2021 - 2022 NCEA Youth Virtues, Valor and Vision Award Winners

NCEA is pleased to announce the recipients of the 2021 - 2022 NCEA Youth Virtues, Valor and Vision Award. A formal press announcement is forthcoming.

The NCEA Youth Virtues, Valor and Vision Award program is made possible, in part, through the generosity and support of Archangel Tablets, 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 Tablets is available online.

NCEA received an outstanding response to the Call for Nominations from across the country. Each student nominated was truly amazing. These 17 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:

Sofia Alvarez
Age: 17
St. Thomas Aquinas High School, Fort Lauderdale, FL
Archdiocese of Miami

Senior Sofia Alvarez, a senior at St. Thomas Aquinas High School gives her heart and soul to many clubs and organizations. After the hurricane hit Haiti this year, Sofia took it upon herself to organize a drive to assist Project St. Anne and support families who are struggling in Haiti. Sofia organized a drive designed to collect supplies most needed in Haiti.

Once the drive was completed, those necessities were shipped to the poorest areas of Haiti, which were also the hardest hit. Sofia worked to collect more than 4,000 items for this drive.  Sofia is charitable through her other clubs and honor societies, as well. She is an active member of Raiders for Autism, CARE Club (supporting patients with cancer), six honor societies as well as several other notable clubs. Sofia has earned an excess of 530 community service hours and continues to work to earn more. She is dedicated because she enjoys giving back to her community as well as assisting other communities in need. She exhibits a truly selfless nature and lives a life of service.

Sofia took the initiative and single-handedly planned an entire drive for families negatively impacted by hurricane season in the fall 2021. In her school community, Sofia's leadership and actions are seen by all students and she is a role model on the campus.

Lauren Augustine
Grade: 12
Age: 17
Bishop Moore Catholic High School, Orlando, FL
Diocese of Orlando

A current Bishop Moore Catholic High School senior, Lauren Augustine relayed her feelings over the diminished sense of community she felt during the height of the pandemic last year. With many of her friends learning remotely, Lauren missed the fellowship with her peers and opportunities for service that she had enjoyed in prior years. It was over a conversation during lunch one day that Lauren and a friend felt a call to action and Food for Thought was born. In Lauren's words, she realized that “love is a gift of self to others.”

Lauren reached out to Sr. Kristi Bergman, her teacher in The Theology of Human Love, whom she credits with inspiring so much of her thinking on morality. Partnering with Catholic Charities, Lauren created blessing bags for local homeless people that included snacks, toilet paper and other hygiene items. Lauren supplies blessing bags to Catholic Charities and she carries a supply of bags in her car to pass out to homeless people she encounters on her daily commute and encourages her family to do the same. 

In addition, Lauren helped to initiate a new format for the BMC school-wide Thanksgiving drive, inspiring her peers to collect meals for families instead of cans as has been done in earlier years. Through her service, Lauren honors the dignity of each family that receives food. When asked how she thought her work was heroic Lauren answered, “Heroism is helping others. You don't have to be part of a large organization; any time you help someone in need, it's heroic.”

After graduation, Lauren plans to continue her mission in college and hopes to seek out professors and peers willing to share in her vision. She is proud of leaving a legacy at Bishop Moore Catholic through Food for Thought and sees it as an opportunity in which she can live out her Catholic faith in college.

Isabella Cubillas
Grade: 12
Age: 17
Academy of Our Lady of Peace, San Diego, CA
Diocese of San Diego

Isabella Cubillas, a senior at the Academy of Our Lady of Peace is the founder and president of the on-campus social justice club called Tijuana Sin Hambre. The work of this club supports a non-profit organization by the same name, which was started by Isabella's cousin during the height of the pandemic.

Isabella has spent more than 750 hours this past year, volunteering her time with this organization. She spends her available free time helping deliver food and donations of home goods to low-income families living in poverty in Tijuana, Mexico. Isabella says that the most meaningful part of her involvement is being able to speak with the children and families who have welcomed her into their lives.

Isabella has used her voice to spread awareness on the issues of food scarcity for low-income families, especially since the pandemic began. She has invited and encouraged many of her peers to get involved in this cause as well. She has educated and empowered the entire student community to use their voices for change.

Morgan Kimener
Grade: 8
Age: 13
Saint Gregory the Great Catholic School, Virginia Beach, VA
Diocese of Richmond

St. Gregory the Great Catholic School eighth grader Morgan Kimener showed virtue, valor and vision by reaching out to the elderly during the pandemic. She took Psalm 71:9 to heart and wrote weekly letters to her paternal grandparents, Michael and Lorraine Kimener. Morgan and her grandparents exchanged letters about everything and nothing, from books they read to crafts they completed and mundane daily events that only people who are very close to each other care about. 

