2020 NCEA Youth Virtues, Valor and Vision Award Winners

NCEA is pleased to announce the recipients of the 2020 NCEA Youth Virtues, Valor and Vision Award. A formal press announcement will be made during Catholic Schools Week 2020.

  The Youth Virtues, Valor and Vision Award program is made possible, in part, through the generosity and support of Cross Catholic Outreach, a Catholic ministry serving the poorest of the poor internationally through dioceses, parishes and Catholic missionaries.  For more information about Cross Catholic Outreach please go to www.crosscatholic.org.

NCEA received an outstanding response to the Call for Nominations from across the country. Each student nominated was truly amazing. These top ten 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 listed alphabetically are:

Austin Baron
Grade: 8
Age: 13
St. Theresa Catholic School, Ashburn, VA
Diocese of Arlington

Austin Baron has participated in Youth vs. Hunger since the first event was held at his parish four years ago. From the beginning, he was energized by the concerted effort of St. Theresa Catholic School students and parishioners to feed people around the globe who struggle with hunger. In August of 2018—at the age of twelve—he decided to combine his love of dogs with his desire to impact global hunger by making dog toys and giving the proceeds to Youth vs. Hunger. He learned how to make a simple knotted dog toy on YouTube, and began hand-making his inventory. He named his business “Knot Perfect,” to signify the knots and imperfections of a hungry world. Within a month, he had made 100 dog toys, and began selling them at community events, asking for $10 donations and sending 100% of the profits to support feeding the hungry. He has also enlisted the help of local businesses, like a veterinarian’s office and a restaurant that welcomes dogs on their patio. Since founding Knot Perfect, Austin has made hundreds of dog toys and donated over $2,300 to Youth vs. Hunger. In addition to his work with Knot Perfect, Austin has helped guide families in need through the process of receiving clothing and food at St. Theresa’s annual Merciful Harvest, assembled lunch bags for homeless shelters through St. Theresa’s Daily Bread Ministry, and stocked food pantry items for LINK Against Hunger in his community.

Aura Castillo
Grade: 8
Age: 14
Sacred Heart Catholic School, Jacksonville, FL
Diocese of St. Augustine

Aura Castillo, an eighth grader at Sacred Heart Catholic School, has generously volunteered her time and talents in service of her community. She has been an instrumental member of the Catholic Evangelization and Action Project (CEAPs). As a member of CEAPs, she has given of herself in a variety of ways at Sacred Heart Catholic School and Parish. She has especially made an impact in the Spanish Catholic Community through volunteer efforts such as providing childcare services for children of parents involved in Spanish Marriage Ministry. She is often attending to the needs of her school community through acts of service such as taking up the role of lector at weekly school Masses, leading discussions with her peers during EDGE (the teen youth group), and organizing rosters of tutors for the National Junior Honor Society. She has also led her peers in acts of environmental stewardship by beautifying the campus through landscaping and planting trees.

Sophie Diaz
Grade: 8
Age: 13
St. Mel School, Fair Oaks, CA
Diocese of Sacramento

Sophie is a vibrant member of her school community and puts her faith into action in a variety of ways. She is involved in the faith life of her school by sharing the Word of God as a lector. Sophie has led rosaries and prayer services sponsored by the Student Council, and she has been a member of the Religious and Academic Decathlon. Sophie has found a special mission in community service and social justice. She generously volunteered in ministry to the homeless and underserved populations at Loaves and Fishes as well as the Sacramento Food Bank. Her passion for stewardship and the care of God’s creation inspired her to serve as the Student Council Commissioner of Ecology as well as participate in the SPCA, the Sacramento Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Sophie has worked valiantly towards taking care of the environment through community service projects such as a composting program for fruits and vegetables, school-wide recycle days, and fundraisers for animal supplies. At home and school, she has tried to maintain an eco-friendly lifestyle by embracing a vegan diet, buying food in bulk, and carrying metal straws, cutlery, mason jars, and reusable water bottles in her backpack. Her goal is to show her peers that it is possible to make a difference in our world, even at a young age.

