Arizona is the birthplace of a slew of celebrities, like Emma Stone, Joe Jonas, Hailey Bieber, and Jordin Sparks. But there are plenty of lesser-known folks worthy of our attention who live right here in the Grand Canyon State.
From a trio of teens making healthy food more accessible to an activist fighting for immigration rights, Arizona is home to a wide range of people who are positively impacting their communities.
High school junior Jay Jhaver is the founder of Teens4Vets, a Chandler-based nonprofit dedicated to helping veterans. Jhaver and other Teens4Vets volunteers host bingo games for former service members, offering practical prizes like coffee makers, bed sheets, and bikes. They also work with Habitat for Humanity to help build homes for veterans and participate in other outreach activities.
Jhaver plans to grow Teens4Vets beyond Arizona to connect with and uplift veterans across the country.
As a child growing up in California, Alejandra Gomez was introduced to the United States’ broken immigration system when her family had to flee to Arizona to escape the dangers of Prop 187, an anti-immigration law that targeted undocumented immigrants in her home state. In 2007, she started her career as a community organizer in Arizona after witnessing others in the area experience harassment similar to what she endured in her youth.
Now, as the executive director of the Arizona Center for Empowerment, she’s continuing her fight for social justice and empowerment for her fellow Arizonans. Her efforts also helped Arizona elect a Democrat for president—something that hadn’t happened in the state in decades.
Comic book creator Russ Kazmierczak uses his artistic talents to inspire Arizona children and help them get access to books. Every year, he hosts a fundraising event at Drawn to Comics in Downtown Glendale during which he writes and illustrates a comic book in 24 hours. Half of the proceeds are donated to local nonprofit Kids Need to Read, which provides books and literacy programs to underfunded schools, libraries, and other organizations throughout the US.
In addition to this annual event, Kazmierczak also teaches a monthly class teaching teens how to make comics at Bookmans.
Arizona teens Karina Koppikar, Aanvi Goel, and Riya Mehta believe everyone should have access to healthy food regardless of their socioeconomic status. With that in mind, they launched My Tasty Table, an organization dedicated to helping families who suffer from food insecurity. Through My Tasty Table, Koppikar, Goel, and Mehta host workshops and cooking classes to teach low-income families how to make healthy meals, provide these families the ingredients needed to make the dishes, and raise awareness of food insecurity in their community.
Substance abuse, jail, homelessness—Shannon Rivers has faced many obstacles in his life, and now he’s helping others overcome similar challenges. Rivers was raised in Phoenix’s Gila River Indian Community and turned to drugs and alcohol after two of his brothers were killed on the reservation. Years later, he got sober and is now a Native spiritual leader who provides religious services throughout California and Arizona, mainly to individuals who have been incarcerated.
Katie Lambert founded MOMnation in 2014 and has been helping mothers ever since. The group, which launched in Arizona but has since expanded to New Hampshire and Texas, aims to uplift and empower women throughout all stages of motherhood. MOMnation hosts events such as Prom for Parents, passes out meals to families in need during the holiday season, and provides other resources for moms on its website, which includes an informative blog, recipes, and a marketplace featuring curated and mom-focused vendors, among other things.
Maria Jones has been working with horses almost her entire life—first on her uncle’s ranch in New York, later showing Arabians in Arizona, and now as the founder of Good Shepherd Healing Ministries Horse Rescue. Jones and her team of volunteers rehabilitate abandoned and abused horses, eventually finding new homes for them. The rescue also selects a handful of local students twice a year to receive free horseback-riding and safety lessons.
Army veteran Brian Keene is on a mission to empower neurodivergent children to reach their full potential. He began working as an occupational therapist (OT) in south Phoenix after completing his active-duty service and quickly realized the area was lacking in OTs and families were struggling to access the care they needed. So in 2020, he launched Pure Hearts Therapy, an in-home pediatric therapy practice. He provides occupational, physical, and speech therapy services to individuals—mostly children—with autism, Down syndrome, and other disorders.
Christy Moore, a former social worker, is working hard to ensure all Arizonans have access to clean clothes. Moore is the founder of Social Spin, a laundromat that also acts as a community hub in Arizona. Social Spin hosts weekly free laundry events for low-income families and works with social service providers to offer services such as free haircuts and health-care checks to homeless individuals.
Additionally, Social Spin recently partnered with Native American Connections to clean the laundry of residents at the nonprofit’s emergency housing program, The Lodge.