DEC. 2003/JAN. 2004
Photographs by MARY ELLEN MARK


name:  Nicole Halpin
age: 12
hometown: Jackson Hole Wyoming
why she's a CosmoGIRL!: Nicole won the National Conservation Achievement
Award for raising $160,000 to bury a power line that was accidentally killing swans.

"In December 2000, my mom and I were driving into town, and I noticed the big white wing of a dead trumpeter swan sticking out of the snow. It made me sick to my stomach. I found out that it was the fifth swan to accidentally fly into that power line and break its neck -- but the power company couldn't afford to bury the cable. So I decided to raise the money myself. At first, I was shy about asking people for donations, but once I explained the situation to them and got the newspaper to write about it, they gave! One elementary school class from Colorado even sent $75 in change' In a year, I raised all the money, and the power company buried the mile-and-a-half stretch of line. Now when we drive by that spot, I smile because I helped make my town safe for the swans."


name: Maria Menounos
hometown: Medford, Massachusetts
why she's a CosmoGIRL!: The host of ET on MTV/VH1 created  Take Action
Hollywood! a charity that makes movies about social issues to encourage reform.

"In 2000, as a reporter for Channel One in Los Angeles, I went to South Africa to cover the AIDS crisis and visited a children's orphanage. The next day, a baby with AIDS whom I'd spent time with died. Seeing that tiny casket, I kept thinking about how little love that baby had gotten-and I wondered how I could help prevent other kids from suffering like that. I had always wanted to start my own charity, and my first thought was a clothing drive. But then I started thinking about what my talents were. I had produced a film in college, and I knew that movies, because they reach a large audience, can really promote change. So I created Take Action Hollywood! Our first film is about AIDS, and my goal is to raise as much awareness about the disease as possible."


name:  Jennifer Jernigan
age:  21
hometown:  Madison Mississippi
why she's a CosmoGIRL!: Born with a deformed hand, Jennifer overcame her self-consciousness -- and showed the world that beauty really is more than skin deep.

"Because of a birth defect called Amniotic Band Syndrome, I was born with only part of my right hand-just a full thumb, half of my pointer, and a bud. When I was a little girl, my parents said God made me this special way for a special reason-but all I knew was that other kids wouldn't play with me because they thought what happened to my hand was contagious. I'd sit alone in the playground and cry.

By first grade, I was sick of being teased. My parents suggested I get up in front of my class and talk about my hand. I was so desperate for things to get better that during show-and-tell one day, I held up my hand and explained why it was disfigured and that it wasn't contagious. It turned out educating other kids stopped most of the teasing. And I think that's because people aren't mean because they want to make you feel bad- it's usually because they're ignorant.

At the same time, my parents encouraged me to start singing because they thought I had a nice voice. And when I did, people noticed my voice-not my hand. Over the years, my confidence grew, and I started entering beauty pageants. This year, I won the Miss University title at the University of Mississippi, which is based on competitions in swimsuit, talent, and interview.

All these things taught me about my own self-worth, and now I help disabled children develop their confidence. I discuss my own struggles, but the most effective thing I do is befriend girls with disabilities like mine. At first, they see me as a confident beauty queen, but then I show them my hand, and they realize I have a disability too. When they see what I've done, they know they too have the power to excel."


name: Courtney Calhoun       
age 16
hometown: Albany, Georgia
why she's a CosmoGIRL!:  Courtney created a peer sex-education program to prevent pregnancy and the spread of STDs so girls in her community can have a brighter future.

"During my junior year of high school, a lot of my friends got pregnant. And when the babies' fathers left them, they talked about dropping out of school. On top of that, a girl I knew got AIDS, and it broke my heart. I researched sexually transmitted diseases and was shocked to find out that African-American girls under 25 are three times more likely to contract HIV than white girls that age. I didn't want my friends or me to be another statistic, so I decided to create safe-sex summits to teach girls how not only to say no to a guy but also to effectively protect themselves if they do say yes. I've spoken to about 500 teens now, and I think they really listen to me because I'm a peer. Words can be so powerful and it feels good to share information that can change lives."


name:  Patricia Homma          
age 19
hometown: Marietta Georgia
why she's a CosmoGIRL!:  Patricia stumbled upon cooking- and loved it. So she taught
herself everything she could… and won The Best Teen Chef in America contest.

"When my sister and I moved to the U.S from Brazil in 1997 to live with my dad, he didn't cook, so we just ate fast food. After a few weeks, I missed my mom's meals, and tiled to make a stir fry-but totally overcooked it. Still, I was hooked; it felt so creative. I started to cook meals I saw in restaurants and on TV Then I came across an ad for The Art Institutes culinary school and realized cooking could be a career! Butt could only afford the school if I n its cooking contest. For a month, I practiced making crab cakes with rémoulade sauce, spinach salad with Dijon mustard dressing, and thicken with green beans, carrots, and red bliss potatoes. The judges said I stood out for being so clean and organized, but I believe I won because I wanted it more than anything."


name:   University of Connecticut Huskies women's basketball team why they're CosmoGIRL!s: The team came back to win the NCAA championship a second time-despite losing four of their best starting players.

Diana Taurasi, senior: "After we won the title in 2001, the team's seniors graduated, and we were left with a lot of players just out of high school. No one expected us to continue our winning streak or win the championship because our team was so young. But all the skepticism just made me more passionate. I've always faced people who doubted me by working even harder to prove them wrong." Maria Conlon, senior: "We really struggled the first weeks of practice. The coach set goals for layups and shooting drills, and we weren't even close to meeting them. We just weren't galling, and that made us juniors on the team realize that, with the seniors gone, we had to step up and lead." Jessica Moore, Junior: "We won 31 straight games, and each win gave us a little more confidence--especially the one against our rival, the University of Tennessee. We were down by seven points with four minutes left and no one except us thought we could win. But each of us did something amazing in those final minutes: Willnett dove for the ball; Diana scored a layup; Ann made a tough shot from the baseline .... That game pulled us together and helped prepare us for the finals." Ashley Battle, junior: "We didn't just wait for the big games to push our limits; we pushed them every day in practice, three hours a day, six days a week. When we weren't practicing, we all hung out together and helped one another with homework or personal problems. We lived together and ate meals together. And the whole time, it never mattered what people said about us. We kept our confidence by just believing we could win."