Elizabeth Luong was looking for ways to get involved in her community as a then-ninth-grader.
She’s a first-generation American from Vietnam, and as a child she rarely got involved in her community.
“My parents didn’t really get out that much,” Luong said. “I wanted to get to know my community, and volunteering was a good first step.”
She started volunteering with Communities in Schools of Puyallup’s annual March Gladness event.
As the years have gone on, the now-senior at Puyallup High School is on the March Gladness Student Leadership team, volunteers as a math tutor, and is active in Key Club at PHS. In addition, she’s active in the school’s health occupations student association, on the swim and water polo teams, involved in martial arts, and she recently started working at the Puyallup pool.
Luong is also enrolled in the Running Start program at Pierce College.
When the nominations opened for Communities in Schools’ 2016 Student Citizen of the Year, Luong fit every qualification. The student must have at least a 3.0 GPA, be involved in March Gladness, and each high school can nominate one junior or senior student.
“She was a very well-deserving candidate,” said Jan Mauk, Communities in Schools of Puyallup’s executive director.
On March 23, Luong was invited to the Communities in Schools annual fundraiser breakfast and auction.
“I walked in and saw my parents there, and I was like, ‘Why are they here?’” Luong said.
Shortly after, Luong was announced as Student Citizen of the Year.
“I was surprised,” she said. “I didn’t think I would get it.”
“Elizabeth was a math tutor for four years, and she’s the most faithful March Gladness volunteer,” Mauk said. “The board of directors were impressed by how dedicated she was, and dependable.”
The award comes with a $2,500 scholarship from the Washington State Fair Foundation, which Luong will use toward pursuing her degree in the medical field from the University of Washington.
The Student Citizen of the Year award was started in 2008, and was first given to State Rep. Melanie Stambaugh.
Communities in Schools first came to Puyallup in the early 2000s to assess the needs of the community and potentially establish a volunteer program.
“The kids weren’t feeling appreciated by their community,” Mauk said. “And Puyallup was below the national average for student volunteers.”
In Dec. 2004, an earthquake and tsunami struck off the coast of Indonsia, so the district banded together and put on an emergency kit drive, assembling 10,000 kits. The next year, Hurricane Katrina hit, and the district did a coin drive.
“Communities in Schools decided not to wait for a disaster to strike to get kids involved in volunteering,” Mauk said.
Now, more than 10 years later, volunteering has become a culture in the Puyallup School District, so much so all 34 schools in the district are involved.
“It helps students to appreciate what they have,” Mauk said. “Kids who serve as youth are more likely to volunteer as adults. It’s a win-win. It helps our community to be stronger.”