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Delaware Health and Social Services

DHSS Press Release

Date: March 20, 2015

Rita Landgraf, Secretary
Jill Fredel, Director of Communications
302-255-9047, Pager 302-357-7498


DOVER (March 20, 2015) - In recognition of their outstanding service to Delaware, 10 young people and four groups will be honored by Gov. Jack Markell with the Governor's Youth Volunteer Service Award on April 21 at the Dover Downs Hotel.

More than 300 people are expected to join the governor in honoring the young volunteers who were chosen from more than 50 nominees for the annual award. The event will begin with a reception at 5 p.m., followed by dinner at 6 p.m. and the ceremony starting at 7 p.m. Tickets are $25 per person and are available at

"It is my privilege to honor our young people for volunteering their talents to support people in need and to help strengthen our communities," Gov. Markell said. "It will be my pleasure to thank our youth for turning their passion for public service into action."

The winners by county where they volunteer are:

New Castle County: Individual winners, Nicole Mejia, New Castle; Yusuf Patel and Michael Young, both of Newark; Alex Gustafson, who lives in Chadds Ford, Pa; and group winners, Wilmington Friends School's Chapter of Mike's TEAM; and Zakat Foundation Rescue Rangers and Zakat Foundation Youth Ambassadors, both of Newark.

Kent County: Individual winners, Catrena Moore and Gioiella Del Vecchio, both of Dover; Ryan Harrington, Magnolia; Emalie Lawson, Hartly; and Christopher Wood, Viola.

Sussex County: Individual winner, Kayleigh Barnes, Seaford; and group winner, Community Dinner Youth, Seaford.

"Beyond their refreshing enthusiasm and strong leadership skills, these young volunteers also bring a different perspective to the problems we face in our communities," Department of Health and Social Services Secretary Rita Landgraf said. "Their commitment and dedication to volunteerism bode well for the future of Delaware. By reaching out to individuals in need, my hope is that these young people will embrace that critical thread of human connection for the rest of their lives."

The outstanding volunteers participated in such diverse activities as peer mentoring, creating their own programs based on needs they viewed in communities, and assisting the families of our deployed military. The 2015 Youth Volunteer Service Award recipients represent the efforts of thousands of Delawareans who make positive contributions to society and inspire others to do the same.

2015 Governor's Youth Volunteer Service Award Winners

New Castle County - Individual

Alex Gustafson
Nominator: Kari Lawrence

Alex Gustafson is a 12-year-old who has made a large impact through volunteering, blazing a new path for volunteers of all ages at the Delaware Museum of Natural History. Alex took on the role of identifying every rock and mineral in the museum's 500+ collection, and then constructing a key to order the items down to minute details. Thanks to his work, there are now several successful rock and mineral programs, and more than 500 people have had the benefit of learning about these objects.

Nicole Mejia
Human Needs
Nominator: Erin Ryan

Nicole Mejia serves as a Family Service volunteer at the Ronald McDonald House. In a time of great stress, she is one of the families' first contacts, helping to restock items in the house, cleaning, and offering help in a multitude of ways. As a founder of the Culinary Club at Cab Calloway, she works with the group to have a monthly "snack pack" at the house and raised money to buy food to prepare dinner for the house three times in 2014. She also volunteers with Hagley Museum, New Castle County's Safety Town, and Carousel Park's summer camps.

Yusuf Patel
Social Justice and Advocacy
Nominator: Murat Kose

Yusuf Patel was diagnosed with a rare disease at the age of 9 months. Since then, he has used his diagnosis to educate others, advocate for awareness, and lead organ and tissue donor campaigns. From talks at local schools, to creating videos, Yusuf is sharing his journey and encouraging others to become organ donors. One young man in the region with the same disease said that Yusuf's positive outlook and perspective helped him through the transplant process.

Michael Young
Community Service
Nominator: John Sullivan

Michael Young is an active member of both his Boy Scout Troop and the Council, working toward his Eagle Scout Badge through a service project, serving as a day camp counselor, and as a Troop Guide. Michael is also an active volunteer through Newark High School's FFA program, Marching Band, and as a youth mentor for Thurgood Marshall's Lego League. He also dedicates time to Relay for Life and Making Strides Against Breast Cancer.

