Ariel Mendez, a graduate student majoring in liberal studies, was awarded the 2021 University Volunteer of the Year Award. The award, which includes a $1,500 scholarship, is given each year to a student who has made a difference in the community through their time and talent. Mendez has volunteered more than 480 hours over the past year.
After learning that California has one of the largest homeless populations, and identifying other states with high homeless populations, Mendez was eager and passionate about finding a way to help. Starting in her hometown of Tulare, Mendez began handing out donated clothing she collected from family and friends to the homeless. Then, she drove to five states in five days handing out the remaining clothes. At the beginning of 2020, Mendez drove to over 10 states in 12 days giving out more donated items and things that she purchased herself.
When the pandemic hit, Mendez shifted her efforts to create COVID-19 relief packages with food, water, hygiene supplies, journals, blankets and clothing. She also baked over 400 cookies for the homeless in Fresno.
Her efforts did not stop there. Knowing that farmworkers were deemed essential and working to provide food to the Valley and beyond during the pandemic, Mendez drove to Farmersville, Exeter and Tulare County and donated Gatorade and water to farmworkers. Mendez donated over 1,500 meals and over 2,000 hygiene and essential care products to homeless families and essential workers. She keeps a basket of food, water, and hygiene supplies in her trunk so that she can help anyone in need.
In October, Mendez became a wildfire response volunteer for the American Red Cross after seeing families being displaced and losing their homes in devastating wildfires. In addition, Mendez volunteers as a Richter Center Student Leader and a LIFT Conference co-director. She is also an exceptional student, maintaining a 4.0 GPA as an undergraduate, through her credential program, and now in her master’s program.
“I am thrilled, grateful and honored to be the 2021 University Student Volunteer of the Year,” Mendez said. “Working as a volunteer in my community and helping others has been something that I’ve always loved to do. Without God, my family and friends, I wouldn’t be able to get through the barriers of volunteering. I am truly humbled to have each one of them to inspire me, motivate me, and help me realize my potential to truly make a difference.”
The University Volunteer of the Year award is administered by the Jan and Bud Richter Center for Community Engagement and Service-Learning.
For more information, please contact Taylan Parker, Richter Center special projects coordinator, at email@example.com.
(Story by Taylan Parker)