Pawlet girl honored as one of nation's best youth volunteers

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DORSET — For Pawlet teen philanthropist Riley Callen, an eventful school year ended last week with a nice surprise.

Callen, a graduating eighth grader at The Dorset School headed to Burr and Burton Academy in the fall, has been named one of the top 10 young volunteers in the country by Prudential Financial for her work in raising money for benign brain tumor research and awareness.

Callen and 101 other children and young adults were honored for their community service and charitable work visited Washington D.C. in May. It was there, at an award ceremony at the historic Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium, that she found out she had made the top 10 in the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards.

On June 15, Callen was honored in front of her classmates at The Dorset School, as she was presented with a trophy by Cambridge, N.Y.-based Prudential Financial advisor Marion Watkins. Earlier, she was presented a personal award of $5,000 and a $5,000 grant from The Prudential Foundation for a nonprofit charitable organization of her choice.

The brief award ceremony at The Dorset School wasn't quite as formal as the award dinner in Washington, but it closed the loop on an eventful year for Callen and her foundation.

"It seems a lot more personal. And it is," she said. "It's funny, when I'm in front of the entire school I'm more nervous than I am in front of 500 random people."

Her mother, Laura Callen, said despite all the work her daughter has put into her foundation, she is still happy to let others have the limelight.

"Riley's incredibly humble. She doesn't like the spotlight to be on her," Laura Callen said.

And yet, she's at ease when she's talking about her foundation.

"My husband asked her one time if she was nervous speaking in front of so many people. Her response was said "Not when I talk about be brave because it's something I'm passionate about," Laura Callen said.

Callen's Be Brave For Life foundation, which plans to present three fundraisers over the next 12 months, has raised $250,000 for benign brain tumor awareness, research, and the neurological consequences of their removal. Beneficiaries of funds raised include the Barrow Neurological Institute in Arizona, where Callen underwent tumor removal surgery, and Boston Children's Hospital.

One of the perks of the Washington D.C. trip, aside from visiting the Smithsonian Institution and the city's many historic landmarks, was the chance for Callen to meet other young philanthropists and be inspired by their efforts.

One girl Riley befriended, Kayli Roe of Palatine, Illinois, started a charitable foundation called "Sisters Giving Hope" and funded its activities by selling crafts and jewelry that she and her sisters made.

"Two years ago, one of her best friends had a brain tumor and lost her hair. So Kayli said "I'm going to shave off my hair so my best friend doesn't have to be different,'" Riley Callen said.

Another girl she met in Washington has been creating prosthetic limbs for people who can't afford them.

"It makes you feel like you want to do more because all these kids are doing the same thing as you," Callen said. "They inspire you to do more with your organization."

The Be Brave For Life Foundation will host a benefit in August with live auctions, and the third annual Hike-a-thon on Oct. 1 at Merck Forest and Farm Center in Rupert.

It's also planning a winter challenge, in which participants — individuals or relay teams —take on as many as four southern Vermont ski mountains next March. Participants will hike or snowshoe up, then ski or snowboard down. The team that raises the most money will win the event.

Burton Snowboards has agreed to sponsor the event and will provide demo split boards on the day of the event for anyone who wants to give them a try, Laura Callen said.

Reach Journal editor Greg Sukiennik at 802-490-6000.


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