Six Long Island students were among 478 nationwide last month to receive the most prestigious award bestowed upon a youth civilian by the U.S. Congress.
The students were issued the 2020 Congressional Award Gold Medal for achievements that include accumulating more than 800 hours over the span of at least two years in the areas of community service, personal development and physical fitness. They were mailed their medals in time for a virtual ceremony last month.
The recipients were Kaitlyn Berger of Northport, Ryan Czarkowski of Port Washington, Sahit Dokku of New Hyde Park, Dhruv Malhotra of Melville, Alp Sander Turgut of Westbury, and Diya Varma of Dix Hills. Berger, Dokku and Varma are seniors at Northport, Herricks and St. Anthony's high schools, respectively; Czarkowski, Malhotra and Turgut graduated this summer from the Port Washington, Half Hollow Hills and Jericho school districts, respectively.
"I learned to appreciate how much even small gestures mean to others and how helping others makes me feel like a better, happier, person," said Berger, whose community service efforts included having cooked and delivered thousands of meals to senior citizens in lower-income subsidized housing as well as creating personalized gift bags for those in need.
Statewide, there were 26 gold medalists this year, the fifth most among U.S. states. California led the way with 139.
Minnesauke Elementary School sixth-graders Chiara Lubarsky and Dua Shahbaz, and P.J. Gelinas Junior High School seventh-grader Samantha Dalmage were among 60 award winners in the 2020 International Interdependence Hexagon Project coordinated by the Interdependence Hexagon Project, a Pennsylvania-based all-volunteer nonprofit community arts organization.
The contest called for artists to create artwork using the hexagon as a metaphor for interdependence and interconnectedness, with this year's students encouraged to create submissions that promoted global citizenship and civic literacy.
Chiara's submission won in the contest's COVID-19 category; Dua's submission won in the interdependence category; and Samantha's submission won in the diversity category.
Fluorescent light covers
Moriches Elementary School fifth-grader Caitlyn Michiels recently donated 300 fluorescent light covers to her district's elementary schools to help diffuse and soften fluorescent light for those with visual impairments, attention disorders and epilepsy.
Caitlyn is the founder of Caitlyn's Vision, a nonprofit organization that focuses on raising funds and awareness for those suffering from eye disease. To date, the nonprofit has collected hundreds of used eyeglasses and raised $25,000 toward scholarship funds and the purchase of light covers.
"All I want to do is help other kids like me," said Caitlyn, who has anterior bilateral uveitis, a rare disease that causes inflammation of the eye's middle layer.
Jessica Yawney-Kohler is the new principal of West Babylon Junior High School. She replaced Daniel McKeon.
Yawney-Kohler was previously the school's assistant principal and before that was a school counselor, a college and career counselor, and an administrative intern in the Deer Park School District.
"I recognize just how special this building, its staff and its students are, which is why I am so honored to have been selected as the new principal," she said. "For the past four years, I have had the privilege to call myself a West Babylon Eagle, but being a part of this community during this time of crisis in which we have all worked to take care of one another … has deepened my commitment, and I couldn't be any prouder to have been chosen to lead this outstanding team."