Senior Kathryn Alonso receives her 2022 Military Child of the Year Coast Guard Award at Operation Homefront’s awards gala on Apr. 7th in Washington D.C.

When giving back gives back: Three Statesmen receive recognition for their work in community service

Maya Kanaan

Every year, 23 students countywide receive Fairfax County’s Student Peace Awards, and this year, one of those select students is from our own halls.
Senior Maya Kanaan received this year’s award for working to promote peace.
Kanaan is the founder and president of the Peace in Middle East Club, where members meet regularly to learn about the different Middle Eastern countries and how their conflicts impact children. The club also raises money to support education in the region.
“A lot of kids are the ones that are suffering from [Middle Eastern] conflicts, so I wanted to make a change in a small way that I can,” Kanaan said.
Kanaan said the biggest challenge the club had faced was coordinating a fundraiser to raise money for Lebanese children’s school supplies. After many months of rejections from restaurants to support the drive, Kanaan said local restaurant Burger 7 agreed to work with them.
“I was thrilled that there was a long line when I arrived at Burger 7,” Kanaan said. “This was our first fundraiser and I knew that with each burger sold, Lebanese children would be getting new school supplies.”
The Peace in the Middle East Club raised $480 from the Burger 7 fundraiser. Since then, they have raised funds for Afghanistan and are planning one for Palestine.
Kanaan said she felt truly honored to receive the award. She also said she enjoyed listening to the other students’ achievements and how they have promoted peace at the awards reception.
“I felt like I was part of an inclusive community,” Kanaan said. “Despite how different the students were, we were all working together towards the same goal.”

Kathryn Alonso

From organizing charity drives to volunteering through the Alzheimer’s Association, senior Kathryn Alonso has led community service projects for as long as she could remember.
Thanks to that work, she is the recipient of 2022 Military Child of the Year Coast Guard Award.
“What inspired me from the beginning was seeing people everywhere in Puerto Rico just trying their hardest making and selling things in order to provide for their families,” Alonso said. “I knew from there that I wanted and needed to help and make a change in some way.”
Alonso said it is also inspiring for her to see the people receive the donated items.
“Just seeing how happy others are when they receive the items makes me want to continue to make others happy,” she said.
Running food and clothing drives were the most difficult, she said.
“I would never know if anyone would donate,” Alonso said. “People in our community are so generous, though, and always came through, which was so amazing.”
Alonso said she was “completely shocked” after realizing the organization Operation Homefront chose her as the award’s recipient.
Operation Homefront recognizes eight adolescents from military families for their outstanding accomplishments. Seven of the awards represent each branch of the armed forces. The eighth recognizes the recipient for innovation.
“I was incredibly grateful,” Alonso said. “When I received the actual award at the Gala, it felt so surreal. I was just in shock and couldn’t believe it.”

Shaunak Sinha

Science, technology, engineering and math have allowed junior Shaunak Sinha to help his community, and now he is receiving recognition for his work.
Sinha received the Vienna Optimist Award. It recognizes students at Madison, Marshall and Oakton High Schools in various fields, with winners known as students of distinction.
“I think the main way I try and make a difference in the community is through STEM, which I am passionate about,” he said.
Sinha’s efforts include teaching middle schoolers about coding languages HTML and CSS and making their own websites as part of the organization Elevate the Future, as well as interning at A-List Empire, a student-led STEAM organization to help create software to teach kids around the world. Sinha is also the programming captain of the robotics team and a member of Aviate, a non-profit organization aiming to educate about aviation and the aerospace industry.
Sinha said his science fair project, which utilized machine learning to optimize wave energy, indirectly helped his community.
“The hope of this project was to make wave energy more sustainable and offer it as a reliable alternative to fossil fuels,” he said.
Despite his resume, Sinha said he is not done yet.
“While these projects do make their own sort of impact, I still feel like I don’t make a big enough impact in the community, and that’s one thing I work towards doing every day,” he said.

How to spark community initiative, get involved: advice from the career center

College and Career Specialist Gardner Humphreys said community initiatives start with an idea.
“It doesn’t necessarily have to always be a particular societal problem,” Humphreys said. “It could be just getting involved and fulfilling a need.”
The next step is research.
“Are there already some groups at school or locally that do similar work?” Humphreys said. “And if they do, is it a good idea to join that and just add your effort to that, or do you want to do it a little bit differently in a way that they’re not doing it?”
Forging a new path comes with issues that the local clubs or nonprofits have already solved, said Humphreys.
“It’s good to find out how to go about it so that you don’t get frustrated, so the most amount of your help or money, whatever it is you’re giving, gets to the people that need it the most,” Humphreys said.