Kent County - Individual

Gioiella Del Vecchio
Community Service
Nominator: Rhonda Martell

Gioiella Del Vecchio is a seventh-grader at Holy Cross with a long resume. Since starting with the Delaware Military 4-H Program, Gioiella has volunteered 861 hours to her community. She works with the Robotic Club, is a Junior Leader, a Peer Educator, and a Junior Leader of the STEM club. For all this work, Gioiella received the Military 4-H'er of the Year Award for 2014.

Ryan Harrington
Community Service
Nominator: Rhonda Martell

Ryan Harrington volunteered more than 350 hours last year through his 4-H Club and beyond. With the Delaware Military 4-H Program, Ryan was actively involved in several councils and programs, volunteering at the State Fair, State Street Assisted Living, the Food Bank, and many more organizations. Outside of 4-H, Ryan counted more than 5,000 box tops for a local PTO, served dinner to shut-ins for the Frederica Trinity United Methodist Church, and raised money for cancer research.

Emalie Lawson
Community Service
Nominator: Rhonda Martell

Emalie Lawson, a student at Dover High School, is a dedicated volunteer for the Delaware Military 4-H Program, donating 481 house of service last year alone. She is a trained peer educator for the 4-H Food Smart Families Curriculum, makes items for people in need, and leads dance classes for Food Smart to show exercise can be fun. In addition to all of this, Emalie started her own program, "My Own Books," to improve childhood literacy on Kent County.

Catrena Moore
Arts and Culture
Nominator: Rachel Wootten

As a senior at Dover High School, Catrena Moore wanted to hone her skills in horticulture work and gain experience in the field. She contacted the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs and began work assisting the revitalization of the garden at Woodburn. Soon all of the DHS Plant Science students will volunteer to maintain the garden Catrena started, creating a lasting legacy for her both Woodburn and in her school.

Christopher Jay Wood
Community Service
Nominator: Rhonda Martell

Fourteen-year-old Discover Academy student, Christopher Jay Wood, is known as a young man who never turns down an opportunity to help others. In 2014, he volunteered 250 hours for 10 nonprofit groups, one library, and submitted a grant for youth to start a garden. He is committed to his church and also helps there with fundraisers, church diners, outreach projects, and more.

Sussex County - Individual

Kayleigh Barnes
Community Service
Nominator: Suzanne Farris

Kayleigh Barnes has been an active member of the American Red Cross since 2012. In that time, she has served as a preparedness educator, community engagement team member, youth lead, and office support volunteer. Additionally, she is president of her Delmar High Red Cross Club, the Seaford Community Red Cross Club, and stated her own nonprofit organization, The Barefoot Beauties, who G.I.V.E. (Girls who Inspire, Volunteer, and Empower.)

New Castle County - Group

Wilmington Friends School
Social Justice and Advocacy
Nominator: Megan Kneisl

Since January 2014, the Wilmington Friends School (WFS) Chapter of Mike's TEAM has worked with students at the Fletcher Brown Boys and Girls Club. The 29 WFS students have impacted the lives of 100 club members and donated almost 2,000 hours. Their service goes far beyond hours. They have helped to support other young people and to provide positive role models for them.

Zakat Foundation Rescue Rangers
Community Service
Nominator: Barbara Hashem

The Zakat Foundation Rescue Rangers' mission is "to inspire others to take action and make a difference." And make a difference they have. This group of 7- to 12-year-olds has worked to help those in countries affected by disasters through back sales, selling jewelry, and holding special events. Abroad they raised thousands of dollars for those affected by Typhoon Yolanda, and at home, they helped with the Delaware Food Bank and Delaware Watershed.

Zakat Foundation Youth Ambassadors
Community Service
Nominator: Irfan Patel

The Zakat Foundation Youth Ambassadors are concerned and dedicated individuals who have spent much of the past few years serving their local and broader community. Their activities ranged from tutoring to environmental activism, and from fundraising for orphans to holding toy drives for foster children.

Sussex County - Group

Community Dinner Youth
Nominator: Amanda Meade

Every Wednesday for the last three years, the Community Dinner Youth have helped to provide hot meals for 65 people. Their goal is to serve a healthy meal and offer cooking demonstrations and education regarding chronic disease prevention. For the community, the benefit is education on healthy behaviors, and for the youth, it is the opportunity to grow and give back. A win-win for everyone.

Delaware Health and Social Services is committed to improving the quality of the lives of Delaware's citizens by promoting health and well-being, fostering self-sufficiency, and protecting vulnerable populations.

Last Updated: Thursday July 16 2015
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