Gratitude Awards and Serve.Learn.Inspire. Programs

Young people are faced with countless challenges, which often seem insurmountable. This has been particularly evident during the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond. However, even during the most challenging times, our youth also have incalculable opportunities to impact their neighborhoods, schools, and communities in positive and powerful ways. Since 2016-2017, PublicServiceNV (PSNV) has engaged, educated, and recognized Nevada youth, who create their own projects to address community needs. Through its Gratitude Awards Program, PSNV honors these youth for their civic engagement. The Gratitude Awards Digest memorializes these achievements for all time.

PSNV Board members have worked with more than 4,500 Nevada students. Class by class, we have interacted with these eager learners through the Serve.Learn.Inspire. Classroom Engagement Program (SLI). This program provides a new civic engagement model through a 10-step classroom activity that embraces the principles of philanthropy: time, talent, and treasure.

Challenges and Opportunities

The 2022-2023 school year continued to provide learning and engagement challenges for youth. Most students returned to the classroom in the Spring of 2021, and many of them held expectations that the effects of total and/or partial remote learning would disappear. Certainly, students, as well as teachers and other school personnel, experienced unexpected challenges. However, it was also a time when many learned how to grow great opportunities.

In April 2020, the PSNV Board voted to take a gap year with the Gratitude Awards Program due to the Covid-19 pandemic. When discussing the SLI Program, Senator Valerie Wiener, PSNV Founder and President, asked the Board to delay its decision until the July Board meeting. At that time, they could consider a possible alternative for in-classroom instruction. In July, the PSNV Board voted to offer a virtual alternative to our traditional classroom visits. For the 2021-2022 school year, PSNV reinstated the Gratitude Awards Program, utilizing the remote model of engagement that was first utilized in 2020-2021.

As we learned in 2020-2021, the “live” virtual visit to each classroom, complemented by the three recorded civic engagement sessions, allowed us to explore the possibilities of expanding our connections beyond in-person classroom visits. Therefore, we have continued this model. In 2022-2023, we worked with 18 Faculty Champions in 9 schools and/or programs.

PSNV Salutes our 2022-2023 Faculty Champions, Their Schools, and/or Programs

  • Daneal Atkinson, CIS Academy Instructor, Western High School
  • Nitza Brand, CIS Academy Instructor, Eldorado High School
  • Ignacio Caracoza, CIS Academy Instructor, Western High School
  • Whitney Cole, CIS Academy Site Coordinator, Western High School
  • Carrie Maurillo Cozer, CIS Academy Instructor, Chaparral High School
  • Shelly Darland, Student Council Adviser, Henry & Evelyn Bozarth Elementary School
  • Miriam Gomez, Instructor, Leaders in Training
  • Isabel Gonzalez, CIS Academy Site Coordinator, Eldorado High School
  • Sara Hays, Instructor, Henry & Evelyn Bozarth Elementary School
  • Priscilla Landeros, CIS Academy Site Coordinator, Chaparral High School
  • Carmen Martinez, CIS Academy Site Coordinator, Sunrise Mt. High School
  • Marco Mercado, CIS Academy Site Coordinator, Canyon Springs High School
  • Matthew Nighswonger, Instructor, Shadow Ridge High School
  • Treasha Parker, CIS Academy Director
  • Steve Romero, Program Manager, Leaders in Training
  • Elizabeth Smith, CIS Academy Instructor, Sunrise Mt. High School
  • Mx. Tadrzynski, CIS Academy Instructor, Canyon Springs High School
  • Luanne Wagner, Instructor, Ed W. Clark High School

In addition, PSNV would like to thank our Community Partners for their constant support:

  • Communities in Schools
  • Leaders in Training
  • Leadership Institute of Nevada
  • Nevada Collaboratory
  • Public Education Foundation
  • Teach for America

The Year of Exemplary Engagement

From August 24 to September 29, 2022, Senator Wiener visited 15 classes (430 enrolled students) via “live” virtual visits to acknowledge them and how they have grown through the pandemic experience and beyond. She also invited them to fully participate in the three “recorded” virtual, highly interactive SLI sessions (which she sent to the Faculty Champions). She also strongly encouraged these students to step into community service to create projects to address a need identified by a community they have chosen to serve.

