“With one kind gesture you can change a life. One person at a time you can change the world. One day at a time we can change everything.”

This quote from Steve Maraboli is the mantra by which Madeleine (Maddie) Craigen leads her life, and these are words that guide her in accomplishing her vision of making positive changes in our world.

Maddie was recently recognized as the 2020 Yampa Valley Youth Philanthropist of the Year for her work in creating change locally and inspiring others to do the same, creating a ripple effect that has far-reaching effects beyond the borders of the Yampa Valley.

It all started when Maddie was traveling through South Africa with her family when she was in 7th grade – a trip that she calls a life changing experience. “Growing up in Steamboat, we are definitely in a bubble and we don’t have exposure to what is happening in other communities around the world,” she says. “Thankfully my parents provided us with a more global view and they love to travel so I was afforded the opportunity to get out and see some of the world. I vividly remember the day that we were walking through Johannesburg, as the only white people, witnessing poverty and people who were not getting their basic human needs met. It was a world of difference from life at home and an eye-opening experience. I came home committed to learning more about the world and how I could make a difference. I didn’t want to come out of high school only having understanding of life inside my bubble.”

Fast forward to her freshman year in high school, when some local first responders helped Maddie through an experience and she witnessed first-hand the benefit of the work that they do. These experiences lit a fire in Maddie to create positive change in the world, starting from her “bubble” in Steamboat Springs.

But she didn’t want to do it alone. She figured that there is an opportunity to leave a bigger mark by bringing others into the conversation and motivating and inspiring others to join her in these efforts. This is where Youth Inspiring Change, a nonprofit created and founded by Maddie, was born.

Their first project would become their biggest. The Hero Project started in 2017 when Maddie decided that she wanted to focus on bringing the first responders closer with the youth in our community, to inspire other kids to also want to be Heroes in the community.

The Hero Project brought first responders into local elementary school classes. Maddie came ready to win over the kids with over 1000 cookies that she and a friend had baked, which the students and presenters decorated together while they worked to educate the kids on what first responders do. That first year, the Hero Project was in three Soda Creek Elementary 3rd grade classes with 10 first responders. Over the next two years, the program would grow and expand to include Strawberry Park and Soda Creek Elementary Schools and grades K-5, as well as over 50 first responders each year. Over the three years that Maddie ran the program, the Hero Project gave over 1000 kids the opportunity to interact and learn from over 75 first responders from the Sheriff’s Department, Police Department, Fire Department and Search and Rescue.

Youth Inspiring Change also created, organized, fundraised and put on the Routt County Charity Hoedown – United Under the Stars event which raised over $10,000 for STARS and Routt County United Way. Through their fundraising efforts including bake sales, Youth Inspiring Change was also able to buy and build care packages for the homeless that were delivered to the Denver Rescue Mission.

When she turns 18, Maddie plans on getting a job as an EMT to continue her medical and first responder training. This fall, she will be attending university and majoring in Political Science while also completing a Pre-Medicine Program. In the future, Maddie hope to find new ways to serve her campus and communities, and is interested in joining Doctors Without Borders Clubs or participating in the Wilderness EMT at Everest Base Camp program through CMC. She is moved by the social change happening in our world and wants to make a difference in advancing those efforts.

“Through Youth Inspiring Change, I have learned that no matter who you are, if you want to make a difference and you have the drive you can achieve anything,” says Maddie.