Spirit of Service: National Student Volunteer Award Recipient Caitlin George
By Matt Konrad
Since it began in 1958, Scholarship America’s Dollars for Scholars movement has been powered by the selfless work of volunteers across the country—and those volunteers have included tens of thousands of students. Each year, we honor one exceptional graduating senior in a Dollars for Scholars community with the National Student Volunteer Award, and we’re proud to announce that Caitlin George of Phoenix, New York is our 2020 honoree!
As a student at John C. Birdlebough High School, Caitlin served for four years as her class president, earned valedictorian honors and excelled at track and volleyball. She also logged more than 1,500 hours of volunteer service—but her passion for helping her community started well before her freshman year.
“When I was nine years old, my [13-year-old] brother and I saw an article about fifty huskies that were rescued from a puppy mill in the county we live in. They were in horrible condition and needed food, supplies and medical care. We wanted to help, so we contacted the animal welfare league to see what we could do,” she recalls. “Up until that point I had helped out with some community service projects through school, but this was the first one I did on my own. We collected supplies and held fundraisers … thankfully all the dogs were adopted! Each year since then we have continued to help with animal rescue projects.”
As a fifth grader, Caitlin initiated her longest-standing volunteer project, which she says is still closest to her heart: creating “Blizzard Bags” for elderly residents served by Oswego County Meals on Wheels.
The Blizzard Bag project finds Caitlin raising funds, getting donations, shopping for supplies and putting together hundreds of bags of meal supplies—complete with greeting cards and decorations. “Each year, my goal increases and I recruit more helpers to provide a day’s worth of food in bags for the elderly in case their daily meal is canceled due to inclement weather,” Caitlin says. “I’ve raised over $5,000 for my project, which helps provide food for over 600 elderly clients each year. Hunger is a huge problem in my area, and it makes me happy to know that people will have a warm meal on a cold day.”
To help support community hunger initiatives, Caitlin also volunteers at her local food pantry and participates in the Crop Walk for hunger. And she manages to bring her volunteer interests together: part of her student leadership at the “Bridge House Brats” summer program involved having local kids work together and help assemble the Blizzard Bags. Even while volunteering herself, she’s giving the next generation of student volunteers an important lesson.
“At first it was intimidating to go up and talk to adults about my projects, but after the first few times, I got better and better at doing it,” she says, addressing the challenges facing young volunteers. “I learned that my words and actions could motivate others, so it became easier to have conversations with people about my ideas.”
Caitlin credits both her brother Jonathan and her service mentor, Cathy Lee, as major influencers on her dedication to her community. “My brother was very active in community service, and I definitely followed in his footsteps. He is currently an AmeriCorps leader and is also a Service Scholar at St. John Fisher College. When I saw the projects, he was involved in throughout the years, it made me want to get involved too,” she says. “Cathy Lee … runs the ‘Bridge House Brats’ program, and she also volunteers at my high school. It was through her that I was involved in ringing the bell each year for the Salvation Army, participating in events like a senior citizen shopping trip and dance and helping out at numerous community events.”
This fall, Caitlin is joining her brother at St. John Fisher College (SJFC) in Rochester, New York. She is one of 24 students in her class to be selected for the school’s Service Scholar program, and will be continuing her volunteer work both on campus and off. “I will have the opportunity to participate in the ‘Teddi Dance for Love’ to raise money for Camp Good Days for children dealing with cancer and other life challenges, and to go on a service trip to Kingston, Jamaica to help run a week-long camp with Jamaican Advantage Through Sports for Youth (JASY).”
In the classroom, Caitlin is pursuing pre-pharmacy, and has been pre-accepted into a six-year program that will allow her to finish her undergraduate degree early and pursue a doctorate in pharmacy.
“I would like to be a clinical pediatric pharmacist in a hospital, where I could see patients and help prescribe medications to make their lives better,” she says. “I had a horrible concussion when I was younger and no medications ever helped the chronic headaches that I suffered with for years. I want to help children who suffer from chronic pain.”
True to her volunteering spirit, Caitlin continues to focus on serving those in need. She’s started on-campus classes and sports practices at SJFC and, while COVID-19 precautions make an impact, she isn’t slowing down.
“COVID-19 hasn’t changed my educational goals at all,” she says. “Serving my community has really helped shape who I am and how I see my future. I know I want to pursue a career where I can continue to help others.”