LOS ANGELES - UCLA senior Jonathan Ditty helped found the Happy Feet Clinic, which provides much-needed foot care to homeless people. Gabriel Gomez, also a senior, created new ways for UCLA students to brighten the days of elderly people at nearby caregiving facilities. And Andrew Kaddis, another UCLA senior, actively works with foster youths to increase their chances of getting into college and earning their degrees.The three students were honored with the 2011 Charles E. Young Humanitarian Award for their outstanding commitment to public service. The awards ceremony, a private event for family and friends, took place May 5 in the Charles E. Young Grand Salon at UCLA's Kerckhoff Hall. The Young Humanitarian 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 undergraduates. Each student received $700, to be donated to a public service project of their choice. ndrew Kaddis, 20, of Downey, is a biology major who plans to attend medical school after graduation. He was honored with the humanitarian award for his work with foster youth through the Bruin Guardian Scholars Program, an on-campus, student-run organization that reaches out to foster youth in high schools in Los Angeles County. In particular, Kaddis worked on a "higher education summit" that brings these foster youth to the UCLA campus to learn about the resources and skills the need to apply for college. "Our goal is to encourage enrollment by providing resources such as financial aid information, SAT preparation and peer collaboration," Kaddis said. "Each student is assigned a mentor from Bruin Guardian Scholars, and these mentors share their college experiences, help students with homework and answer any questions they might have." Kaddis has interned during summers with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health and the City of Vernon Department of Environmental Health. He has also volunteered abroad at a medical clinic in southern Egypt through the Samaritan Medical Foundation and plans to continue doing so after graduation. Kaddis said his involvement with both the Bruin Guardian Scholars Program and the higher education summit has helped shape his aspirations, not only for serving the foster youth population locally but helping others as well. He plans to use his award to help continue the summit this year and next. "Working with foster youth has impacted me as a person in many ways, fueling my commitment to public service, as well as strengthening my aspirations to become a doctor," he said. onathan Ditty, 21, of Villa Park, Calif., a biochemistry major who will graduate in June, was instrumental in bringing together many segments of the campus and the greater Los Angeles community to address a need often overlooked: treating the feet of homeless people, who spend much more of their day walking than most people. "Homeless individuals often rely on their feet as their primary means of transportation, yet they usually do not have access to basic foot care," Ditty said. Also, they are more likely to suffer from undertreated diabetes, putting them at risk for lower-extremity ulcerations and other problems. Ditty led the effort in planning, raising funds and putting on foot clinics at which, with the help of UCLA medical students and local podiatrists, dozens of homeless people had their feet washed, were given medical assessments and, in some cases, were provided with shoes. "By placing myself at the feet of the homeless, community service has begun to take on new meanings for me," Ditty said. "The act of washing their broken, calloused and bruised feet has allowed me to understand them in ways otherwise impossible." Ditty plans to use his Charles E. Young Humanitarian Award to buy shoes so that more people who come to the Happy Feet clinics can get them if they need them. After graduation, he will be working for a community health clinic in the skid row area of Los Angeles. He also plans to attend medical school. Gabriel Gomez, 21, of Burbank, Calif., who is majoring in physiological science, received the award for his work with the Senior Buddies program of Pilipinos for Community Health (PCH) at UCLA. Gomez said that when he and other directors of PCH learned there was no service organization at UCLA that regularly provided direct support for the elderly, they contacted facilities near the campus to offer help. "Senior Buddies happened because PCH couldn't say no when we saw the need and realized the value of mental and emotional health," Gomez said. In the program, some students are "buddied" with an elderly person at one of the facilities, visiting them at least an hour each week, while others spend a day at an elder care facility raising the spirits of the residents. "Through this project, I have witnessed the value of service firsthand," Gomez said. "Living in the vibrant UCLA community, we often take for granted simple pleasures such as friendly conversations and music. The project has helped me appreciate my own life more and be more willing to give of myself and relate to the struggles of others." Gomez will use the humanitarian award to support the service efforts of Pilipinos for Community Health. After graduation, he will be continuing his work with the elderly through an internship with the nonprofit organization Sydney Cooper Senior Smiles.
********** Published: May 26, 2011 - Volume 10 - Issue 6