Congratulations to these three finalists in the Direct Service—Youth category of the 36th Annual Mary Catherine Strobel Volunteer Awards! Vote for your favorite story of service until April 30 using the button below!
Volunteers with Best Buddies
JohnThomas Atema began volunteering with the Best Buddies organization in the sixth grade. As a peer, lunch and a homework buddy, Atema has been a consistent friend to peers with special needs because of his passion for inclusivity.
Atema has continued his services with the Best Buddies organization by serving as both vice president and president of the organization in middle school. While serving in these roles, he was recognized as the top fundraiser for the Best Buddies Walk that year and won the James C. Parker Service Award. As a high schooler, Atema has served as a peer buddy all three years and currently serves as the vice president of the high school-level organization. Moving into his senior year, he hopes to be president of the organization. He is also a part of Best Buddies International through providing videos for the organization and serving as the youngest Global Ambassador. “JohnThomas does not have to do Best Buddies because he lives Best Buddies — he has a sister with Down syndrome and lives out the organization’s mission every day. However, he has passionately chosen to be involved with this organization because he knows how important it is and has been Buddies with the same student since the seventh grade,” shared a colleague of Atema’s.
Founder of Treats and Tunes
Riya Narayan is the founder of Treats and Tunes, an organization with a mission to provide people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities with a platform to share their love for music. Through her organization, she has reached out to many assisted living centers, coordinated performances and logistics, and planned in-person and virtual events.
When Narayan recognized the impact that music can have on members of senior living and long-term care facilities, she knew that she would be able to meet that need. At age 14, Narayan founded Treats and Tunes to provide engaging activities and entertainment for members of elderly communities. Based in Franklin, Tenn., Narayan has recruited performers from across the world to share the joy of music to over 1,500 residents in assisted living centers in not only the Nashville area, but also centers in New York, Michigan, California and Vancouver, Canada. Treats and Tunes has expanded to host over 30 virtual and eight in-person events in the span of two years. Narayan has found ways to involve participants from over 10 U.S. states and four different countries, including India and Venezuela.
Despite the pandemic that affected a lot of her in-person efforts in 2020, Narayan continued to expand in ways that would be safe and still enjoyable to residents of the assisted living centers. Her heart and passion for helping serve others continues to impact many community centers and residents. “The joy, twinkle in the eyes and the sense of bonding Riya felt from senior citizens after every performance made the efforts totally worth it,” shared a colleague of Narayan’s.
Volunteers with Girl Scout Troop 6000 and One Generation Away
Maddie McDaniel is no stranger to spreading the love when it comes to volunteer efforts in the Nashville area. As a student, McDaniel dedicates all her weekends and breaks to serving both Girl Scout Troop 6000 and One Generation Away. The two organizations are working to alleviate homelessness for women and hunger in Nashville.
Even while attending school Monday through Friday, McDaniel has made the effort to log over 300 hours of community service to both organizations. Starting out as a Girl Scout herself, she first was introduced to Troop 6000 in her freshman year, when she immediately signed up to be a co-leader to provide support and activities to the young women experiencing homelessness. McDaniel felt led to serve this community because of the joy and resilience the women continued to emit, even while experiencing homelessness.
McDaniel was introduced to One Generation Away through a joint mobile food pantry that was initiated by her church. One Generation Away seeks to help families struggling with food anxiety by providing food from local grocery stores. When serving, she helps unload 30,000 pounds of food and sorts through it. With all her dedicated time to the organization, McDaniel has taken on the responsibility of directing over 300 cars of traffic to the food pantry. She has continued to serve the organization in her personal life through her social media platforms, Girl Scout troops, her church youth group and clubs on campus.
“Though these two organizations are different, I believe they called me to help for the same reason. They enable me to help someone directly, an opportunity to exchange a smile or a thank you. They allow me to learn from them and get back more than I give,” McDaniel shared.
To see a full list of the nominees for the 36th Annual Mary Catherine Strobel Volunteer Awards, click here.