A fifth-grader at Moriches Elementary School is New York state’s top “middle level” youth volunteer, according to the 2021 Prudential Spirit of Community Awards.
Caitlyn Michiels was selected for her work with her non-profit organization, Caitlyn’s Vision, which has boosted eye health awareness across the William Floyd School District. She will receive a $2,500 scholarship, an engraved silver medallion and the opportunity to participate in a virtual celebration to honor her and her fellow 101 honorees.
“I hope I will be able to keep helping children for a long time, and would love to find new ways of helping kids with visual impairments,” said Caitlyn, who copes with anterior bilateral uveitis, a rare disease that causes inflammation of the middle layer of the eye and is the third leading cause of blindness in children.
The Spirit of Community Awards is America’s largest youth recognition program based exclusively on volunteer service. Along with a recipient in the high school category, Caitlyn is one of just two students honored in New York state and one of only 102 honored in the nation (two for each state and the District of Columbia).
The honorees were identified for service initiatives completed between the fall of 2019 and the fall of 2020. Criteria for the award includes the impact, effort, initiative and the personal growth demonstrated over the course of the project.
Among Caitlyn’s initiatives was her effort to collect and donate more than 700 pairs of eyeglasses to children who cannot afford them, the district said. She also raised more than $30,000 to help children pay for much-needed eye care and the purchase of fluorescent light covers for William Floyd elementary schools to help lessen classroom lighting for those with visual impairments, attention disorders and epilepsy. She worked with Lions Club International to distribute the funds.
As a third grader, Caitlyn reached out to Suffolk County Legislator Rudy Sunderman and worked with him to designate August as “Children’s Eye Health and Safety Awareness Month.”
“Caitlyn Michiels is an incredible young lady who continues to amaze me every single day,” Moriches Elementary School Deirdre Redding said. “She has developed a vision and committed herself to promoting awareness to childhood eye health and helping other children in our community and beyond.
“Her accomplishments and perseverance make her stand out as a truly exceptional student and leader,” Redding continued. “Caitlyn has left an impact on Moriches Elementary School that will never be forgotten. I am so excited for her bright future ahead.”
Caitlyn now has the opportunity to become one of 10 recipients selected as a national honoree and earn an additional $5,000 scholarship, a gold medallion, a crystal trophy and a $5,000 grant for the charity of her choice.
She is also in line to receive the President’s Volunteer Service Award for volunteering a “significant amount of time serving her community and country.” That honor comes with a certificate and a letter this summer from President Joe Biden.