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18-year-old girl helping to make the world a better place

18-year-old girl helping to make the world a better place


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*Candice Madsen reporting*If you know a "Smart Woman" or if you think you have an interesting Smart Woman topic, you can contact Candice at cmadsen@ksl.com.

Merrit Denison is working hard to make the world a better place, and even though she's only 18, she's already well on her way.

Denison has helped create a microenterprise program in third-world countries. She is humble about her achievements and says she simply wants to make a difference--and she has for hundreds of women.

Last summer, Denison spent a month in an impoverished Mexican village teaching women about business. It was a huge undertaking for a high school student.

"It was really the most incredible experience of my entire life," Denison said. "It took a year of research, and we had to write all these basic business plans."

Denison co-chairs the microenterprise program for the humanitarian group YouthLINC. The program assists families that struggle for self-sufficiency by giving them small loans. "With the loans, it's empowering them to do it themselves instead of just going and saying, ‘Here's a thousand dollars. Do what you want with it and good luck,'" she explained.

She says seeing the living conditions in third-world countries firsthand motivated her to do more. "It was really heartbreaking on one hand, but then you were able to look at and say, 'We're doing something that can help these women and really make a difference in their lives,'" Denison said.

Wasatch Woman magazine recently named Denison as the Up & Coming Woman of the Year 2008. She's also received the Presidential Volunteer Service Award and several other honors.

"I think it's important for women especially, because women have that compassion and have that ability to really connect with other people," Denison said.

Along with her charity work, Denison is involved in various clubs at school. She's a Sterling Scholar finalist and will actually graduate high school with an associate degree. Plus, she's got a job.

Denison says somehow she still finds time to have fun--after all, she's only in high school. "It takes a lot of micromanaging my day and just really keeping a strict schedule. I try not to overdue one area," she said.

Denison will head back down to Mexico this summer. In the fall, she plans to attend BYU, double-majoring in sociology and Latin American studies.

For more information on YouthLINC and the Microenterprise program, click the related link.

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