The Kimeners' neighbor, Mrs. Linda Franzitta, inquired about the frequent mail. When they told her they were in an ongoing letter exchange with Morgan, Mrs. Franzitta expressed how much she yearned to receive frequent messages from her grandchildren but that they were not forthcoming. Morgan made her an honorary grandmother, wrote to her frequently and Mrs. Franzitta happily responded and within a few weeks, Morgan became engaged in written communication with fifteen seniors. 

Morgan's sweet exchange was not limited to the elderly. One of her favorite pen pals is a three-year-old boy with type I diabetes. With his immune system severely compromised, he is home alone, under his mother's frightened and watchful eye. Her letters to him include coloring pages, funny stories and stickers. The little boy responds by drawing pictures about the important happenings in his limited world.

Eager to share the hope and comfort she finds in the word of God, Morgan paints her favorite uplifting Bible verses on seashells she gathered as vacation souvenirs and places them in public parks and other easily accessible areas.

Michael "Mikey" Kuhn
Grade: 7
Age: 13
St. Lawrence Catholic School, Tampa, FL
Diocese of St. Petersburg

Mikey Kuhn, a seventh grader at St. Lawrence Catholic School, his brother Christian and two cousins started a non-profit organization called Kids 4 A Cause. Mikey was moved by the outpouring of love he experienced from his community after the unexpected death of his father. Following that experience, he wanted to give back to the community. Initially, this began with random acts of kindness and then grew into monthly projects.

Through Kids 4 A Cause, Mikey and his family look at the needs of the community and find ways to address those needs. For example, last December their special activity was The Santa Shoebox Project. They delivered 500 boxes of essential supplies to the homeless, in shoeboxes wrapped for Christmas. Mikey recalls "When I handed an older homeless man a box the man said, 'Wow, you guys are the best. I can't remember last time I had a Christmas present,'" which Mikey said touched his heart and humbled him.

Mikey then invited the school to contribute to community service by collecting cereal boxes for the Cereal Box Domino Challenge for the St. Lawrence Outreach Center. Close to 400 boxes of cereal were donated after that drive.

Involving the school community helped raise awareness of the needs of others in the local area, which is the call of every Christian; to care for our brothers in need. Mikey and Christian exemplify this calling and continue to inspire other students. This coming December the school community plans to support the Kids 4 A Cause annual Shoebox Project.

Angelina O'Steen
Grade: 7
Age: 12
St. Mary's Bryantown Catholic School, Bryantown, MD
Archdiocese of Washington

Angelina O’Steen is a seventh grader at St. Mary’s Bryantown Catholic School and has Cystic Fibrosis. Despite her exhaustive hours of self-care at home and at school, and her hospital stays for even greater care, Angelina has committed herself to champion the cause of others with Cystic Fibrosis who cannot fight for themselves, following Jesus' call to care for the sick. She volunteers countless hours hosting her own lemonade stand fundraisers, attending fundraisers of others and building up those who are downcast during their stays in Children's National Hospital in Washington, D.C. 
Angelina’s acts of mercy for others reflect Jesus' Sermon on the Mount following the Beatitude in Matthew 5:7, "Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy." Angelina is seen at her school as a model of the “suffering servant who thinks not of herself, but of making the lives of others who follow in the years ahead be filled with improved quality, greater hope and a brighter future."

Angelina's fundraising efforts teach others how it feels to breathe with CF. Every breath is a reminder of her CF, but she doesn't allow it to keep her from leading an active life. She is a model to others of overcoming, a teacher to others to raise awareness of the need for more research leading to a cure and an advocate for those who cannot speak for themselves. She makes a difference in the lives of her peers and adults alike by choosing joy each day. Daily, she can be seen encouraging classmates by walking beside them to see them through their struggles. Her positive attitude and selfless persistence make Angelina a hero in school, in the community and in her work at Children's National Hospital.

Jeffrey "JJ" Wall
Grade: 11
Age: 16
Chaminade Julienne Catholic High School, Dayton, OH
Archdiocese of Cincinnati

Jeffrey (JJ) Wall, a junior at Chaminade Julienne Catholic High School, discovered a talent early in his when taking martial arts lessons at six years old. Now he is a black belt in Tang Soo Do (Korean martial arts discipline) and has taken his skills to a new audience, senior citizens! 

At age 13, JJ founded the non-profit organization Golden Age Karate. He goes to nursing homes and senior apartment complexes to teach classes free of charge to interested residents. His goal is to help the seniors develop strength, confidence and overall better health, not to mention fun. He produced videos of his classes and adopted other safe and unique methods to keep the momentum going.
His efforts have garnered national attention including being featured on CNN, in O Magazine and as a featured guest on The Doctors television show. He will be the first to tell you that while the attention is nice, the best part of this work is his relationships with his students, whom he calls “Super Nanas” and “Super Grandpas.”