Senator Wiener shared that she would return “in person” in early 2023 to recognize students for their projects. Due to the challenges of the lingering post-pandemic adjustments, it was important to provide opportunities for these students to feel connected. And relevant. EmPowerment at its best.

With great joy, between February 10 and 28, 2023, Senator Wiener visited Leaders in Training (1 team-2 student leaders), Henry and Evelyn Bozarth Elementary School (1 team-17 student council leaders, grades 3-5), and Eldorado High School (3 teams-24 student leaders), to recognize these 43 students for the exemplary projects that they created to address an identified community need. All 43 students, along with 7 Faculty Champions, were honored with Gratitude Awards.

In addition to being recognized during awards events and in this Digest, which is distributed to education leaders throughout Clark County, Nevada, these students will also be honored on


Gratitude Awards Program

2023 Recognition Events

Gratitude Awards


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Category: Animal Welfare

Bozarth to the Rescue

Large Team Recipients:

Student Council, Grades 3 to 5: Emma Calle, Eleanor Carpenter, Leah Guttman, Cherie-Rose Halemano, Yamira Haynes, Allison Herrera, Sasha Hoopiianina, Lana Martinez, Bentlee Rodgers, Ava Spilsbury, Isabella Stumbo, Axl Suarez, Lilah Suarez, Kaden Taber, Ava Tacazon, Warner Thorne, Chloe Unguren

Faculty Champion: Sara Hays

Student Council Adviser: Shelly Darland

Henry & Evelyn Bozarth Elementary School

Awards Event: February 17, 2023


Project Description (as described by the team)

This project rallied the entire school to collect items that The Animal Foundation needed. This nonprofit organization has been dealing with dog sicknesses, low adoption numbers, and an influx of animals arriving at the shelter. To help the shelter best support its animals and the community, they needed basic supplies, such as blankets, towels, food, treats, and toys.

“Our student council chose to collect items school-wide so that the animals were not bored. When we got to visit the foundation, we could see how sad the animals were. So, we hope the toys, treats, blankets, and food will help.” -Ava Tacazon, fifth grade

Inspiration for this Project (as described by the team)

We saw on the news how the shelter is struggling. We know how important animals are to humans, and we knew we wanted to support these animals in need.

“We, as the student council, selected animal welfare as our community to support because these animals don’t have a home. By helping them we hope that it helps them get adopted and make the transition to a real home much easier.” -Chloe Unguren, fifth grade

Challenges (as described by the team)

One challenge that we faced on the large scale was educating our area that The Animal Foundation supports all types of animals, not just dogs and cats. We learned quickly that if we were going to support this organization in a big way that we needed to make an impact on all the species they support.

Impact of this Service on the Community and the Team (as described by the team)

This service impacted our student council in a meaningful way. Because we are an elementary school, students do not believe that they can truly make an impact on the world. The student council watched the three Serve.Learn.Inspire. video lessons, had rich discussions, developed our ideas, and implemented our plans to create this project. Some of us even had the chance to tour The Animal Foundation to realize how deep our support went.

“We really wanted to help the animals there because animals bring us so much joy, and they’re abandoned. When we delivered our donations, I felt so happy and proud because I knew we were doing something good for the world.” -Leah Guttman, fourth grade

What’s Next?

The team chose to direct $375 of the PSNV donation, in the team’s name, to The Animal Foundation and $375 to Bozarth Elementary School.  During her donation acceptance remarks, Hilarie Grey, Chief Executive Officer of The Animal Foundation, eagerly invited the students to develop an active collaboration with The Animal Foundation to address the needs of these animals in their care. For example, this could involve the foundation bringing animals to the school so children could read to them, as well as host an animal adoption event at the school.

Category: Education


Small Team Recipients:

Team Co-Leader: Gerardo Meza

Team Co-Leader: Dannay Saenz

Team Members: Axel Mondragon-Benitez, Edwin Santiaguin-Cruz, Edgar Perez Hidalgo, Braulio Piedras-Montoya, Jesus Morales, Jaeshawn West.

