Brian Lehigh (left), Tara Noorani and Michael Oshiro
Three UCLA students have been honored with the 2014 Charles E. Young Humanitarian Award for their outstanding commitment to community service.
The award, established by UCLA in 1986 as an annual tribute to recognize and encourage projects that address communities' social needs, is one of the most prestigious honors given to UCLA students. It is administered by Student Organizations and Leadership Engagement.
Each student received $1,000 to be donated to a public service project of their choice.
"What we do today is simply a way of recognizing our students and their passion, education and sense of what is right," said UCLA Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Janina Montero during the May 8 award ceremony in the Charles E. Young Grand Salon. "They present the best hope for society and the world around us."
Brian Lehigh, a graduate student at the UCLA School of Dentistry, will use his award to further his efforts to provide much-needed oral hygiene education to homeless and impoverished military veterans. His interest in serving this particular group came after volunteering at a Veterans Affairs hospital the year before he enrolled in dental school. Dental care is consistently ranked among veterans' top three unmet needs. Lehigh's program offers instruction on how to brush and floss properly, information on local low-cost dental clinics and free toothpaste, toothbrushes and floss.
Lehigh has also worked with the Salvation Army to develop a series of lectures to be delivered by UCLA dental students to veterans in transitional-housing facilities and substance abuse programs on a variety of oral health topics, and to provide screenings for oral cancer.
"The area that we live in is very affluent, and it's easy to take for granted what we have," he said. "If you spend any amount of time down on skid row or in Compton, there are a lot of barriers that people face. Just the fact that I can do something to break down some of those barriers is rewarding."
Tara Noorani, a fourth-year physiological science student, was honored for her work with the Mobile Clinic Project at UCLA, which has been providing medical, legal and social services to homeless people in West Hollywood for the past 14 years. The student organization, in partnership with the Greater West Hollywood Food Coalition, also provides food to more than 100 people each night.
"Tara is a humanitarian in the classic sense of the word,” Food Coalition founder Ted Landreth wrote in a letter supporting Noorani's nomination for the award. "She does what she does for the homeless because it comes naturally to her.”
Michael Oshiro, a student at UCLA's Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, was honored for his work with the Incarcerated Youth Tutorial Project. Oshiro helped to develop a curriculum for the group's weekly visits to Camp Fred Miller, an all-male juvenile detention center, and to create a structured mentoring program, something his experience as a former special education teacher and activist prepared him for.
The tutorial project visits Camp Miller three times a week to provide one-on-one tutoring and mentoring to youth of color. Much of the award funding will be used to off-set transportation costs. Camp Miller is nearly 40 miles from UCLA, and a large portion of the group’s budget goes toward travel.
"We hope to keep pushing forward and continue to bring awareness to young kids of color who are being locked up every day," Oshiro said. "We’re hoping this will bring more attention to the project so we can expand what we do."