Rowland Hall is thrilled to announce that senior Ben Amiel was honored as the 2019 Outstanding Young Volunteer at the Utah Philanthropy Day luncheon on November 19. This annual award goes to one role model who’s under age 30 and demonstrates exceptional and sustained commitment to philanthropy and volunteerism in the community.
Ben’s nomination was spearheaded by Jewish Family Service (JFS), where he began volunteering in the food pantry at age 13 for his bar mitzvah project. Ben still serves in the food pantry today, and over the years has taken on more responsibility: in fall 2017, when JFS received a grant to enlarge the pantry, Ben helped reorganize the space. In 2018, he ran an iPod drive and fundraiser for Music and Memory, a program for people suffering from Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia.
It is a rarity to come upon such a young person with such an interest in responding to the varied needs of our clients.—Jewish Family Service
“Ben brings a kind, calming presence to the agency,” the JFS team wrote in their nomination letter. “He seems to recognize the value in each person, and also in what we do to support them.” And his work makes a difference—his dedication to Music and Memory, for instance, resulted in the most successful donation drive in JFS history.
“Ben’s willingness to commit to JFS, adapting and finding additional ways to support and further our work is exceptional,” the team said. “It is a rarity to come upon such a young person with such an interest in responding to the varied needs of our clients. Many of our volunteers opt in for a short time, often fulfilling a goal or project, or doing something they think will look good on a resume. Ben is a committed volunteer.”
His demonstrated devotion to JFS helped set Ben apart from other nominees in the Outstanding Young Volunteer category. “What’s superlative about Ben is his tremendous, and ongoing, commitment to JFS,” said Utah Philanthropy Day committee member Jessie Foster Strike. “Each year, Ben has found new ways to deepen his contributions to the organization, which has allowed JFS to deepen its service to the community. Whether he’s stocking shelves in the food pantry, organizing a fundraiser, or educating himself on a new program, he sees an opportunity, steps up, and take the initiative to help.”
Ben’s dedication to JFS, on top of his rigorous academic and extracurricular load, would be impressive on its own. But he has also chosen to dedicate much of his time to serving fellow students at Rowland Hall, where he’s attended school since third grade.
“Over the years, I have seen the development of a truly sincere mentor of younger students and a hardworking individual who values and contributes to his community,” wrote Rowland Hall’s Director of Ethical Education Ryan Hoglund in one of the letters that the school contributed to the JFS nomination.
Ben’s commitment to leadership and service at Rowland Hall is best illustrated by his involvement with the school’s debate program. A successful debater himself (he’s an Academic All-American, a National Qualifier, and has won awards at tournaments all over the state and country), Ben has mentored Middle School debate students since his freshman year, happily giving his limited free time to tasks like helping students hone their research and argumentation skills and judging tournaments.
“Debate is Ben's life and he's naturally drawn to opportunities that let him showcase his experience and wisdom,” said debate coach Mike Shackelford. He explained that Ben played a major role in establishing the debate mentoring program, including setting the tone and expectations for those who want to help. And he doesn’t shy away from the time-consuming work required, Mike said, because he understands the benefits of mentoring. “Ben will go out of his way to give real coaching feedback. He'll write out comprehensive evaluations. He'll proofread student work. He's always pushing them to meet their potential.”
Ben understands that dialogue is the basis of a healthy democracy. More important than ‘winning’ any argument, for Ben, is the opportunity for ideas to be tested and exchanged respectfully in public.—Director of Ethical Education Ryan Hoglund
This influence on middle schoolers is powerful, particularly because Ben has been in their shoes and serves as an example of where hard work can lead. “Middle School students can relate to Ben in direct and meaningful ways that I will never be able to,” Mike said. “They can see themselves on the same path. This gives them confidence and assurance that it will work out.”
Ben’s love of debate and, most importantly, to learning itself, also inspired him to establish a student debate group that meets weekly to discuss timely political topics. “Ben understands that dialogue is the basis of a healthy democracy,” Ryan wrote. “More important than ‘winning’ any argument, for Ben, is the opportunity for ideas to be tested and exchanged respectfully in public.”
Mike agreed. “He's always had a larger perspective on why he debates. For him, debate is a means to an end. He doesn't do it for trophies—he participates because he loves the challenge, the skill development, the knowledge he gains, and the people he meets. Setting up clubs and doing service is just a natural extension to this purposeful approach to activities.”
It is this natural drive to use his strengths to make a difference that truly sets Ben apart as a leader. Former Upper School history teacher Fiona Halloran summed it up when she wrote, “I believe that Ben is a person for whom puzzles and challenges are central to intellectual and personal engagement. He thinks the world ought to function smoothly. It does not. So he seeks ideas and actions that can make it a little better.”
Thank you, Ben, for your commitment to making the world a little better every day. From all of us at Rowland Hall, congratulations on this recognition.