2015 Award Winners

Kevin Chan

John F Kennedy High School, Sacramento

Kevin Chan understands that it’s often the little things that matter most. That’s what prompted him to create a haircut and shaving service for the Tzu-Chi Buddhist Relief Foundation to serve the homeless community. Kevin originally volunteered at the Tzu-Chi Foundation to find another focus after a personal loss. Through serving others, he learned compassion and found his own inspiration.

As the Head Youth Volunteer, Kevin has led efforts to improve the organization’s efficiency and impact on the community, including increasing the foundation’s involvement in free medical clinics. Recruiting more young volunteers enabled the group to participate more fully in free medical clinics held at the California Exposition Center in Sacramento and the Tzu-Chi site in Alhambra.

Kevin also serves as captain of his high school’s golf team, leading them to three league championships in a row, and has the distinction of having been nominated for the all-league all-conference golf team.

Amy Kouch

Rancho Cotate High School, Rohnert Park

In early 2012, Amy Kouch made a decision that has had a profound impact on her life and on the lives of other Cambodian-American teenagers. She and two other teenage girls of Cambodian-American heritage spent the summer painting an 8-foot by 16-foot mural about Cambodia. In addition to depicting the beauty of the country and its culture, the girls publicized the trafficking of girls and women in Southeast Asia and around the world, and raised awareness around the Cambodian genocide of the 1970s.

To raise money for the project, Amy created a video for a crowd-funding site, and since its completion she’s participated in several news events, given a number of lectures and presentations, and shared experiences with the Cambodian community in Long Beach, California. Amy has seen first-hand how art and communication can help to heal deep wounds, and how bringing to light a group’s very existence can build community.

Melanie Jane Pascual

KIPP King Collegiate High School, San Lorenzo

Melanie Jane Pascual sees computer science as the most important tool for social justice advocates. With that in mind, she decided that it was more important than ever to have more girls choose careers in computer science.

Last year, Melanie Jane worked with Google to host a Made With Code social at her high school, timed to coincide with the launch of the school’s first computer science course. After three months of consultation and preparation, and a concerted effort to attract girls to the event, 70 of the school’s 500 students attended the Made With Code social, 50 of whom were girls.

After the event, Google invited Melanie Jane to their Made With Code celebration and the National Tree Lighting Ceremony in Washington, DC., where she had the opportunity to speak about her work at the Women High Tech Coalition Breakfast at the House of Representatives. More significantly, the CodeHS founders heard about her work, and offered her high school free access to their program; Melanie Jane is now launching a CodeHS club, and working to incorporate the program into all math courses.

Melanie Jane remains passionate about using code as the superpower that can change how society works.

Karthik Raju

Mira Loma High School, Sacramento

Karthik Raju has taken the fight against poverty to heart. His weapon of choice? education. Karthik co-founded the Free the Children chapter at his high school, raising money to propagate education throughout rural Asia and – more locally – to participate in community service.

At the St John’s Women and Children’s Shelter, Karthik and his fellow club members helped foster a positive environment to help the children grow in positive directions despite the difficulties they face. In Rajasthan, India, many child laborers now have access to proper educational facilities and school supplies, thanks to the dedicated efforts of Karthik and his team at Mira Loma High.

As he moves on to Stanford University, Karthik plans to expand his efforts with Free the Children, organizing annual trips that allow members to travel to Inda and directly establish infrastructure, deliver lesson plans and raise awareness abroad. Karthik wants to eventually develop a non-profit organization with a diverse profile from education to medicine.

Dennis Woo

Lowell High School, San Francisco

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsome proclaimed February 22, 2008 “Dennis Woo Day”, recognizing the then 11-year-old for his community service through singing and playing the piano at civic ceremonies and cultural celebrations.

A performer since the age of four, Dennis faced a different set of challenges off stage. To promote awareness of the disabled, he became involved with the San Francisco Chinatown Leo Club, which celebrates leadership, experience and opportunity. As charter president, he collaborated with the Lions Eye Foundation of California-Nevada to produce a benefit concert for glaucoma, raising money for development of Selective Laser Trabeculoplasty machines to aid glaucoma patients.

Multilingual – singing and speaking Mandarin, Cantonese, Teochew and Hokkien, as well as English – Dennis has served as Queen Search Coordinator for the Miss Asian Global and Miss Asian America Pageant, conducting outreach and communication with Asian communities across the United States, in Singapore and in Australia.

Sophie Zhang

San Ramon Valley High School, San Ramon

Sophie Zhang organizes the present with an eye to the future. As president and founder of Health Occupations Students of America at San Ramon Valley High, one of Sophie’s first priorities was to build an officer team of underclassmen who could continue the HOSA legacy after she graduated. Sophie originally founded HOSA at her high school when she noted that other students couldn’t commute to the John Muir HOSA chapter, where she was an officer.

In the two years since its inception, San Ramon Valley’s HOSA club has grown to encompass 50 members who are passionate about the medical field. As founding president of her HOSA chapter, Sophie has learned to lead by example, to be flexible in her plans and expectations, and to accept change. She’s grown more patient and understanding of others as she’s striven to foster an environment of continuous learning and improvement. Sophie plans to one day start a non-profit organization that raises money to improve public health facilities in developing countries, where preventable diseases claim millions of lives each year.

Jessica Zheng

Lynbrook High School, San Jose

When Jessica Zheng began to work with developmentally disabled children through Friends of Children with Special Needs, she soon came to the conclusion that the skills required to produce artwork – fine motor coordination, patience, focus and creativity – made art the perfect medium to help the children grow their skills. So in 2013, she joined with a friend to found ArtiCSN, or Art Inspiring Children with Special Needs.

From a fledgling program with six students, ArtiCSN has grown to offer weekly classes, summer sessions and group sessions to more than 40 students. Sophie was instrumental to the program’s growth, communicating with parents, purchasing materials, devising projects and strategies to encourage engagement. One grateful parent who recognized not only her daughter’s enjoyment, but her progress, suggested that Sophie offer additional classes throughout the year. And so the program grew. The team now includes five volunteer teachers, and Jessica has plans to expand the program into the East Bay and beyond.

She dreams of one day creating educational software for children with special needs, and increasing resources dedicated to helping these kids realize their full potential.