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7 unconventional role models your children can actually look up to

Posted May 5

In a culture that loves to give attention to the likes of Miley Cyrus and Kanye West, parents might be easily discouraged when trying to find positive role models for their children. While many positive role models do exist, I dug deeper to find special talent that isn't included on a typical "role model list."

Each of these people have used their relentless determination and creative talents to inspire the world.

1. Lindsey Stirling (hip-hop violinist, YouTube sensation)

Lindsey Stirling grew up playing only classical music with her violin, but as she became an adult, she put a unique spin on her sound by adding mixtures of dance, hip-hop and dubstep. Lindsey first attempted to break out on the world stage by competing in "America’s Got Talent." Being eliminated from the contest was disappointing, but Lindsey did not give up her dreams.

By slowly building her name with music videos through her YouTube channel, she has become one of the world’s highest paid YouTube stars. She has spoken openly about her battles with overcoming anorexia and depression, giving a voice of support to young girls who are also dealing with those issues.

2. Mason Wartman (pizza shop owner)

Mason Wartman started a pizza shop in Philadelphia, but this shop is different from any you have ever seen before. He left his job on Wall Street to open the shop, which sells slices of pizza for $1 each.

His business uses a pay-it-forward program, where generous customers can buy a slice of pizza in advance for a different customer by hanging a sticky note on the restaurant wall. When needed, customers (often homeless people with no money) can walk in and use these sticky notes to pay for their meals. This program has given pizza to thousands in need.

3. Sadie Robertson (actress, dancer, author, fashion designer)

Sadie Robertson is a picture-perfect example of a girl who chooses to use her popularity to inspire the lives of others, instead of using it to boost her own celebrity ego.

Sadie starred in A&E’s hit series "Duck Dynasty" with her family and finished in second place on "Dancing with the Stars." She wrote a New York Times best-seller, "Live Original: How the Duck Commander Teen Keeps It Real and Stays True to Her Values." In the book, she discusses principles and values that have helped her to grow and improve her family relationships. She created a “daddy-approved” brand of prom dresses, Sadie Robertson Live Original, to give girls a modest clothing option.

4. Chris Ulmer (special education teacher)

Chris Ulmer is a special education teacher from Florida who has gone above and beyond the call of duty. He starts out his class each day by dishing out compliments to his students one by one.

After teaching for a couple of years, he became frustrated by a disconnect he observed between his students and the rest of the world. He tried to publish a book series about his teaching experiences but says he received 50 rejection letters.

Not giving up, he instead took to social media to document his experiences using his own time, money and resources. His program Special Books by Special Kids has touched hearts all across the Internet. He dreamed this program "would turn into a platform to educate the world" about special education, but he also is teaching us all about love and the power of human kindness.

5. Saira Blair (teen lawmaker)

While other teenagers were partying and going to the mall with friends, Saira Blair became the United States’ youngest state lawmaker. As a 17-year-old, she decided to run for office. With little funding available to her, she had to defeat experienced politicians in elections to win her current position.

She hopes her story will inspire youth all over the country to become more interested and involved with politics. Her main goal for running was to improve the communities of West Virginia that she cares so dearly about. She is studying finance at West Virginia University and doesn't have any interest in becoming a career politician.

She has received multiple death threats since entering office (due to her gender and political views), but not even those threats have been able to slow her down from helping to pass legislation.

6. Dan Reynolds (lead singer of Imagine Dragons)

While you may have heard of the powerful music group Imagine Dragons, Dan Reynolds is not a household name. The release of their debut album "Night Visions" turned the band members into overnight rock stars. “Radioactive” broke records by staying on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart for 87 straight weeks.

Overnight success did not happen overnight, though. Once Dan found his bandmates, they treated music creation like a 9-to-5 job, dedicating themselves to becoming successful musicians and playing in any small venue they could find.

Before the rock star life, Reynolds was a college dropout struggling to find his way. Soon after dropping out, he wrote the band’s first hit, “It’s Time.” He uses his song lyrics to talk about his depression, regret for past mistakes, parents and more. He hopes his music will inspire and uplift all who listen to it.

7. Missy Franklin (Team USA Swimmer)

Missy Franklin has won four Olympic gold medals and many World Championship medals since 2011. Missy’s swimming achievements have landed her several opportunities to strike rich, but she has quietly turned away the money and fame.

She chose to experience college life and compete at the collegiate level at University of California, Berkeley, which would not be allowed by the NCAA if she accepted endorsement money. The endorsement deals she turned down were worth many millions of dollars. After winning a collegiate national championship, she has now turned professional, signing her first endorsement deal with Speedo.

The Olympic gold medalist works with Swim for MS, a group that raises funds for multiple sclerosis research through swimming fundraising events. And Missy is now training hard to compete in the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Summer Olympics.

Braden Jenks currently lives in Phoenix, AZ. He is studying Addiction Counseling at Rio Salado College. Contact him at Braden.Jenks@gmail.com.

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