Caden Dusablon
Grade: 5
Age: 10
St. John Regional Catholic School, Frederick, MD
Archdiocese of Baltimore

Caden, along with his family, has been spreading kindness to others for the past five years. Caden unexpectedly lost his sister, Olivia Grace, on Christmas Eve in 2014. She was only two weeks shy of her fourth birthday. In honor of his sister, he helped create two organizations to serve others within his community. The first—Remembering Olivia though Acts of Kindness—was created in December of 2015 and centers on the idea of doing random acts of kindness to brighten someone’s day. This initiative runs from December 1st through January 5th, Olivia’s birthday. In November, Caden sends out over 5,000 cards across the world to participants, encouraging random acts of kindness. These acts can be buying a coffee for a friend, helping an elderly person with groceries, baking cookies for the maintenance staff at church, giving a gift to a sick child in the hospital, doing chores for a neighbor, and many others. Through random acts of kindness, the participants not only remember Olivia but also bring joy to others. The second organization—the Liv On Foundation—serves families who struggle with childhood illness and have experienced the devastating loss of a child or parent. Caden and his family wanted to help others find hope, joy, and peace after such a tragedy. Each year, Caden participates in a virtual 5k run to raise money for families in need. The money raised through the Liv On Foundation goes towards funding retreats and other services to aid in healing as a family. In the past four years, the foundation has sent three grieving families on retreat. Caden helps to create care packages and meets with families who have experienced a similar loss, accompanying the children as they look for ways to find peace through such difficult times. The Dusablon family has also created a scholarship at Caden’s school in Olivia’s name. This $1,000 scholarship helps a rising first grader further their Catholic education.

Danielle Garger
Grade: 11
Age: 16
Our Lady of Mercy Catholic High School, Fayetteville, GA
Archdiocese of Atlanta

Danielle’s older sister was diagnosed with Langerhans cell histiocytosis, a rare form of cancer, when she was five years old. She was blessed to be treated by excellent doctors and provided with abundant resources for kids like her. One of these resources was Camp Sunshine, which she attended for twelve years. Camp Sunshine is a nonprofit organization that “enriches the lives of Georgia’s children with cancer and their families through recreational, educational, and support programs” (Camp Sunshine Mission Statement). In gratitude, Danielle felt called to give back. During Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, Danielle helped her school “Go Gold” for childhood cancer by selling t-shirts in support of Camp Sunshine. Danielle designed these shirts with bright gold to symbolize not only the profound loss that childhood cancer brings but also the great light that children are in the world. Almost half of the student body got involved! Along with greater awareness of the reality of childhood cancer, selling these shirts brought in hundreds of dollars to Camp Sunshine, funds which go towards putting a camper through the program or hosting an event. Every penny goes towards making the lives of children and their families a little more golden.

Reagan Elizabeth Garnsey
Grade: 7
Age: 12
Holy Cross School, Dover, DE
Diocese of Wilmington

One day in March of 2017, while Reagan was having lunch with her close friend, Michele, the idea for the Buckets of Love Foundation was formed. They brainstormed various ways they could serve their community and decided to make a particular effort to help better the lives of children. With passion and zeal, they left the restaurant with a great deal of work to do and made tremendous progress over the next few months. Reagan’s younger sister, Payton, joined the team to help realize their goals, and they established an official 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in the state of Delaware. Their work included a wide range of components such as website and video creation, a letter-writing campaign, and finding and washing buckets. Since that time, the foundation has brought 6,829 Buckets of Love to young children who are sick, homeless, or experiencing other challenging situations. In all 50 states, these Buckets of Love—which contain toys, games, and crafts—have brought joy to children who need it most.

