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Jim Beggs | Published on 5/22/2022

This year's nine McLean Citizens Association's Teen Character Award recipients are:

Max Blacksten – Junior at McLean High School

Max serves on the McLean Community Center Governing Board. He participated in the Teen Town Hall in March, attends the monthly board meetings, and serves on the board’s Finance and Program Committees. In these meetings he listens carefully and contributes meaningful points by stating his opinion. He is articulate and calm in managing diverse viewpoints. He expresses new ideas confidently for discussion and helps the board move forward in collaboration. By raising the concerns and interests of his fellow peers, Max makes sure that MCC’s program offerings are effectively marketed to teen demographic and that programs are nuanced to what teens are interested in.

Chen – Senior at Langley High School
Ivy Chen has served two consecutive years on the McLean Community Center Governing Board as a Youth representative for Langley High School. With outstanding creativity, she designed a colorful infographic in 2021 explaining details of the annual Governing Board election process. It was so well-received that it was requested to be updated and repeated in the current 2022 Governing Board election. She helped to envision and suggest relevant details for the successful Teen Town Hall event that was held at MCC this past March. Ivy appreciates the role of students in collaborative decision-making on the Governing Board. She articulates student needs and helps to establish goals for meaningful programming that addresses the needs and interests of her student peers.

Caroline Klein – Junior at McLean High School
During the pandemic, Caroline took on additional responsibilities so her parents could continue working outside the home. She cared for her younger sister and prepared some household meals. She helped make sure her sister was ready for virtual school each day. She initiated activities with neighborhood children, helping students stay engaged and giving other parents a much-needed break. Even after the pandemic restrictions were lifted, she continued to help the elementary-aged children in the neighborhood with their activities. She can aways be counted on for solace, enthusiastic support of other children’s accomplishments, and spending time outside playing games with them. She is mature and trusted by the families in her neighborhood.


Kevin Lee - Sophomore at Langley High School

Kevin is a volunteer at Inova Fairfax Hospital Gift Shops. He was very enthusiastic and eager to learn about the shop., His supervisor wrote, “He learned very quickly. After observing Kevin's manners with customers and team members we all felt confident to have him in charge of running one of our stores during his shifts as well as helping the employees train new volunteers.” His father notes that Kevin’s volunteer work at the hospital is his priority activity because he thoroughly enjoys helping people. He has empathy for people who are in need, wants to care for those who cannot help themselves, and wants to help make people’s lives better. Activities like helping visitors select special gifts in the Gift Shop for a patient they are visiting or helping to discharge a patient who has recovered from a serious illness make Kevin feel grateful about his volunteer work at the hospital. 

Sean Lee - Sophomore at Langley High School

Sean volunteers weekly for Global Co Lab where he works on climate change issues. His projects focus on climate education efforts, including environmental documentaries, movie screenings, Podcasts, and an Eco-Anxiety Webinar. Sean's activities aim to help inspire and educate people about the climate crisis and what must be done to improve the climate. His supervisor writes: “… he addresses climate change from a global health perspective…  Sean is able to effectively show his team members a very powerful way to present climate issues by relating climate change to other global issues.   Sean leads all the activities from webinars to documentaries.  I am impressed by his innovative ideas and methodologies.  Sean is definitely a thought leader in this subject matter for us.”

JoJo Phillips -Junior at McLean High School

JoJo’s parents both work and often travel, so a couple of years ago JoJo started cooking dinner one night a week. She plans the meal, buys groceries, cooks it, and cleans up afterwards. She also helps out in the neighborhood. One neighbor wrote that, when her husband died three years ago, JoJo began mentoring her three young children. One afternoon she offered to watch them and secretly took them shopping so they could buy their mother a Mother’s Day present. Since then she has taken the children to buy Christmas, birthday, and Valentine’s presents for their mother. She plays a special role in two other children’s lives—children who would not get special attention without her. She is a model citizen for the kids of her neighborhood and a source of comfort for the very young ones.  She is intuitive, nurturing and mature beyond her years. 

Alexander Pomper – Junior at Langley High School

Alex launched a children’s book drive in January 2022, Give a Kid a Book, which so far has collected more than 4,500 books that have been donated to more than a half a dozen area organizations. Alex creates school and community announcements to solicit donations, organizes pickups from donors’ homes, sorts and culls donated books and maintains public dropboxes. He gave away nearly 200 books to clients of the Arlington Food Assistance Center. At the Center he tried to match books to the kids who approached his table and then created an Amazon wishlist for bilingual books that he thinks would appeal to the families he wants to help. Alex’s books provide families with books they might not otherwise be able to afford and help instill a love of reading, which is critical for kids’ success in school.


Sam Rakowski – Freshman at McLean High School

Since 2019 Sam has led a project with an organization called Shoes That Fit to deliver brand new shoes to underserved children at Cora Kelly Elementary School in Alexandria. Sam works with the school social worker who identifies the students to receive new sneakers. She gets their shoe size and favorite color. Then Sam collects funds from neighbors and friends and shops for the students. He has distributed more than 250 pairs of shoes He wants to help close the gap between socio-economic groups by gifting brand new and very cool brand name shoes that children are proud to wear. The kids have been very excited to receive their shoes each season and better yet, it enables them to participate in school and sports fully.


Rishika Singh – Freshman at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology

Rishika designed, produced, and delivered seven IV Lily Pads to Inova’s Schar Cancer Institute’s Pediatric Infusion Unit. An IV Lily Pad is a structure that fits on top of the base of an IV pole, providing a platform for a child to stand or sit while they are attached to the IV. Rishika took great care in incorporating bright colors and cheerful designs to make use of the IV pole a more positive experience. The Lily Pads allow the patients the freedom to safely ride on the IV poles while their parents push them through the halls during their treatments. Rishika is a determined worker with keen organizational skills. She spent hours perfecting the design, construction, and finish of the seven Lily Pads. Her optimism, intellect, and strong communication skills allowed her to find a way to construct IV Lily Pads that adhered to the strict safety standards required by the hospital.