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Youth Honored for Tireless Volunteerism


Before his name was called at a recent luncheon, Avimael Carrillo had expected someone else to step forward for the Golden Rule Award.

"I was in shock," said Avimael, a 17-year-old volunteer with the American Red Cross office in Burbank. "I couldn't believe it."

But just about everyone else at the Red Cross who has worked with the shy, self-effacing but determined Burbank High School student knew Avimael had well-earned one of the awards given by the Volunteer Center of the San Fernando Valley.

Avimael puts in 120 hours a month at the organization teaching classes, handling paperwork, doing computer entries, designing flyers and making presentations. He also represents the Los Angeles chapter at national conferences.

"There's a lot of people who do more than I do," Avimael said modestly.

He first volunteered as part of the Youth Assn. for the American Red Cross in Burbank, which in October 1993 began to train teenagers to help in disasters and perform community service. A native of Mexico who moved to Burbank six years ago, Avimael was at first uncertain of himself and his English abilities. "He was the quiet one in the corner," said Steve Goldfarb, the Red Cross health and safety service coordinator who helped start the youth group.

But in the aftermath of the Northridge earthquake, Red Cross volunteers and staff started to notice the teenager.

"The guy is just endless energy," said Ken Hoaglund, a recreational vehicle parts salesman in Burbank who volunteered with Avimael at a McCambridge Park shelter after the quake. "He did everything he could to help."

For three weeks after the temblor, Avimael would come home from school, change clothes and eat and then get to the shelter by 6 p.m. to work for 12 hours, putting victims at ease, distributing food, finding them a place to sleep, playing with the children. He would get home just in time to go to school. He took catnaps on a cot or at a table during quiet moments, but was always ready to dive back into the work, Hoaglund said.

"Where there is something that needs to be done, he doesn't seem to tire," Hoaglund said.

But even since the earthquake, Avimael has still impressed Red Cross staff by showing up every afternoon and working into the evening without looking for special recognition.

"He's not doing it to win awards," Goldfarb said. "He does what we would pay someone a year's salary to do."

And he has kept up the volunteer work while juggling a schedule that includes attending Valley College as part of the Academy of Finance at Burbank High School. Avimael hopes to be an accountant or teacher someday.

"I've always seen him as someone reliable, someone that's committed to what he says he's going to do," said Robert Reynoso, an emergency services disaster specialist in the Burbank office. "He's come a long way," Reynoso said.

But Reynoso, who sees himself almost as Avimael's mentor, thinks maybe the teenager's career plans may get sidetracked.

Reynoso himself had planned to go into corporate law and finance, but then he started volunteering with the Red Cross. Something similar could happen to Avimael.

"You just never know what God has in store for you," Reynoso said.

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