Faculty Champions: Nitza Brand and Isabel Gonzalez

Eldorado High School/Communities in Schools Academy

Awards Event: February 28, 2023


Project Description (as described by the team)

We hosted a youth education book drive at Eldorado High School. We chose to donate the books we collected to Eileen Brookman Elementary School because some of our peers went to that school.

Impact of this Service on the Community and the Team (as described by the team)

We chose to direct the “treasure” part of our philanthropy to Communities in Schools (CIS), which provides us with so much support. CIS means a lot to us because they have helped us stay on track, year by year, as we continue to move through high school.

What’s Next?

The team chose to direct the entire $500 PSNV donation, in their names, to CIS, which sponsors the Academy Program. This program supports these participating students, as they work toward their dream of high school graduation.

Category: Health and Wellness

Healthy Minds, Healthy Lives

Small Team Recipients:

Team Leader: Brian Vazquez-Castaneda

Team Members: Andrea Alvarado, Helen Carillo, Geovanni Contreras, Ahnajah Johnson, Cassandra Martinez, Fernando Munoz, Estephania Ortiz.

Faculty Champions: Nitza Brand and Isabel Gonzalez

Eldorado High School/Communities in Schools Academy

Awards Event: February 28, 2023


Project Description (as described by the team)

This project helped students at Eldorado High School learn how to work through their mental health problems. Specifically, we created a “slime and relax” activity during which we created slime with 10 students and showed them that they can make slime to help them feel relieved and to calm themselves down.

Inspiration for this Project (as described by the team)

Mental health plays a big part in society today. It is important for students to become aware of this and how mental health issues affect them personally.

Challenges (as described by the team)

Time management was a concern, as well as learning how to understand other people’s problems.

Impact of this Service on the Community and the Team (as described by the team)

We were able to teach other students how to calm themselves and what to do when they are under stress when at school.

“We are grateful to all the people, who helped us achieve our goal of creating this project, which brings awareness to mental health. Those who believed in us knew there was potential for this initiative to make a difference in the lives of kids and teenagers, like me, and they chose to support it.” -Brian Vazquez-Castaneda, Team Leader

What’s Next?

The team chose to direct the entire $500 PSNV donation, in their names, to Project 150.

Category: Human Kindness

Quality Time with the Special Education Department

Small Team Recipients:

Team Leader: Alondra Villasenor

Team Members: Deshawn Bagsby, Yara Bustillos, Richard Ruiz Castro, Ethan Escobar, Airiana McKinney, Gael Nunez, Antonio Vazquez.

Faculty Champions: Nitza Brand and Isabel Gonzalez

Eldorado High School/Communities in Schools Academy

Awards Event: February 28, 2023


Project Description (as described by the team)

To address the needs of special education students at our school, we went to each of the classes on four different days. We got to know each of the kids by visiting them.  We attended their rooms to help them with whatever they were doing at that moment. On two days, we did arts and crafts. We taught them how to make slime, which worked as a stress reliever for them. We also participated in dance battle and helped them make Halloween characters for the holiday. Two team members, Ethan and Yara, gave up their lunch periods to help in the student store, which is run by our special education department.

Inspiration for this Project (as described by the team)

We chose to serve the special education classes at our school because we felt that schools should pay more attention to offering positive life opportunities to special education students. We were inspired to show kindness and share peer mentoring.

Challenges (as described by the team)

During one of the visits, we had an earthquake drill toward the end of the project day. We handled it by helping the students get under the tables to cover their heads. We then walked them outside to the designated spot to stand outside and wait for the go-ahead to return to their classroom.

Impact of this Service on the Community and the Team (as described by the team)

We learned how to see things differently and treat others like they are one of us. A lot of people don’t do this. We made friends in the process. We realized that these special education students are just like us, and they became our friends. Most of us have chosen to stay connected with them and continue to grow through talking and interacting with them.

What’s Next?

The team chose to direct $250 of the PSNV donation, in their names, to Lilliam Lujan Hickey Elementary School.

“This elementary school is surrounded by a middle school and a high school, and it would be very easy for the students at Hickey to fall into the wrong crowd. One of the many reasons this could happen is not having enough resources. This is why we are donating to Hickey Elementary School.” -Alondra Villasenor, Team Leader

The team chose to direct the remaining $250 PSNV donation, in their names, to Project 150.

