Gitanjali Rao, 15, of Lone Tree and Lindsay List, 13, of Englewood were recently named Colorado’s top youth volunteers of 2021 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, America’s largest youth recognition program based exclusively on volunteer service.
As State Honorees, Gitanjali and Lindsay will each receive a $2,500 scholarship, a silver medallion and an invitation to the program’s virtual national recognition celebration in April, where 10 of the 102 State Honorees will be named America’s top youth volunteers of the year. Those 10 National Honorees will earn an additional $5,000 scholarship, a gold medallion, a crystal trophy for their nominating organization and a $5,000 grant for a nonprofit charitable organization of their choice.
High School State Honoree: Gitanjali Rao
Nominated by STEM School Highlands Ranch
Gitanjali, a sophomore at STEM School Highlands Ranch, has reached more than 30,000 students around the world, encouraging younger generations to think creatively about confronting the world’s big challenges by leading online workshops where she shares the unique problem-solving methodology she created. Gitanjali is a scientist whose creations include devices to detect lead in water and diagnose opioid addiction. She also has pioneered technology to discourage cyber bullying. While working on these projects, she came up with her own process for guiding an idea from concept to reality. She started sharing this process with elementary students at her school, and received such positive feedback from the kids, parents and teachers that she realized she could take it to students beyond her school “to inspire them to create their own creative solutions to world problems,” she said.
Gitanjali organized her process into an easy-to-understand format, documented it, and created a workshop curriculum with lesson plans and resources for research labs, contests and mentorships. Then she began working with schools, after-school camps, gifted-student programs, girls’ STEM groups, and eventually, international organizations to hold workshops for students around the world. She currently holds 2-3 sessions a week, each attended by about 150 students. “The vision is to introduce innovation tools and techniques earlier in our education, so that everybody is thinking about using science as a catalyst for social impact and change,” she said.
Middle Level State Honoree: Lindsay List
Nominated by West Middle School
Lindsay, an eighth-grader at West Middle School, collected well over 1,000 books in her community for her local Jewish Family Services (JFS) agency and her school district to help kids and others improve their reading skills. Partly because of a reading disability, Lindsay appreciates that reading is a “big part of life,” and that all children need access to books to become good readers. Moreover, “I am passionate about helping people,” said Lindsay. That was the impetus behind a book donation project called “Lindsay’s Library,” launched in late 2019.
Lindsay began her project by sending emails to friends and family members to appeal for book donations, posting a notice in her temple’s newspaper, and placing a collection box at the temple. For three months she gathered donations and purchased additional books to stock the shelves of a JFS library, delivering about 50 books a month. “Kids were the focus,” said Lindsay, “but I collected books for all ages, including people that had trouble reading English.” But when the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted her work for JFS, Lindsay found she could donate books to her school district instead. After collecting more books, she wore a mask and gloves while wiping down each one to minimize the risk of spreading germs and repackaged them in new boxes for delivery to the Cherry Creek School District.