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Ryan O’Connor, Young Volunteer of the Year

Ryan O’Connor’s list of services and volunteer hours could fill a book – and she’s only a teen. The prolific volunteer and recent Arundel High School (AHS) valedictorian has made an indelible impact on her community and beyond. Ryan has successfully run programs and volunteered with Happy Helpers for the Homeless, the Stanton Community Center, Kenya Connect, Crofton Middle School, Kennedy Krieger Institute for Autism and Related Disorders, Anne Arundel County Public School Summer Serve at Camp Mayo, The Talent Machine, St. Anne’s Church, and countless other school and nonprofit organizations. During her high school career, Ryan was an active member of Best Buddies, and a leader in her high school’s National Honor Society and National Math, Science, Social Studies, and Dance Honor Societies.

Ryan’s earliest memory of a service project was when she was a fifth grader. Ryan and her sister planned a “play day” for the neighborhood children, charging a minimal fee to raise money for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. That experience was the beginning of Ryan’s journey in service, said Lori Fowler, Ryan’s nominator and Manager of Service Learning and Mentorships, Anne Arundel County Public Schools.

“Ryan is unbelievable. She’s a phenomenal human being. From day one, she’s always been available, all the while maintaining her grades,” said Lori. “She has passion for service, she’s committed to her academics and she has a plan for her future. She’s a very unique student with a heart of gold.”

As president of the Interact Club, Ryan got involved with Kenya Connect, a nonprofit organization with the mission of empowering and engaging teachers and students in rural Kenya to succeed in the 21st century. Ryan coordinated the Kenya Cup, an event involving students and the community, which raised nearly $10,000 in two years for the Kenyan school. She also initiated and led the Interact Club through virtual events with the Kenyan sister school. This not only connected students from two vastly different parts of the world, but also educated and raised awareness about issues and challenges that students from developing nations face.

“Ryan is one of the most determined, organized and effective student leaders I have worked with in my career in higher education,” said Executive Director of Kenya Connect Sharon Runge, Ph.D. “When she makes a commitment, she follows through, and despite setbacks, she finds ways to forge forward. Ryan is a young woman who will make a profound difference in the world. She is an engaged learner who believes in the power of bringing people together for the greater good while being committed to her studies. She is a global citizen in every sense of the word … a future leader to watch.”

Susan Stawas, Signature AHS Program Facilitator, agreed, “When Ryan identifies a problem, she immediately takes action to address it. She knows that the work to ‘move things forward’ can be slow, but she is ready to do what has to be done, again and again.”


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