Harrison Elementary School in Livingston, was recently one of three outstanding young students to be recognized for their leadership during the Essex County Board of Commissioners’ 2021 Essex County Celebrates Youth Program held via Zoom on April 14.

According to the Essex County Board of Commissioners, the annual ceremony aims to acknowledge and encourage outstanding young people throughout Essex County.

Brahmandam was recognized for a variety of contributions to the community, including working as an editor for “Girls Who STEAM”—a non-profit dedicated to closing the gender gap in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics)—training her peers and older high school-aged students on the basics of computer programming, authoring her own blog and publishing two children’s books.

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Following the success of her first book, “Yay! It’s Thanksgiving!,” in the fall of 2020, Brahmandam decided to create a series celebrating American holidays as well as other world cultures. The second book in her “Yay! It’s a Holiday!” series—entitled “Yay! It’s Christmas! Christmas Giving with a Twist!”—became a similar success on Amazon soon thereafter.

In January, Brahmandam hosted a free virtual scratch workshop focused on coding basics for students in grades one through five. Through fun projects and activities, this hands-on, interactive seminar taught local students the basics of Scratch, including variables, loops, sounds and more. Brahmandam also walked her students through a project that they would enjoy playing again after the event. (CLICK HERE to learn more about Brahmandam's achievements.) 

Also honored during last week’s ceremony were Jaylene Rivera of Newark and Genesis Whitlock of Montclair. The Abbott Leadership Institute of Newark, well-renowned youth organization, was also recognized this year.

At the start of the event, Essex County Commissioner President Wayne Richardson spoke about the contributions of Essex County’s younger generation in the face of the challenges posed over the last year.

Minister Andrew Johnson from the St. Paul Baptist Church in Montclair delivered prayers during the occasion, and the audience was captivated by the musical talents of siblings Mecadon, Zuri and Ava McCune.

Read below to read more about the other honorees:

Jaylene Rivera, a fourth-grader at Roberto Clemente Elementary School, has been volunteering for the Latino Edification Multicultural Aid Center for the past year. Her duties include stocking up the center’s food pantry, pre-packaging bags of food for distribution, and pre-packaging gloves and face masks for seniors, law enforcement personnel, people with respiratory problems, and anyone in need of these supplies.

Genesis Whitlock is a senior at Montclair High School and serves in a multitude of extracurricular capacities including President of the Montclair High School Student Coalition, President of the Montclair NAACP Youth Council, Student Activist Coordinator for Amnesty International, and is the first Student Representative on Montclair’s Board of Education. Last summer, she organized a march of over 6,000 members of the community to address racial inequities within the school system, and assisted in drafting the Montclair district-wide anti-racism policy.

The Abbott Leadership Institute is an organization, led by Kaleena Berryman, that has been making a positive difference in the lives of Newark youth since 2002. They have empowered parents, students and educators with information about education policy, methods for civic engagement, and leadership in school reform. Accepting the commendation on their behalf was Mercy Wah, a senior at University High School and current peer mentor in the organization.

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