Summerville teen receives leadership award

Katie Stagliano (third from right) of Summerville was one of six activists honored at the Clinton Global Citizen Awards in NYC. Former President Clinton is at far right.

You would never know that the 14-year-old Summerville teen serving meals in the soup kitchen just brushed shoulders with the likes of presidents, celebrities and activists from all over the world.

Pinewood Preparatory School student and entrepreneur Katie Stagliano was honored at the sixth annual Clinton Global Citizen Awards last Monday.

Katie is the founder and chief gardener for Katie’s Krops, a nonprofit that uses vegetable gardens to feed those in need. Her program is in 22 states and she plans on expanding to all 50.

“It all happened so fast,” Katie said about getting the invitation in the mail only two weeks before the event.

Katie was chosen for the leadership in civil society award because of the impact Katie’s Krops has made on fighting world hunger. Katie and her team use the vegetables they harvest for free dinners she runs at Summerville Baptist Church for needy families. Her program also donates produce to local food pantries. It all started with a 40-pound cabbage she grew in the third grade that fed 275 people.

On Sept. 22, Katie and her mother, Stacy, hopped on a flight to New York that afternoon for the all-expense-paid trip. They arrived that night at their hotel, the posh Seventh Avenue Sheraton in the heart of the city, where they ate dinner and spent the night relaxing.

The next few days for Katie included a whirlwind of Clinton Global Initiative events for the annual meeting.

“I was nervous definitely, but I was also excited and curious to see what CGI was all about and meet all of these amazing people,” Katie said.

That Sunday, Katie attended the opening ceremony that introduced newcomers to CGI. She describes it as an organization that brings together world leaders and activists from all over the world who create a support system to make a difference.

After the opening ceremony, members of the organization, made up of past honorees and other leaders, broke into smaller sessions. Katie attended one about financial inclusion for youths and providing financial access for youths all around the world.

That night, the members of the organization had dinner together, which Katie said she honestly doesn’t remember much of because she was exhausted by that time.

Then came Monday — the big day. Just like the day before, Katie attended an opening session and went to a smaller group session, this one on the “first thousand days of life for people in other countries.” But instead of going to a second session like the rest of the members, Katie had to get ready for the 8 p.m. award ceremony.

She rehearsed her acceptance speech one last time. Then, when the time came, she went up on stage to accept her award from actor and activist Matt Damon.

“It was pretty awesome to be able to meet him. I was nervous because I’ve never given an acceptance speech, but once I got up there, those nerves went away,” she said.

That night, the ceremony was emceed by actress Bebe Neuwirth and had performances from Seal, slam poet Joshua Bennett, Beninoise singer Angelique Kidjo and rapper K’naan.

Other recipients of the award this year were Ugandan LGBT activists the Rt. Rev. Christopher Senyonjo and Pepe Julian Onziema and businessmen Carlos Slim Helu, Denis O’Brien and Luis A. Moreno.

“Tonight, I’m proud to honor two Ugandans who risk their lives to secure basic human dignities many of us take for granted, three leaders whose contributions have positively impacted communities across the Caribbean and Latin America, and a social entrepreneur on pace to take my job before she turns 16,” former President Bill Clinton said in a prepared statement.

Katie said the award ceremony was her favorite part of the trip because she got to meet people like Clinton, Donna Karan, Barbra Streisand, Eva Longoria, Barbara Bush and Chelsea Clinton. But she also said meeting the other award recipients was just as exciting.

The next day was filled with meetings, but not the dull, boring type. President Barack Obama and presidential candidate Mitt Romney were there to speak to the members of the organization.

Later that night, Katie and her mother flew back home to the Lowcountry and arrived around midnight.

“It’s good to be home. It was a great experience and I can take everything I learned and bring it back to my project,” she said while catching up on her homework.

“It’s surreal still for me. I’m very blessed that she brought me along. She won this amazing award and was hanging out with presidents. ... Now she’s back to algebra,” Katie’s mother said with a laugh.

Katie said the most important things she learned at the CGI meeting were about other causes she did not know about and “how good we have it here in the U.S.”

To Katie, age is not something that should hinder youths from doing extraordinary things. “Follow your heart. If there are causes you believe in, you should work towards it no matter how old you are. You can make an impact,” she recommends to other youths interested in making a difference.

Katie’s mother agreed and said that parents cannot push their children to do these types of things — they should only provide support.

“I never would have imagined that this is where we’d be today. God led her down this path, and she has walked through with open arms,” Stagliano said. “Sometimes people underestimate the power of youth. When given the opportunity, they can do amazing things.”

Reach Jade McDuffie at 937-5560 or jmcduffie@ postandcourier.com.