Recent Roosevelt graduate Kaiya Laguardia of Portland and 13-year-old Jacob Van of Beaverton were named Oregon’s top youth volunteers of 2020 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism. 

Kaiya Laguardia

Kaiya produced a 16-minute documentary video on the movement opposing the construction of a military base in Okinawa, Japan, where her mother was born. Kaiya went to Okinawa for her 2019 spring break and spent every day interviewing people for the film. “The editing process was tough, especially because I don’t have access to that kind of equipment at home, so I had to stay in the computer lab at school late every night,” says Kaiya. “It took well over 500 hours to go through all the footage and decide what to include.”

Jacob Van

And Jacob Van, a student at The International School of Beaverton, has been fundraising for causes dear to him — cancer patients who can’t afford treatment and people experiencing homelessness who need warm winter gear. “When I was 6 years old, I started reading biographies about Mother Teresa. And one particular quote that stuck with me is, ‘I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples,’” says Jacob.

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As State Honorees, Kaiya and Jacob each received $1,000 and an engraved silver medallion. They were supposed to also go on an all-expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C., to meet their counterparts from across the nation for a four-day program. Instead, the program was held virtually due to COVID-19. “It was sad not being able to physically meet everyone who has been recognized, but it was still a great experience,” says Kaiya. “It made me excited for what the future holds when it comes to leadership and community organizing.”

Kaiya and Jacob also received an extra $2,500 each to donate to a COVID-19-related nonprofit. Jacob gave to Michelle’s Love, which specifically helps single parents dealing with cancer, because immunosuppressed people are at higher risk of COVID-19 complications. And Kaiya is donating to 350 Pacific, a network of Pacific Islander activists fighting climate change and helping to organize communities hit by storms and emergencies during this pandemic.

Denise Castañon
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