Adam Mocho
Grade: 10
Age: 15
St. Edward High School, Lakewood, OH
Diocese of Cleveland

Adam is a leader in his school community in many ways, but he has made a particular impact in his ministry to those who need help providing food, especially the homeless. He has volunteered in time and energy with Labre Ministry every week since before he started high school. He prepares food and then visits the needy in the homeless camps of Cleveland. What is most remarkable about Adam’s work is how he has been able to encourage others to join him in his ministry. He has gotten parents, siblings and grandparents involved, and he has encouraged his younger classmates and others in the community as well. His generosity and zeal has shone brightly, especially on days he has sacrificed his vacation time to volunteer at the food pantry. Without Adam’s willingness to serve and initiative to encourage others, many of these efforts would be impossible. Adam has made a habit of putting others before himself and thus shown his community how to see the face of Christ in those who suffer.

Kellen Napier Newman
Grade: 12
Age: 17
St. Xavier High School, Cincinnati, OH
Archdiocese of Cincinnati

Kellen, along with his friends, founded Sole Bros Inc. in 2015 to serve the needy in a special way by providing shoes to those who cannot afford them. Since that time, this 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization has collected and distributed over 6,000 pairs of quality sneakers to young people across a number of countries including, Ghana, Jamaica, and the United States. In 2018, Sole Bros opened their Sneaker Closets in the West End at Revelation Baptist Church stocked with sneakers and housing KP’s Corner—in honor of their friend and former classmate Kyle Plush. These efforts provide free tennis equipment to the youth of the area. The group has also hosted Warm4Winter513, which ensured that hundreds of Greater Cincinnati residents had warm coasts and boots in the bitterly cold winter months. Sole Bros has expanded by partnering with other nonprofit organizations that deliver services in areas with extremely limited resources. They have also written and published a children’s book entitled, “Sole Bros Change the World.” Kellen’s role in the organization includes raising funds, speaking to kids and church groups, media interviews, creating social media campaigns, and hosting sneaker drives across the country. Among his peers, Kellen has earned the title “the plug” because of his ability to connect so well to the children they’re serving. When they travelled to Jamaica to deliver the sneakers, he was the first to embrace the children and share his enthusiastic energy and love. When he speaks of his travels and time with underprivileged children, it is clear that his experiences have moved him deeply.

Ireland Nordstrom
Grade: 8
Age: 13
St. Joseph School, Fairhaven, MA
Diocese of Fall River

Ireland spearheaded the immense task of helping provide 1.5 million buttons for the Bristol Community College Holocaust Center Button Project. These buttons will be used to create Memorial Murals honoring the 1.5 million children who died during the Holocaust. For over a year, Ireland has been promoting this button collection project and gathering donations. Affectionately known as the “button girl,” Ireland has placed collection jars throughout local schools, churches, libraries, and nursing homes. She routinely collects, sorts, and delivers them to the college. In support of her cause, Ireland created a flyer which she has mailed to schools worldwide, including those in England, France, Italy, Australia, Dubai, and Singapore. As a result of her hard work and commitment to the project, she received an excess of 300,000 buttons. Many people have responded with letters of gratitude, encouragement, and financial support. When asked why this project mattes to Ireland, she said, “When I see so many buttons and think that each one represents a life, a person, a child just like me, I can't believe it. It is very sad, and we need to keep this message alive...respecting life and allowing kids to grow up and have good lives is what we need to work for.”

Scarlett Wedergren
Grade: 12
Age: 18
Marian High School, Omaha, NE
Archdiocese of Omaha

On a service immersion trip to Batey Dos in the Dominican Republic in the summer of 2017, Scarlett was shocked by the intense poverty that she witnessed. Many in the community sorely lacked provisions of basic needs like clean water, housing, nutrition, and electricity. This reality shook her to the core, and so she decided to do something that would help. She gathered some local Batey children, gave them colored pencils, and encouraged them to start drawing. As she brought the art home to Omaha and researched the political and social context of the Dominican Republic, Scarlett established the Batey Love greeting card project. After securing donations for printing and packaging services, she enlisted family and friends to assist in the assembly process. On the front of the cards were colorful drawings by the children of Batey Dos, while the back included individualized descriptions of the Batey living conditions that related to the artwork and then offered a call to action. Scarlett marketed and sold greeting card sets to a wide range of individuals anxious to support her cause. The proceeds of the project have helped fund Pascal’s Pantry, a community kitchen in Batey Dos.