HomeArticlesArizona’s 2020 top youth volunteers fight childhood diseases, help homeless pets

Arizona’s 2020 top youth volunteers fight childhood diseases, help homeless pets

Michael Bendok (second from left) started Kidz 4 Causes to help kids battling rare diseases. Bendok is shown with friends (from right) Xander Black, Matthew Linhart and Samuel Steiner at his 2018 Run for Rare Disease Research event.

Sixteen-year-old Michael Bendok of Phoenix and 13-year-old Clare Flaherty of Scottsdale have been awarded the The Prudential Spirit of Community Award as Arizona’s 2020 top youth volunteers.

The nationwide program honors young people with $1,000 and a May trip to Washington, D.C., where 10 students will be named America’s 2020 top youth volunteers. The awards are conducted by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

A junior at Phoenix Country Day School, Michael founded Kidz 4 Causes,  a nonprofit that helps families pay for genetic testing at the Center for Rare Childhood Disorders. He has helped raise more than $141,000 — through coin drives, community runs, restaurant fundraisers and school presentations — to find treatments.

Michael was diagnosed with a rare blood disorder when he was younger (he has since outgrown it) and he has had two friends with a rare lung disease. “Considering the fact that 25 million people currently suffer from one of 7,000 documented rare diseases in the United States, I found the lack of treatment available for patients abysmal,” he said.

Clare, an eighth-grader at BASIS Scottsdale, is a “foster mom” for homeless newborn kittens from the Arizona Humane Society. “My mother has instilled in me the deep impact an animal can have on a human life, and the importance of treating animals properly,” said Clare, who got involved after learning a local animal shelter was at capacity for cats and kittens and could no longer accept strays.

After persuading her parents with a PowerPoint presentation, Clare completed two online Humane Society classes and has learned fostering is not just about cuddling baby animals until they are healthy enough to be adopted (and weigh at least two pounds). Some kittens need to be bottle fed every three hours or require medication up to five times a day.     

Six finalists were also named for the youth volunteer award:

  • Garvey Blackwell of Yuma created a volunteering expo to get teens interested in public service.
  • Brianna Iannone, a senior at Chaparral High School in Scottsdale, taught students about common challenges people with disabilities face and established two sensory toy libraries.
  • Emilie Ma, a junior at Hamilton High School in Chandler, works with families struggling with poverty at Native Health Center and started the Modern Health Organization club at school to improve the mental and physical health of students and the wider community.
  • Kaitlyn Martinez of Tolleson, a senior at Phoenix Coding Academy, started Backpacks 4 Kids, a nonprofit that has given more than 10,000 backpacks filled with school supplies to children in need, and “love bundles,” — with hygiene products, a blanket and toys — for children in transitional housing.
  • Gwendolyn Morgan-Flowers of Fort Defiance, a senior at St. Michael Indian School, created the nonprofit Native American Music Fund to provide free musical instruments, lessons and field trips to more than 400 children on her Navajo reservation.
  • Margaret Sarbacker, a senior at Liberty High School in Peoria, created a student activism club organizing voter registration drives and advocating for better student mental health resources.




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