Celebration of Local Young Adults' Achievements

Staten Island Youth Awards Ceremony seeks to uplift the spirit of youth during a time when many feel isolated.

Celebration of Local Young Adults' Achievements
From left, Savannah Margarita Rodriguez, Brian Chen, Alecia Watson, Gabriella Miller, Jason Jiang, Chace Olsen, and Oscar Contreras were recognized at the 2024 Staten Island Youth Awards (Plea for the Fifth, 2024)

Seven young adults from the sixth grade to graduate school were recognized for their exceptional achievements across their fields at the Staten Island Youth Awards (SIYA) held on Tuesday, June 25 at the Snug Harbor Cultural Center.

The third annual award ceremony convened by TYSA, a Staten Island Behavioral Health Coalition, is a response to a lack of community spaces that affirm young adults' identities, foster connections, and celebrate achievements in safe, supportive, and sober environments. TYSA, established in 2011 as Staten Island Partnership for Community Wellness’s cornerstone project, is a coalition that seeks to reduce youth and young adult substance use, and improve mental health outcomes. The Coalition recognized each young adult with an award package, and allowed them to provide remarks to the audience, followed by a reception and food for awardees and their families.

Alecia credited Curtis High School's nursing program, and her mother for her achievements. (Xin Yan Zhu, 2024)

"Last year, I was honored to receive a Staten Island Youth Award," shares Vincent Lepani, Chair of the TYSA Youth Consultant Workgroup and a college student. Lepani continues, "I appreciate how it uplifts young people and the various works we do.”

Results from the most recent NYS Youth Development Survey - a biennial survey of thousands of middle and high school students across the State - revealed 40% of youth in the borough indicated that they were experiencing depression and sadness in 2022. The award ceremony is one of many strategies deployed as the Coalition recognizes that factors influencing young people's emotional wellness are complex.

"It’s inspirational to see youth do these actions out of their heart. I hope to see them continue, ” says Danielle Guzman a TYSA Youth Consultant, "I’m not originally from Staten Island, and I’ve only been a part of TYSA for a few months, but I loved being introduced to the SIYA ceremony."

Savannah thanked SIYA for recognizing their advocacy for safe spaces for young adults. (Xin Yan Zhu, 2024)

2024 SIYA Awardees

  • Arts & Culture: Gabriella Miller (she/her) is a 6th grader at I.S. 72, and excels in performative arts, particularly music and acting. Through prevention classes at United Activities Unlimited, she has found a creative outlet to hone her talents and deepen her understanding of culture.
  • Climate Advocacy: Oscar Contreras (he/him) is a rising sophomore at the
    College of Staten Island. For the last three years, he has worked at Snug Harbor where he has worked on projects related to water quality, urban farming, and food waste reduction as a way of improving environmental sustainability.
  • Community Organizing & Activism: Chace Olsen (he/him) is a rising junior at Port Richmond High School. He is the founder of Never Lose Hope, an organization committed to providing care packages for individuals battling cancer and managing chronic illnesses.
  • Education: Jason Jiang (he/him) is a senior at New Dorp High School. He is a youth leadership team member at New York City Teens Connection, where he has provided consent presentations and sexual health education to help people — particularly BIPOC/LGBTQ+ folks — gain autonomy and build healthy relationships.
  • Equity & Allyship: Savannah Margarita Rodriguez (they/them) is a graduate of Guttman Community College with an associate degree in Human Services. They are a counselor at United Activities Unlimited, advocating for safe spaces where all children can thrive, regardless of their background.
  • Health & Well-being: Alecia Watson (she/her) is a student at Curtis High School. She actively educates peers on reproductive, mental, and physical health. She has represented her school at the Capitol, advocating for the importance of school health centers.
  • Media & Journalism: Brian Chan (he/him) is a rising senior at Staten Island Academy. He is the founder of House of Poetry, an international literary journal that gives youth around the world a platform to express their poetry, prose, journalism, and visual art.
Brian thanked his mentors, and encouraged young adults to write. (Xin Yan Zhu, 2024)