Pawlet teen named top Vermont volunteer

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DORSET — A Dorset School student who raised more than $250,000 to find a cure for brain tumors was named one of the state's top youth volunteers.

Riley Callen, 14, of Pawlet, is one of two Vermont recipients of the The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism.

Callen and Gabrielle Metz, 17, of St. Albans, will each receive $1,000, an engraved silver medallion and an all-expense-paid trip in early May to Washington, D.C., where they will join the top two honorees from each of the other states and the District of Columbia. The award was announced on Feb. 7.

Callen, an eighth grader at The Dorset School, founded an annual "hike-a-thon" in Rupert that has raised more than $250,000 to help find a cure for benign brain tumors such as the ones that have affected her since she was 8-years-old.

It took two major surgeries to remove the first benign tumor in Riley's brain stem, and another to extract a second tumor three years later. The surgeries resulted in Riley losing hearing in her left ear and the ability to move the left side of her face.

Riley decided she wanted to help others who had been through the same surgery. She, her mother and a former babysitter who also had a brain tumor organized a not-for-profit organization, Be Brave, and planned the hike-a-thon. In its first year, the event raised more than $100,000; the second year, a scavenger hunt, live music and a silent auction raised $150,000.

"I am incredibly proud of Riley for taking something that has been so difficult and turning it into something positive," her mother, Laura Callen, said by email. "It takes a special kind of person to look directly at their own hardship and not let it define them. Riley is one of those people, and she amazes me everyday with her generous spirit and positive outlook on life."

Funds raised from the events have been split evenly between Barrow Neurological Foundation in Phoenix, Arizona for neurosurgery tumor and hemangioma research and Boston Children's Hospital for research on pediatric brain tumor and vascular disease.

"Riley is a wonderful kid," Dorset School principal Rosanna Moran said via email. "She is a great student, has good peer relationships and is involved with many activities both in school and out."

This year, Be Brave for Life will be hosting its third annual hike-a-thon at the Merck forest on October 1. A month earlier, the organization will host its inaugural Be Brave for Life Gala.

"Both [events] are a way to promote awareness about the need to raise money for brain tumor research, in different venues," Laura Callen said.

All public and private middle level and high schools in the country, as well as all Girl Scout councils, county 4-H organizations, American Red Cross chapters, YMCAs and HandsOn Network affiliates, were eligible to select a student or member for a local Prudential Spirit of Community Award.

Local honorees were then reviewed by an independent judging panel, which selected state honorees and distinguished finalists based on criteria including personal initiative, effort, impact and personal growth.

Reach Greg Sukiennik at 802-490-6000.

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