2022 - 2023 NCEA Youth Virtues, Valor and Vision Award Winners

NCEA is pleased to announce the recipients of the 2022 - 2023 NCEA Youth Virtues, Valor and Vision Award.

The NCEA Youth Virtues, Valor and Vision Award program is made possible, in part, through the generosity and support of Archangel Education + Technology, a preferred classroom technology supplier that believes in and celebrates the young people in our Catholic schools who are making a profound difference even at a young age to a myriad of underserved constituencies. More information about Archangel Education + Technology is available online.

NCEA received an outstanding response to the Call for Nominations from across the country. Each student nominated was truly amazing. These 11 student awardees embody the virtue, valor and vision exemplified by the many students in our Catholic elementary and secondary schools who are changing the world.

Many thanks to the selection committee for their excellent work in vetting each student nomination.

The awardees are:

Cooper Boeckman
Grade: 7
Age: 12
St. Francis of Assisi School, St. Louis, MO
Archdiocese of St. Louis

Cooper Boeckman, a seventh grader at St. Francis of Assisi, was diagnosed with Stargardt’s Disease in first grade. As a result of this disease, he is going blind. However, that does not stop him from wanting better for those who are in need and raising funds for research which may be able to help others help. He is always one of the first students to volunteer to help. 

For the last four years, Cooper has organized a walking team to support the Foundation Fighting Blindness in the St. Louis Vision Walk. Money raised supports research for retinal diseases. Although the research may never impact him, he wants to help others. When asking for people to participate or donate, he also says that he greatly appreciates prayers and continued support. Cooper is always one of the first kids to volunteer to help someone else. 

Though challenged with Stargardt’s Disease throughout his life, Cooper has never let that stop him from not only excelling as a student, but in service to others. Whether championing the cause to find a cure and build awareness of this disease or just being a model of faith, perseverance and modesty, Cooper emulates the characteristics of this award by his actions and by who he is as a person.

Alex Daley and Ella Spoonmore
Grade: 5
Age: 10
St. Charles Catholic School, Bloomington, IN
Archdiocese of Indianapolis

Alexandra Daley and Ella Spoonmore, fifth grade students at St. Charles Catholic School, founded Alexandra’s Army in 2021, a youth-led annual food drive that donates non-perishable goods to the Hoosier Hills Food Bank. This bank collects and distributes food to non-profit agencies feeding the hungry in five Indiana counties. They believed that if they could collect 50 pounds of food by themselves, why not recruit 100 others to collect 5,000 pounds?

The real heart of the initiative was the recruitment and training of their young peers who hit the streets in an organized operation. Not only had Alexandra and Ella written a script to be read by the volunteers, they had also made a video of the do’s and don'ts of knocking on doors and asking for donations. When children joined, they were given the script and fliers and asked to go with their parents door to door in their neighborhoods to explain the mission of Alexandra’s Army. After this encounter, neighbors were given a few days to collect food items to be put on their front porches to be collected at a specified time, on a specified date. 

In 2021, Bloomington was in the midst of COVID. Despite the challenges this presented, Alexandra’s Army recruited more than 50 children who collected 4,500 pounds of food. Ever-growing, Alexandra’s Army collected more than 5,000 pounds of food in 2022!

Shaurya Jadhav
Grade: 12
Age: 17
Reitz Memorial High School, Evansville, IN
Diocese of Evansville

Senior Shaurya Jadhav of Reitz Memorial High School was inspired in March 2020 by the hardships that medical workers, first responders and front-line workers had to overcome to combat the horrific effects of the coronavirus, as he recalled, “Whether they worked saving lives or even helped people buy their groceries. I could not just sit around and wait for the pandemic to end; I was inspired by these brave people to help my community."

Wanting to help, Shaurya felt strongly he could learn how to operate a 3D printer, create personal protective equipment (PPE) and ship them to people in need. He poured his savings from his part-time job into buying an Ender Pro 3D printer. His family converted their prayer room into a factory with three 3D printers, rolls of filaments, tools and other supplies. Between online classes, he would repair printers, start another print or prepare PPE for shipment. He was able to solicit donations of boxes from local stores and used his family's vehicle to deliver the PPE equipment in the tri-state area or mail them. He used his own funds to send them to locations across state lines to Michigan, Illinois and Ohio. In the end, he produced and distributed more than 1,500 PPEs in the Midwest. After innumerous hours of fine-tuning prints, carving plastic shields and transporting ear shields and face shields, even customizing the face shields for dentists, around the community and the U.S., the country caught up with orders for PPE. Until then, this army of one went to work to protect as many people as he could.

Kira Kent
Grade: 12
Age: 18
Notre Dame Academy, Park Hills, KY
Diocese of Covington

Notre Dame Academy senior Kira Kent is an extremely well-rounded, faith-filled student who takes challenging courses, leads and participates in numerous extracurricular activities, holds service in high regard and demonstrates refined leadership skills. She is a true servant leader. 

Kira began volunteering as a freshman at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital where she served in the Orthopedic, Cardiac TCU and Labor and Delivery units. She continues to serve this community today. Kira realizes her work at the hospital isn’t glamorous or necessarily recognized, but the work and her contributions matter to those who may be the most vulnerable and in need. Kira believes “it’s the little, personal acts of service, where we selflessly give and show kindness to others that truly and genuinely go on to make a difference in the world.”

Kira also serves our school community as a peer minister and ambassador for recruitment events and the greater community as a team leader for Regnum Christi ECYD Challenge Program which teaches young girls about the importance of community service – a message she believes in so passionately.

Kira is undoubtedly a student of strong faith, moral character and possesses a passion for selfless giving and kindness. The amount of hours she has served and people she has helped are many.

Lorenzo Martinelli
Grade: 12
Age: 18
St. Xavier High School, Louisville, KY
Archdiocese of Louisville

Lorenzo Martinelli, twelfth grade student at St. Xavier High School, and his sister Arianna started working on an app in March 2021 to address elderly loneliness. The goal of the app would be to connect high school seniors with senior citizens in nursing homes. Over the past 21 months, their idea has evolved into a company named Tandem (www.tandem-app.org). 
Tandem is a non-profit company that works with local high schools and parishes to connect high school seniors with senior citizens in nursing homes. Tandem pairs high school students with senior citizens and facilitates weekly 30-minute phone calls. The company has been remarkably successful in its goal; many wonderful relationships have been created because of Tandem’s efforts. Some students have even remained in contact with their elderly partner beyond high school graduation.

Lorenzo and his sister are still working on a Tandem app that will facilitate the high school student-senior citizen pairing process. Until the app is functional, they will continue to create pairings by hand. They are highly motivated and plan to continue to grow this company. In just over a year, they have already expanded the program from two high schools to six and in more than 20 parishes. This company has already made a wonderful impact in the Louisville community, and that impact should only grow in the next few years.

Sofia Parfomak
Grade: 12
Age: 17
Bishop O'Connell High School, Arlington, VA
Diocese of Arlington

Senior Sofia Parfomak of Bishop O’Connell High School believes, “It doesn’t matter how old or young you are. If you put in the effort and have the passion, you can really make a difference in the lives of others.” In the summer of 2022, she put that belief in practice organizing a fundraising concert to support UNICEF efforts in Ukraine. The plight of children displaced by conflict is deeply personal for Sofia, whose grandmother Janina was forced out of Ukraine in 1944 when she was six years old. 

Organizing a concert like this requires booking venues, meeting with performers, and ensuring performers are on track with their music, along with setting up timelines for rehearsals, and in this case, learning Sofia’s own music well enough to perform. The passion, commitment and virtue it takes to carry out this kind of work is impressive for anyone, and for a teenager like Sofia it is more than commendable. Sofia’s involvement and leadership in this project speaks volumes of her compassion for the children of Ukraine. She ultimately raised more than $4,000.

Armando Parrish
Grade: 12
Age: 17
Bishop Lynch High School, Dallas, TX
Diocese of Dallas

Armando Parrish, a twelfth-grade student at Bishop Lynch High School, wanted to do something to help people experiencing homelessness in Dallas, particularly a man he met named Lorenzo who lived under a bridge near his mother’s office. Armando started a GoFundMe to raise money for Lorenzo, and then he wanted to do even more. 

Armando, with the help of a board of directors, established Project Lorenzo (www.projectlorenzo.org) as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Project Lorenzo’s mission is to raise money to help people living on the streets transition to permanent housing. The organization also assembles and delivers hundreds of care packages to people living on the streets. 

Project Lorenzo has put on two Run for Change 5K races (in 2021 and 2022) with sponsorship opportunities, registration fees and T-shirt sales to raise funds for the organization’s initiatives. In addition, Armando worked tirelessly on the inaugural Music for Change event that featured 25 bands performing on two stages for a 12-hour music festival. The festival also included food vendors, artist booths and sponsors.

Johanna Polarek
Grade: 8
Age: 14
Pacelli Catholic Schools, Stevens Point, WI
Diocese of La Crosse

Johanna Polarek, an eighth-grade student at Pacelli Catholic Schools, was inspired to action by the hungry in her community. She partnered with a peer Emily Skowronski to build, paint and install a small food pantry in the community, next to Central Rivers Farmshed. Central Rivers Farmshed is committed to help promote health equity in the Stevens Point community. The perfect location for Johanna’s food pantry.

The idea is that anyone who needs a little extra support for a meal that they cannot provide for themselves can use the pantry to round out meals. Like the little free libraries around communities, the food pantry is for people to take and leave nonperishable items such as canned meat and fish, peanut butter, canned and dry soups, tea, coffee, canned stews and chili, etc. Johanna has worked on collecting donations throughout the town and keeps the pantry fully stocked for those who have come to rely on it.

Ella Schoenborn
Grade: 9
Age: 14
Academy of the Holy Names, Albany, NY
Diocese of Albany

In February 2018, Ella Schoenborn, now a ninth grader at the Academy of the Holy Names, was riding to school with her father and noticed that a man was sleeping on the sidewalk with cardboard over him with snow on the top of the cardboard. This observation moved her emotionally and spiritually and inspired her to help by founding Project Ella. 

Project Ella’s mission is to feed the hungry across Albany. For almost five years Ella has done just that (she began her service at nine years old). She began her mission by collecting bottles and redeeming them for cash to purchase food and making sandwiches and meals for the homeless every Thursday in Troy, NY, Fridays in Albany, NY, and Saturdays in Saratoga, NY. By the end of the summer, she made 200 turkey sandwiches a week. To date, Project Ella has prepared more than 7,000 meals, given out more than 3,000 dozen eggs, and supplied local food pantries with more than 10,000 items.

Ella has established a working relationship with Street Soldiers in Albany, Rensselaer and Schenectady, Sidewalk Warriors of Troy, and Saratoga Stronger, all organizations that work with the homeless by donating prepared meals and food items. She donates to the Bethel AME Church in Coxsackie, Athens Food Pantry, Cairo Food Pantry, Food Pantry of Westerlo, Hilltown Community Pantry, Food Pantry of Berne, and the Catskill Community Fridge, as well as the Salvation Army (on just one day Ella dropped off 878 pounds of food for the Salvation Army Food Pantry and Soup Kitchen in Hudson, NY!).

Ella’s motto is, “You can’t dream if you are hungry.”

Lilah Takes
Grade: 12
Age: 18
Wahlert Catholic High School, Dubuque, IA
Diocese of Dubuque

Wahlert Catholic High School senior, Lilah Takes, was by inspired by her work for a local nonprofit at the Dubuque, IA, Farmers’ Market in summer 2021. She watched as each week market vendors threw out what they didn’t give away. Unsettled, Lilah acted on what she saw. She met with Andie Donnan, a regional farmer of Sandhill Farm – a major contributor to local food pantries. Lilah sought Donnan’s expertise to learn the needs and limitations in the greater Dubuque community and continued to meet with local farmers and civic leaders to mitigate produce waste in Dubuque.

This past summer, Lilah partnered with Wahlert Catholic science teacher, Korrin Schriver, to continue the work she started. Lilah met with other communities with existing food recovery programs. After collaborating with Table to Table in Iowa City and Eat Greater Des Moines, she connected with the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque and developed a platform centered on sustainability, organization and funding. 

By fall 2022, City of Dubuque officials noticed Lilah’s efforts with Dubuque Farmers’ Market and partnered with vendors to donate unsold produce. Lilah researched the financial threshold needed to sustain participation among local farmers and proposed tax credits for vendors. The City of Dubuque heard and responded: a tax credit will be implemented in 2023.

Lilah’s leadership resulted in recovering more than 2,500 pounds of food in three months. Her impact extends beyond Dubuque, as Des Moines and Iowa City embrace her vision. Lilah’s food recovery initiatives impact citizens of all ages and will continue to provide fresh produce to future generations.

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