May 18, 2015 12:00 PM

Brandon Gruber knows what it’s like to feel excluded. When he moved to Santa Cruz, Calif., in 2011, Gruber, who has Down syndrome, found some students at his new school “called me mean names,” he says. “I decided to get rid of that title of Down syndrome and start a new chapter in my life.” Gruber, now 19 and a high school senior, joined every club he could and “redefined myself,” he says. Last October he was crowned homecoming king at Aptos High School. “It was the happiest thing that ever happened to me,” he says. So he decided to pay it forward and formed a nonprofit (321life.com) to give the Cinderella treatment to needy classmates too. After learning some fellow students couldn’t afford to go to the winter ball and prom, “I told them I was the guy who was going to help them to go,” he says. So far he’s given away $12,000 to, among other things, send 19 kids to the winter formal and prom and buy another 21 kids yearbooks. “Brandon’s inspiring,” says Ulises Solorio, 17. “He changes the way I think.”

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