In 2020, when no-contact rules due to COVID were in place, he used Golden Age Karate to coordinate a Secret Santa program that adopted all the residents of a local senior residence, providing them with Christmas gifts. JJ developed a YouTube channel and produced new workout videos every week. He used social media to request cards to send to his students, making sure they were signed and delivered to each resident of the nursing home where he taught, including those who were not his students.

JJ is also active at Chaminade Julienne Catholic High School, where he participates in athletics and takes honors and AP classes and is an Eagle Ambassador. Additionally, he invites classmates to join in the mission of Golden Age Karate, providing students with an opportunity to participate in Christ's work by helping them earn service hours.

Kyle Acosta, Cesar Glass, Logan Jacks, Adam Kowalik, Kieran Slade and Charlie Smith
Grade: 8
Age: 13
St. Ann Catholic School, West Palm Beach, FL
Diocese of Palm Beach

This group of boys, all eighth graders at St. Ann Catholic School, began helping in fourth grade to deliver school food donations to the church Food Pantry. They became a club in fifth grade called the Food Pantry Crew. Weekly they deliver donations to the St. Ann Food Pantry, help to put it away and put together bags that are handed out to those in need. They spread awareness to the other classes speaking to them about the Food Pantry and the ongoing need for donations to help feed people in our community. 

This year they organized and ran a Thanksgiving Food Drive and have collected more than 1,000 pounds of food. This is in addition to being great students, athletes and school leaders. They graduate this year, but they have gotten younger kids excited about helping so they will train a new class to take over the responsibilities when they leave and the club and the help it provides will continue.

They have remained consistent in their commitment to the job over many years, when most teenagers become too busy or uninterested. They do the job with very little recognition or thanks. They show the younger kids what commitment, kindness and taking care of the community looks like and they get them excited about it. This is all the things our Catholic faith embodies – humility, kindness, love and spreading the message.

Amelie Beck and Jacqueline Teague
Grade: 10 (Amelie), 11 (Jacqueline)
Age: 15 (Amelie), 17 (Jacqueline)
Sacred Heart Academy, Louisville, KY
Archdiocese of Louisville

Amelie Beck and Jacqueline Teague, Sacred Heart Academy sophomore and junior respectively, are cousins who launched VaxConnect KY after recognizing that their grandparents' struggle with registering for the COVID-19 vaccine also was a challenge for many senior citizens.

They created a program to assist the elderly and those in need with online vaccine scheduling.  They saw that many were desperate and intimidated by the online COVID-19 vaccine scheduling process and knew they could offer much needed tech support and provide a personal connection. They learned that numerous people were without iPhone, internet and computers, which made those people feel frustrated and hopeless in ever getting registered for a vaccine appointment.

Amelie and Jacqueline took the initiative to call the Governor's office. The Governor took their advice and quickly implemented a new phone line for people to call and register for vaccine appointments. The girls soon recognized they could make an impact beyond Kentucky. With significant media coverage they expanded their outreach sharing templates, PDF samples and tips and tricks with volunteers in IL, GA, NE, CA and Washington, D.C., the AARP and KY senators.  They also sent President Joe Biden notes advocating simplification of the process.  

To date, they have helped more than 2100 people and estimate they have each spent more than 700 hours working the campaign. Through their newfound connections with AARP and other local groups, they are presently working to host telehealth training seminars this year to offer people disconnected from technology a pathway to becoming educated about telehealth and navigating eMedicine.

Bella Sauter and Riley Sauter
Grade: 12
Age: 18
Bishop Lynch High School, Dallas, TX
Diocese of Dallas

Bishop Lynch High School seniors, Bella Sauter and Riley Sauter, started Feed the People (FTP) during a stay-at-home order at the beginning of the pandemic to combat hunger among the city's growing homeless population. Rather than ignoring the homeless situation, Riley and her younger sister Bella got to work and made 50 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to drop off in downtown Dallas along with a few cases of water.  

The sisters have since provided 67,550 meals as of Nov. 5, 2021. The peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are now accompanied by chips, granola bars and other snacks all in FTP brown paper bags hand labelled with FTP in a heart. They have also formed multiple community partnerships receiving food donations from local bakeries and companies.  

Bella and Riley have taken the charism of service, central to school life at BL, and created FTP and, most importantly, sustained an outpouring of actionable care for others. Their can-do attitude and volunteer spirit have inspired the student body. Several houses and mentor groups in the BL House System have adopted FTP as a charitable activity. FTP supplies the food and bags and BL students create an assembly line to fill hundreds of bags and FTP makes their twice a week deliveries, providing 200 – 450 quality lunch sacks.  

FTP has expanded its charitable reach with a school uniform drive, candy and costume drives for Halloween and Christmas shoeboxes. There is now a Feed the People in Houston because the sisters inspired family members there to help. 
The sisters have received local media coverage for their charitable work, which has given them a great platform to promote the importance of giving to people in need.