2018 NCEA Youth Virtues, Valor and Vision Awards Winners

NCEA is pleased to announce the recipients of the 2018 NCEA Youth Virtues, Valor and Vision Awards. A formal press announcement will be made during Catholic Schools Week 2018.

  The Youth Virtues, Valor and Vision Awards 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:

Samantha Armstrong
Grade: 8
Age: 13
Saint John School, Encinitas, CA
Diocese of San Diego

Project:
Samantha Armstrong knew something was not right in second grade when she was not seeing the words on the pages in the same way that her classmates did. She worked through many feelings of inadequacy and sadness to fully embrace her dyslexia as God’s gift to her, enabling her to help others with the same challenge. Samantha is a virtuous role model for other children with dyslexia, but she has also begun to turn her passion into a unique creation. She has completed her first book for younger students, Brain Town, and is continuing to produce books to assist students in middle school and high school. Samantha is a heroic example of the Catholic Social Teaching of solidarity: standing with others, feeling their pain, lending a hand, and changing the world for the better.


Emma Bartley
Grade: 11
Age: 16
Assumption High School, Louisville, KY
Archdiocese of Louisville

Project:
To facilitate all students' ability to do service work locally and participate in the Mission Week program, Assumption High School has a Family Program. Every student is in one of nine AHS families that consist of one homeroom at each of the school's four grades. Emma developed a new, school-wide initiative that makes service an even stronger priority for AHS students than it already is, and benefits the larger Louisville community in ways that truly live out the Gospel call to compassion and love of neighbor. This new initiative, now called Compassion Connections, is a central part of both student leadership and service programs. Emma spent many months researching which agencies throughout Louisville would be best for our nine families to align with, and volunteered hundreds of hours of time on the phone with a countless array of nonprofit leaders.


Andres Manuel Dones
Grade: 12
Age: 17
Belen Jesuit Preparatory School, Miami, FL
Archdiocese of Miami

Project:
Andres Dones felt his little brother Alejandro’s pain one too many times. Due to Alejandro's hemophilia and other physical and learning disabilities, he was often ignored and excluded by his peers. Relying on his longtime cinematic interest, Andres decided to do something about it. He created a film entitled Project SHIELD: Siblings Help Inform and Educate Everyone About Living with Disabilities. He decided to make the film in order to instill change and educate people about individuals with disabilities. Andres spotlights how his brother and twin girls at Palmetto Middle School were able to brighten each other's worlds. "He’s so much happier after he met them. They made him feel accepted and included," Andres said. "Now they are like family." The film is available on YouTube.


Juliana Esparza
Grade: 12
Age: 17
Frassati Catholic High School, Spring, TX
Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston

Project:
Juliana started a non-profit organization called Live It Out, which held its inaugural event this past summer. Her vision is to help at-risk students in the local area find their true potential. The high school drop-out rate is increasing, and approximately 45% of Hispanic high school students do not finish high school. Live It Out's first event was a summer camp held in June 2017, and it was a tremendous success. Twenty-four students were awarded full scholarships to participate. While attending the camp, students discovered their talents, passions, and skills that will serve them well now and in the future. Students developed a life plan: academic, social, and economic objectives in order to see high school as a vehicle to reach their goals. The summer camp was led by international youth coach, speaker, and author Franco Soldi, founder of Young Potential Development in The Woodlands, Texas.


Lillian Felipe
Grade: 12
Age: 17
Our Lady of Lourdes Academy, Miami, FL
Archdiocese of Miami

Project:
As a sophomore, Lillian took a leadership role and began promoting the Helping Hands club and organizing activities to “bring it back to life.” Helping Hands is a school club that focuses on aiding the disadvantaged in the community. Lillian’s persistence and hard work has been obvious, as Helping Hands is currently the largest club at Our Lady of Lourdes and the most active conducting a service project each month. These projects require hours of organization with the community, donors, schools, and members to make each project successful. Her work has resulted in the members having touched the lives of over 5,000 needy or disadvantaged families in South Florida. Projects have included food drives, preparing and delivering self-care baskets, making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, donating gifts, and organizing educational workshops.


