Sophia Gigante, a sophomore at Columbia High School, received the prestigious Jefferson Award for volunteerism and public service this Sunday, May 19, at the War Memorial in Trenton.
Sophia was recognized as an honoree for the New Jersey State Governor’s Jefferson Awards, “the nation’s oldest and most prestigious recognition program for volunteer/public service, and the official recognition program of the U.S. Senate.” The Jefferson Awards were founded in 1972 by Jaqueline Kennedy Onassis. Sophia received an award in one of the two categories for “Youth in Service” nominations. Her CHS guidance counselor recommended her.
Sophia’s mom, Shelly Gigante, explained that Sophia was recognized for starting a neighborhood donation drive in 2018 called “Play On! Puerto Rico” after the devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria.
“Sophie’s father is from Puerto Rico and her grandparents still live there so we visit every year,” explained Shelly. “The island holds a special place in her heart. After the storm, she discovered that several of the Boys and Girls Club of Puerto Rico facilities, a haven for at-risk youth, were literally destroyed. They are still housed in temporary facilities as they rebuild. To help them replace some of what was lost, Sophie decided to put drop boxes bearing her ‘Play on! Puerto Rico’ logo (with enthusiastic permission) in both of the Maplewood and Hilton libraries, three elementary schools (Clinton, Jefferson, Marshall), and one local fitness club (The Gym Maplewood, owned by Tim Reynolds) to collect new and gently used sports equipment. The donations poured in!”
Between January 2018 and April 2018, Sophia collected six large boxes of sports gear (more than 200 baseballs, bats, gloves, helmets, soccer balls, basketballs, uniforms, cleats, etc.) that she cleaned and shipped to the hardest hit Boys and Girls Club on the island – in Bayamon.
Sophia also raised nearly $2,500 (and counting) through a GoFundMe campaign, the proceeds of which were used entirely to purchase additional equipment and healthy snacks when she flew down to volunteer over Spring Break 2018 – delivering those items in person to the Boys and Girls Club of Puerto Rico.