An Indian-American student has been named the Top Youth Volunteer of New York by a national program.
High school student Kunal Mohindra, 16, of Yorktown Heights along with middle school student Victoria Holmes, 13, of Corning were named New York’s top two youth volunteers of 2020, on Feb. 4, by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism.
As State Honorees, each of them will receive $1,000, an engraved silver medallion and an all-expense-paid trip in early May to Washington, D.C., where they will join the top two honorees from each of the other states and the District of Columbia for four days of national recognition events. During the trip, 10 students will be named America’s top youth volunteers of 2020, a press release from Prudential Financial, said.
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, now in its 25th year, is conducted by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).
Mohindra is the High School State Honoree nominated by Yorktown High School where he studies.
The 16-year old has drawn from his own experience with autism to become an “accomplished teacher and mentor” who helps children with autism and other young people acquire computer coding and robotics skills, the press release noted. It also recounted his life experiences growing up when as a child his autism made it very difficult for him to communicate with his family.
But one day his older sisters taught him how to use computer programming to create games, and his whole world changed.
“I found this new mode of communication to be very liberating and empowering,” he is quoted saying in the press release. Having an outlet for self-expression and creativity eventually enabled him to overcome many of his challenges, and instilled a desire “to share my love of coding with other students with disabilities who may be facing similar struggles,” he said.
Two years ago, Kunal founded a nonprofit called “CodeConnect4All” to teach coding and robotics to kids with autism and other disabilities, and connect them to their neurotypical peers. Through his organization, Kunal teaches classes in robotics and video game design at local libraries, and conducts interactive workshops at after-school enrichment programs. He also teaches kids with autism and students from underserved communities at week-long summer camps, giving them hands-on experience in building their own robots and writing code for their own video games.
As an Eagle Scout, Kunal helps fellow scouts earn badges in robotics, programming and engineering.
He also works with Girl Scouts in hopes of kindling their interest in computer science.
In addition, Kunal mentors middle level students as they prepare for science fairs, and even sponsored an award at the Dutchess County Science Fair.
The awards program judges also recognized eight other New York students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
At least two of the Distinguished Finalists are of South Asian origin:
Viraj Jayam, 16, of Roslyn Heights, New York, a junior at The Wheatley School, founded “Helping Hands Long Island,” through which he uses 3-D printing to create tailored prosthetics for people in need; he learned how to operate the technology and partnered with another prosthetics charity organization to provide prosthetics to people in India, Nepal and Mexico. Viraj was inspired to start this project after his childhood friend from India lost an arm in a factory accident.
Jahin Rahman, 16, of New York City, New York, a junior at Academy of American Studies, founded “Efforts in Youth Development of Bangladesh (EYDB),” an organization run by students in New York City and Dhaka, Bangladesh; her group has built a library and computer lab, established a literary program, and donated clothing to benefit children from underserved communities in Bangladesh. Through EYBD, Jahin is currently working to establish a drug rehabilitation center in the Dhaka area.
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards represents the United States’ largest youth recognition program based solely on volunteer service. All public and private middle level and high schools in the country, as well as all Girl Scout councils, county 4-H organizations, American Red Cross chapters, YMCAs and Points of Light Global Network members, were eligible to select a student or member for a local Prudential Spirit of Community Award.