Caroline Gonyea
Grade: 12
Age: 17
Marist Catholic High School, Eugene, OR
Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon

Project:
Project KIND is a peer-designed and led program that combats social aggression in middle schools by sparking a conversation on issues that many students encounter. Project KIND aims to cultivate a positive school atmosphere, build a unified community, foster healthy friendships, and resolve conflict. The program places emphasis on what can be done to promote a kind social culture in schools by giving practical advice and guidance to students. Caroline designed Project KIND in hopes of helping others who may be having similar social struggles in middle school to those that she had. With this in mind, she researched, developed her own curriculum, pitched her idea to the principal, gathered a team of peers, and implemented Project KIND at O’Hara Catholic School.


Kyle Moon
Grade: 12
Age: 18
St. Francis DeSales High School, Columbus, OH
Diocese of Columbus

Project:
As a freshman, Kyle established a new organization within St. Francis DeSales, Corral for the Kids, which is a student-led service initiative. Corral for the Kids generates money and awareness for pediatric cancer, with all proceeds benefiting Nationwide Children’s Hospital's Oncology/Hematology/Bone Marrow Transplant Department. As Founder and Executive Co-Chair, Kyle facilitates and oversees organization of the various events throughout the year. Since its inception, Corral for the Kids has raised over $10,000, and this number will continue to increase as the various fundraising initiatives continue. Through Corral for the Kids, Kyle has formed a community that advocates on behalf of the children affected by cancer and empowers those with the disease they are not alone.


Brycen Newman
Grade: 12
Age: 18
Cathedral Catholic High School, San Diego, CA
Diocese of San Diego

Project:
Brycen was diagnosed with brain cancer the summer before his sophomore year of high school. Now, Brycen is a senior who has survived cancer more than once. When he was in the hospital, he started thinking about a club which is now a reality at Cathedral Catholic High School. The club is called "Kids Cancer Awareness Club." Brycen, along with his peers, organize events and fundraisers to raise money for various organizations related to cancer. Brycen is a survivor who took life's toughest battle and turned it into an opportunity and a platform to help other kids in his situation. He is an inspiration to his peers and is working hard to finish high school and go on to college next year. To learn more about Brycen's story, please take time to watch this video.


Dania Ramos
Grade: 12
Age: 17
Bishop Moore Catholic High School, Orlando, FL
Diocese of Orlando

Project:
Dania is living her Catholic identity and solid education by serving some of our most vulnerable population volunteering at Arnold Palmer Hospital and Mother's Milk Bank of Orlando (MMB). The MMB supplies prematurely born babies with breast milk when their own mother's milk isn't available. This milk contains valuable nutrients and antibodies babies need to grow and thrive. Dania couples her love for science with this project by working in the laboratory to test, process, and package the human milk for distribution to partner hospitals. One ounce of milk can feed a premature baby for a day, so Dania's work behind the scenes really is life changing. Dania accomplishes all of this work while maintaining a 4.4 GPA at school, opening doors for her to pursue a career in medicine.


Dash Wedergren
Grade: 12
Age: 17
Mount Michael Benedictine School, Elkhorn, NE
Archdiocese of Omaha

Project:
Dash and another student were looking through old yearbooks during their junior year and saw the monks and students sharing meals, playing cards, and socializing after class with the students. Dash wanted to increase the interaction between the students and the monastic community, and founded the Monk Exchange Program as the first step in forming a stronger student connection with the monks. The Monk Exchange Program launched in the spring of 2017 and is run twice a month. Students sign up to go over to the Abbey, participate in night prayer, take a tour, and then enjoy socialization with members of the monastic community. Dash has worked diligently to make this program a success and he continues to add to the program to increase the connection between Mount Michael’s student body and the monastic community that makes the school possible.