SBHS sophomore Kiran Waqar receives the Prudential Spirit of Community Service Award.

Waqar Honored for Volunteerism

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Thursday May 19, 2016

In her first two years of high school, sophomore Kiran Waqar has been involved in many volunteer and co-curricular activities. She helped organize and direct a highly successful blanket and clothing drive for displaced citizens in Syria, and placed first in the hospitality category for a DECA (Delta Epsilon Chi and Distributive Education Clubs of America) States meeting, winning a $1,000 scholarship from Johnson and Wales University. Waqar can now add another honor to her accomplishments as she was recently named the Vermont top high school volunteer and awarded The Prudential Spirit of Community Service Award. The honor include a $1,000 prize, an engraved silver medallion, and an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington D.C. for national recognition events.

When Waqar heard about the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards via the school’s daily announcements, she decided to apply last November under the category of “Helping or Comforting the Sick.” She learned of her success through a letter that arrived at her house on February 8, the same day she won the scholarship from the DECA states meeting.

Earlier this school year, Waqar, who is the external secretary for the South Burlington High School club Coalition for Community Service (CCS), conducted a service project that gave gift bags to children in the UVM Medical Center to help them pass the time while hospitalized. The bags were filled with gender-neutral toys that could be enjoyed multiple times, such as crayons, activity books, notebooks, stuffed animals, and stickers. As part of the project, Waqar solicited Go! Toys and Games and Barnes & Noble for donations for the bags, receiving nearly $400 worth of goods for her efforts. She then accrued more financial aid through a team of volunteers who babysat for Growing Kids South Burlington, earning the project another $300. After a month of preparing, the project was complete and 50 individual bags were packed by CCS members and sent to the children in the hospital. Waqar’s goal for the project was to give the kids “something to smile about,” because “children have the right to have fun and be happy, even if it may be from a hospital bed.” The hospital staff thanked her, and were quite impressed with her contribution.

Waqar hoped that her project would illustrate the value of community service to all the CCS members who were involved, saying, “If you get a spark or a passion started, if someone’s like, ‘Oh, my gosh! That felt so great! I helped all those kids in the hospital!’ they might continue doing it, so it’s a ripple effect.”

Waqar was one of the four SBHS students in December of last year who organized a blanket drive to aid displaced Syrian citizens in refugee camps. Along with Lena Ginawi, Dina Alsaffar, and Ali Barritt, the four began with the goal of only collecting blankets, but their efforts drew attention from both the media and Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin. This awareness expanded the project dramatically. In addition to blankets, the four teens were able to secure an abundance of clothing and shoes to donate as well as cash donations. The team saw collection boxes in the University Mall, the South Burlington Community Library and the Islamic Society of Vermont’s mosque in Colchester fill to the brim each week. At the drive’s conclusion, over 5,000 items were donated and financial donations surpassed $2,000. “The Vermont community really stepped up and gave selflessly to this cause. It makes me proud to be a Vermonter,” Waqar stated.

Waqar’s volunteerism and passion for making a difference continues to find creative and unique ways to be in action. Most recently she partnered with fellow sophomore Hawa Adam from Burlington High School to create a local chapter of RESULTS, a non-profit, grassroots advocacy and educational organization committed to bringing an end to poverty. Both Waqar and Adam are first generation immigrants and share the personal impact of this project. Waqar says, “I am so fortunate to be able to live in a country that makes so many necessities so accessible. I do not have to fear hunger, preventable diseases or having a roof over my head. One reason I find RESULTS so important is that it helps bring lifesaving resources to those in need.”

In regard to launching these initiatives, Waqar points out that although a project may seem daunting at first, there are mentors at school who can help guide students in their endeavors. She says, from experience, that community service volunteers will learn the necessary skills, gain the confidence to take on bigger projects, and discover that “it’s really fulfilling, and really fun.” All you need to do is start.

SOURCE: Ali Barritt, SBHS CDC Correspondent