Naperville teen named state's top youth volunteer
The top high school volunteer in Illinois is a Naperville teen who has raised nearly $200,000 in nine years to help cure a rare disease.
Jungin Angie Lee, a 17-year-old junior at Metea Valley High School in Aurora, has been named the top youth volunteer of 2016 by the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards.
Angie's community service comes primarily from an organization she co-founded with friend Kyra Scadden to help cure a rare neuromuscular disease called spinal muscular atrophy, or SMA. Angie was diagnosed with SMA when she was 15 months old, and since then it has been weakening the nerves in her spinal cord and decreasing muscle strength throughout her body.
Through yearly fundraisers for the nonprofit Angie's Hope, the girls have learned how to seek donations and promote the cause.
"It's taught me that a small idea can really make a huge difference. Anyone can make a difference," Angie said. "I am disabled, but Angie's Hope has taught me that I can still make a difference despite that quote 'disability.' I don't really like that term."
Metea Principal Darrell Echols nominated Angie because of her warm, giving personality, which draws people to her charitable efforts.
"She has a physical disability and her attitude is so great about it that people feel lifted up just working with her," Echols said. "She got a perfect score on the ACT. She is an outstanding student and a tremendous thinker. Her disability is physical and certainly not mental."
Aside from planning events for Angie's Hope, such as a Big Ball Soccer Tournament that raised $31,000 when it started in 2014 and $39,000 last year, Angie said she volunteers with Do More Metea Valley, a branch of the school's student government, and with the Tri-M Music Honor Society.
She's read stories to children at the Aurora library, collected donations for food pantries and volunteered to sing at nursing homes. She wants to study English in college.
"Along with community service, I want to make a change in the world through writing," Angie said.
For now, Angie is anticipating a trip to the nation's capital April 30 through May 3.
"I get to go to Washington, D.C., and meet other fellow youth volunteers who want to make a difference in the world," Angie said. "I'm really excited about that."
Joining her will be the Illinois award winner at the junior high level, 14-year-old Nicolas Ramkumar of Champaign.
On May 2, Prudential Financial, sponsor of the contest, will name five high schoolers and five junior high students as the country's top youth volunteers of 2016. The winners will be given $5,000 awards and $5,000 for the charity of their choice on top of the $1,000 they already received as state honorees.
Angie sees the award as reflective of all the community support she's received.
"I want to use this opportunity to show other parents of kids with SMA basically how life isn't going to be horrible, how you can still make a difference," Angie said. "Because I've been blessed to be one of the stronger patients, I have a calling to be that role model."