Avani Rai’s passion for public speaking and leadership began at the age of 8 when she volunteered in her community’s annual Diwali food drive for local charities. As she went door-to-door to collect donations, and then delivered them to various community-based organizations, she realized the impact her voice and actions could have on the lives of those around her. Since then, she hasn’t looked back.

Most significantly through her activities with 4-H, first as a McLean County Teen Teacher for at-risk students in her local community and later as an Illinois Healthy Living Delegate and Illinois Food Advocacy Team State Officer, Avani’s interest and impact in food justice and raising awareness about healthy living blossomed.

Through this involvement, Avani has most notably assisted with the implementation of more than $23,000 in grant funding to support youth-led food advocacy projects in 20 Illinois counties and supported youth meal-packaging events that have resulted in more than 10,000 meals to fight hunger in the state. She currently serves as the sole youth representative on the Illinois Department of Agriculture’s Local Food Purchasing Assistance Committee, tasked with distributing $14 million of grant funding to strengthen food systems statewide.

Most recently, Avani was recognized for her service in addressing food insecurity at the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health as a featured speaker in conversation with Second Gentleman Douglass Emhoff and Ambassador Susan Rice during the Conference’s Closing Plenary Session.

Avani has been recognized for her service, leadership, and academic success as a National 4-H Youth in Action Finalist, Future Business Leaders of America’s National Public Speaking Champion, and a National Merit Scholarship Program finalist. With the support of her community, Avani is confident she will continue her path of leadership, service, and mentorship. A current senior in high school from Normal, IL, Avani dreams of pursuing law and utilizing legislation to bring the topics of healthy living and food advocacy into the spotlight.