One Student’s Past Shapes the Future for Others

The subject of undocumented immigrants has sparked vitriolic rhetoric on the presidential campaign trail. But, for student Carolina Gonzalez, the topic is a very personal one.

At the age of 15, she founded a nonprofit that helped more than 500 undocumented immigrant teens apply for temporary residence and employment in the United States under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Her nonprofit—Deferred Action for Dreamers (DAD)—raised more than $22,000 to help young immigrants pay the $465 application fee and get pro bono legal advice.

Her bold efforts earned her recognition as a state winner, then one of 10 national winners, in the 2015 Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program, when she was a senior at Our Lady of Lourdes Academy in Miami. She had been Carolina Gonzalezvolunteering in her community in various ways since age 5. But her father, an immigration lawyer, enlightened her about the difficulty young immigrants face, and the extraordinary expense involved, with seeking deferred status.

Her grandparents, exiles of Castro’s regime, truly inspired Carolina to action. “Since the time I was able to hold a conversation, my mother would remind me of the plight both my grandfather and grandmother went through. My family’s story of immigration inspired me to help those in my community.”

She explains, “We have been able to assist 500-plus applicants through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals application process and educate them on the opportunities available to them. DAD is also a part of an ongoing project that is providing mini-grants for those applicants who do not have the means to pay the government fees for the application.”

Now a freshman at Barnard College in New York, Carolina hopes to double major in English and Human Rights, and then attend law school.

As a national honoree of the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program, she values the fact that she was able to share her story and “the story of the undocumented youth with a public audience.” She elaborates, “Beginning a nonprofit at 15 was a challenge. … But I think it took me stepping out of my comfort zone to realize: Yes, I can do this!”

Who, in your school or community, reminds you of Carolina?

The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, co-sponsored with NASSP, is the largest youth recognition program focused solely on volunteerism. Applications from students are being accepted through November 3. Applicants are eligible for cash prizes, a trip to Washington, D.C., and the chance to inspire other youth to get involved in their communities. Complete information is available at


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