Gretchen Gregor, age 13, and Jocelyn Marencik, age 17, both of Glen Allen, have been named Virginia's top youth volunteers for 2018 by the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards.
Gretchen conducted collection drives to provide new blankets to the homeless at Christmastime in Richmond, and to provide school supplies to a school in a low-income part of her community. “My motivation for both of these drives was my desire to help others,” said Gretchen. When her parents asked her in 2016 what she wanted for Christmas, she told them blankets for the homeless. She was motivated to do something to help people living on the streets of nearby Richmond. “I wanted them to feel like they mattered,” Gretchen said. “No one should be forgotten just because they can’t afford a home.”
After asking her family to donate, she set up bins where people could drop off blankets and publicized her cause through fliers and the local media. Her efforts yielded 450 brand-new blankets, which she and her mother delivered to a local shelter. Several months later, Gretchen began collecting school supplies after her math tutor moved to a school in a low-income area and told her that many of the students there couldn’t afford to buy supplies, so teachers had to use their own money. Once again, Gretchen promoted her drive through the media and collected “bins, boxes, and bags” of markers, glue sticks, notebooks and other items children need to start the school year. “It’s hard to succeed in school when you don’t have the necessary supplies,” said Gretchen.
Jocelyn has delivered nearly $20,000 worth of technology equipment to 55 classrooms in more than 25 underserved schools in the Richmond area, and offered computer coding instruction to students in four of those schools. Jocelyn, who is passionate about technology and about helping others, was inspired to start her “Got Tec Richmond” initiative after reading that only 17 percent of computer science majors in the U.S. are women and less than 8 percent of either gender are African American or Hispanic. Around the same time, a local television station ran a report about the discrepancy between the technology available in inner-city schools and the tech resources in wealthier suburban areas. “This seemed highly unfair in that it doesn’t allow every student the same opportunity to learn important 21st century skills to succeed and have their own voice,” said Jocelyn. “I wanted to find a way to balance this inequitable situation.”
She first contacted principals and board members in inner-city schools and discussed with teachers her idea of offering events to teach students computer coding. Everyone was enthusiastic, so Jocelyn began fundraising by selling hats, scarves and blankets that she crocheted, organizing aluminum recycling drives, and seeking grants and donations. With funds in hand, Jocelyn asks schools what they need, shops for equipment, and makes deliveries. Additionally, 114 elementary and middle school students have attended the “Learn to Code” events that she has organized. One such event sparked so much interest that students at that school have now started a coding club, said Jocelyn. “If you can combine your volunteerism with your passion, then it is life-changing for you and for those you’ve helped,” she said.
Youth volunteers were also recognized from Vienna, Sumerduck, Chantilly, Ashburn, Christiansburg, and Moseley. In early May, Honorees will take an all expense-paid trip with a parent or guardian to Washington, D.C., for four days of national recognition events. While in Washington, the honorees share their experiences and ideas with one another, meet top youth volunteers from Spirit of Community programs in other countries, tour the historic monuments and landmarks of the nation's capital, visit their U.S. senators on Capitol Hill, take a dinner cruise on the Potomac River, and are honored at a gala dinner and award ceremony at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. More.