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Gitanjali Rao, the Lone Tree teen who was named TIME Magazine’s 2020 Kid of the Year, recently received a Youth Hero and Good Deed Award from the Highlands Ranch American Legion Auxiliary Unit 1260.

Out of 5,000 American youth between the ages of 8 and 16 who were nominated, Rao was one of five finalists, and later selected as the winner. The 15-year-old was recognized for her work in tackling issues such as contaminated drinking water, opioid addiction and cyberbullying. In the December cover article, Rao discussed her dedication to create a global community of young innovators to solve some of the world’s most pressing problems.

Helen Guthrie, president of the American Legion Auxiliary Unit 1260 in Highlands Ranch, said it is important to recognize outstanding young members of the community.

“Too often the contributions of young people who take action to make a difference in their community go unrecognized,” she said.

Guthrie explained the Good Deed Award was established to publicly recognize commendable good deeds, setting an example for other area youth to see, and encourage them to move forward with their own “selfless” actions.

“It is impossible to explain the magnitude of the impression Gitanjali made on those of us who attended the presentation of the Good Deed Award to her,” Guthrie said. “She is passionate, poised, knowledgeable and communicates her knowledge more effectively than is usual to expect for someone her age.”

Guthrie said Rao’s contributions do not stop at compassion. Legion members were impressed with her drive to develop solutions for world problems.

“Not content to just do,” Guthrie said, “(Rao) has made connections with a number of international companies to lead workshops for young people and for established scientists of the world.”

Rao, a student at the STEM School in Highlands Ranch, has continued down a path of success. The teenager won the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge in 2017, and was awarded $25,000 for her invention, Tethys, a 3D-printed box that contains a battery, Bluetooth and carbon nanotubes. Tethys is used to detect lead in water.

Rao, a three-time TEDx speaker, applies her studies through work at the Denver water facility. She was also awarded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Presidential Environmental Youth of the Year award in 2018.

In 2019, Rao was named one of Forbes 30 under 30.

Guthrie said American Legion Auxiliary members are also impressed with Rao using her knowledge for the better by teaching and instructing others.

“With young people like Gitanjali in action and training others like herself to take action, there is no doubt the world will be in good hands for many years to come,” she said.