CAREcorps group picture at the Oregon State Capitol in 2019. (Courtesy/Laurie Shaw Casarez)

Anna Dang said people don’t have to have a certain number of volunteer hours to be an important part of a community.

The 17-year-old McKay High School senior said it’s important to be a good person for themselves and others. That can mean holding a door open for someone or pushing a grocery cart to a store front, she said.

“Small acts of kindness are what make a community really a community,” Dang said.

She’s one of 17 graduating seniors who were honored by the city of Salem for their service work, including advocating for human rights, sharing their hopes for Salem’s future, collecting shoes for classmates and cultivating community gardens.

Seniors must complete at least 30 hours of service during their time in high school to qualify. They also get a pin.

Dang did 60 volunteer hours with CAREcorps, a summer leadership program for high school-age kids to learn leadership and personal development, as well as workforce readiness training.

“I’ve accomplished something that isn’t focused on myself,” she said. “I got to help others while also gaining an award that benefits not just me but other people. I feel connected to the city more.”

Dang said she plans to continue doing community outreach after she graduates and goes to University of Portland to studying nursing on a pre-med path.

Laurie Shaw Casarez, Salem’s youth development education outreach coordinator, said her goal is to build up a community of healthy, thriving young adults in Salem.

She said she teaches young people how to give back through service to the community.

“It’s investing in the next generation,” she said.

Cesarez runs the CAREcorps program and another project called One Thousand Soles, a competition among schools in the Salem Keizer School District to collects new and gently used shoes and then distributes them to youth shelters.

“Every teen likes their shoes and cares about their shoes and wants to fit in,” she said, adding that program allows students not to have to worry about wearing torn up shoes.

The shoe competition is what got Kenna Petry involved in volunteering.

The South Salem High School senior said participating in that program also helped her develop leadership skills.

Petry is headed to Portland State University to major in social work, with a goal of doing policy work in that area.

“I was in foster care myself, so I know personally how it goes down,” she said. “I want to take my leadership skills and place into something that is a little bit larger than the Salem community.”

Cesarez said One Thousand Soles was able to open up other opportunities for Petry.

“(It) helped shape who she is and what’s she looking to do in the future,” said Cesarez.

A full list of award winners is below:

Early College High School

Ayliah Millan - CAREcorps

Cody Schmidt (Early Graduation) – One Thousand Soles

McKay High School

Anna Dang - CAREcorps

Felix Vital – Salem Police Cadet Program

South Salem High School

Annabella (Bella) Ramey – City library Teen Advisory Board

Brinsley Hammond-Brouwer – City library Teen Advisory Board

Jasmine Hernandez -CAREcorps

Mackenna Petry – CAREcorps

Nathan Schmidt – Salem Human Rights Commission

Olexsandr Dmitrichuk – Salem Police Cadet Program

Sprague High School

Conner Oakes - CAREcorps

West Salem High School

David Bugarin Renteria - CAREcorps

Iris Perez – Salem’s Teen Action Team service leadership club

Jazmine Osorio - Salem’s Teen Action Team service leadership club

Leslie Curiel - Salem’s Teen Action Team service leadership club

Vanessa Suarez - Salem’s Teen Action Team service leadership club

Zaira Vasquez - Salem’s Teen Action Team service leadership club

Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250, [email protected] 

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