“Thank you, Project 150, for donating hygiene products and snacks to our Communities in Schools room for us to have throughout the year.” -Alondra Villasenor, Team Leader

Category: Public Safety and Justice

Action Against Gun Violence

Small Team Recipients:

Team Co-Leader: Emanuel Hernandez Gomez

Team Co-Leader: Samantha Zugnia

Faculty Champions: Miriam Gomez, Steve Romero

Leaders in Training

Awards Event: February 10, 2023


Project Description (as described by the team)

We sponsored an event to invite the community to talk about gun violence. We worked many late nights to create and send emails, plan our event, and share our message in creative ways. Our event was a place for people to collect and share their thoughts and opinions about gun violence. We plan to present these collective ideas to elected officials, who have agreed to work with us.

Inspiration for this Project (as described by the team co-leaders)

We chose to serve the East Las Vegas community because we are a part of it and understand some of the main issues. Gun violence is a very prominent challenge in our community and is something that impacts many of us.

“Gun violence has been an issue that has affected my life for as long as I can remember. I chose to focus on this project so that there won’t be another young person, who experiences what I have had to endure alone. I don’t want the children in my community to live in fear, always wondering: “Is this a bad person who is going to enter my school with a gun?” I don’t want my siblings, cousins, and those who follow me to experience the terror of getting shot while at school, walking home from school, or playing outside their homes.

Gun violence is a prominent issue in my community. Every school year, we have at least one hard lock down due to a shooting nearby. I have experienced situations where gun violence could have ended my own life. Thank you for listening and for believing in this project.” -Emanuel Hernandez Gomez, Team Co-Leader


“Back in 2016, my house was broken into and robbed. I was awakened to the screams of my sister, only to find out that she had a gun pointed at her. The fear of hoping it would never happen again was real and terrifying, not just for me but for my family, too.”

My Leaders in Training cohort put a lot of time, hard work, and energy into this project. I am also truly grateful for this project and how it has given my Co-Leader, Emmanuel, and me the opportunity to know that our work has made a difference.” -Samantha Zuniga, Team Co-Leader

Challenges (as described by the team)

We had to find ways to reach out to people who were willing to hear us and work with us.

It was also a big challenge to locate and contact elected officials. Fortunately, one of us had worked on a campaign during the 2022 mid-term election. This connected us with people in our community, who were eager to have us share the data that we collected at our event.

Impact of this Service on the Community and the Team (as described by the team)

We learned that we could take action on an issue that affects us every day. We also had the opportunity to learn how to plan an event and talk about a sensitive topic. We not only learned what it takes to create change but also the importance of investing time, patience, and hard work to help us achieve what is important to us.

What’s Next?

The team chose to direct the entire $500 PSNV donation, in their names, to Leaders in Training. In addition, Team Co-Leaders Emanuel Hernandez Gomez and Samantha Zuniga, have pledged to continue spreading awareness about gun violence in honor and remembrance of the 22 children who are shot and killed every day in the United States.

Going Forward:

YOU Can Help Build a Stronger Community . . .

One Child at a Time

Please help PSNV identify potential Faculty Champions and schools or programs . . . AND/OR Community Champions and/or community programs . . . that might be interested in collaborating with our non-profit and its distinctive civic engagement programs.

  • Serve.Learn.Inspire. Classroom Engagement Program. This highly interactive live and virtual multi-session instruction includes a 10-step civic engagement group activity that teaches philanthropy—time, talent, and treasure.
  • Gratitude Awards Program. This program engages and recognizes students, who choose to take what they learned in SLI Classroom Engagement Program and create and deliver high-level community service projects.
  • Serve.Learn.Inspire. Community Engagement Program. This comprehensive 10-lesson civic engagement curriculum provides high-level, interactive learning opportunities for student participants in local clubs, after-school programs, and community organizations. It also recognizes students who complete the program.

PSNV’s mission invites this opportunity to “engage, educate, and recognize individuals whose service enriches their communities.” Let’s work together to “engage, educate, and recognize” our community’s youth . . . NOW. We look forward to hearing from you and working with you.

  • Senator Valerie Wiener (Ret.)
  • Founder and President
  • PublicServiceNV