Union League’s Good Citizenship Award celebrates 70 years of rewarding the ‘good kids’

High school juniors from the Philadelphia area chosen for their leadership qualities participate in Good Citizen Day at City Hall

High school juniors from the Philadelphia area chosen for their leadership qualities participate in Good Citizen Day at City Hall

As 300 high school Juniors were treated to the toast of civic life as recipients of the Youth Work Foundation of The Union League’s 70th Annual Good Citizenship Award, former President Tom Pappas recalled like it was yesterday when he received the award in 1959. 

At age 16, “I might have been on Broad Street walking by this building or on public transportation- I had never been in this building, my parents had never been in this building, so the first thing they asked me when I returned home from the event, they were at the door waiting for me- they said ‘What’s it like in there?'” said Pappas.

Current 11th grader Kamren Washington- Richards says after a childhood dealing with stress that lead to alopecia, he was far from a model citizen when he entered high school. But his community service and attitude change lead his principal at Boys Latin of Philadelphia Charter School to nominate him for the award.

“I didn’t think I would ever see myself in here. But being here and it being my Junior year- I think a lot of the things I experienced and went through is just so momentous, and I am very grateful.” Washington- Richards said.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

Before the evening’s party, the students met judges, City Council members, and debated hot issues- from stop- and -frisk to the proposed Soda Tax. Some even tried out lobbying in the mayor’s office.

Emily Zimmerman, who was nominated by her Girl Scouts troop, cleaned up.

“My group and I got two million dollars for Health and Human Services for Foster care in Philadelphia. It was a really cool experience to be able to do that,” she said.

The roads students took to get to the Union League varied, 50 community agencies in the region participate in Good Citizen Day. Since 1947, the Youth Work Foundation of The Union League has honored over 17,000 young leaders. It has been open to both boys and girls since the 1980’s. The awardees have the chance to apply for one of ten college scholarships worth $25,000.

Michael Joniec, from Northeast Philly, was nominated by his boss at a city pool where he works in the summer. Last year, his first as a lifeguard, he rescued three people. After graduation, Joniec wants to join the electricians’ union. Isaiah Woodard, an aspiring anesthesiologist from Roxborough, was recognized by his ROTC sergeant.

Zaina Shariff, from Hopewell, New Jersey, was honored for mentoring a girl in Trenton for three years. She aspires to be a director of a refugee or immigrant program.

“I give her advice on everything- her siblings, her middle-school love life, everything. I just love that one- on- one connection we have,” said Shariff.

John DelVecchio, chair of the Union League’s Youth Work Committee says that the award and all access pass is their way of acknowledging the “good kids.”

“These are the kids that do more than they are supposed to and we’re thanking them,” he said.

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal