For her dedication and commitment to serving others, Mount Wachusett Community College student Rafaela Lopes has been presented with Campus Compact’s national 2016 Newman Civic Fellows Award.
The Leominster resident was inspired to make a difference in the lives of others by creating a youth-run social venture that helps young people experiencing or close to homelessness, as she had experienced as a child in Brazil before moving to Massachusetts seven years ago.
“Rafaela has made such significant contributions to our community both locally and globally, that even at her young age, she truly stands out as an inspirational leader deserving of recognition,” said MWCC President Daniel M. Asquino. “We are very proud of her for her spirit of generosity, and proud that she becomes MWCC’s fourth student to consecutively receive this prestigious award.”
Campus Compact is a national coalition of nearly 1,100 college and university presidents who are committed to fulfilling the civic purposes of higher education to improve community life and to educate students for civic and social responsibility. The award honors the late Frank Newman, one of Campus Compact’s founders and a tireless advocate for the civic engagement of higher education.
A dual enrollment student in MWCC’s Gateway to College program, Lopes will earn her high school diploma this spring and an associate degree in Liberal Arts and Sciences in the fall. After that, she plans to transfer to pursue a bachelor’s degree, and then enroll in dental school.
“I believe that helping others is my life’s mission. I try to lead by example, in the hope that one kindness will yield another, in turn generating a chain of kindness,” she said.
For the past three years, Lopes has been actively involved in the United Way Youth Venture program, which is co-sponsored by MWCC, the United Way of North Central Massachusetts and Ashoka’s Youth Venture. She created the social venture Go Make a Difference when she was just 15. Since then, she has led her team in fulfilling its mission to help the community locally by providing regular birthday celebrations for homeless children and volunteering for Habitat for Humanity of North Central Massachusetts.
The culmination of her dream – to make the impact of her venture global – was realized in February when she organized a student trip to a rural village in Haiti for a week of service at a nutrition and health center. She was instrumental in raising thousands of dollars and collecting 14 suitcases packed with essential supplies in preparation for the trip. She is in the process of organizing another group trip to Haiti next winter so more young people can experience the joy of giving back.
Lopes is also actively involved with the UWYV team Friends of Rachel’s Challenge at Leominster High School and with the ALANA club at MWCC.
“With both organizations, I’ve been able to serve and support the community while sharing positivity and friendship. I plan to continue to lead service and inspire my fellow students to help me make a difference with volunteering, whether with homeless families or in regions of severe poverty.”
Recipients of the Newman Civic Fellows Award are nominated by their college’s president or chancellor. Honorees are chosen for their leadership and ability to take action in pursuit of long-term, positive social change. This year, 218 students were selected to receive the award.
“We are fortunate to have the opportunity to celebrate such an extraordinary group of students,” said Campus Compact president Andrew Seligsohn. “We are seeing a resurgence in student interest in acting to create lasting social change, and this year’s Newman Civic Fellows exemplify that commitment.”