Connecticut Teen Honors Veterans and Supports Underserved Students

Daily Point of Light # 7798 Apr 25, 2024

Meet Daily Point of Light Award honoree Noel Villepigue. Read his story, and nominate an outstanding volunteer or family as a Daily Point of Light.

Weston High school senior Noel Villepigue is co-captain of the school’s mock trial team and loves to hang out with his friends, playing soccer or going to the beach. Noel is looking forward to attending Villanova University in the fall where he will major in political science and eventually study law. Noel’s interest in history and geography, his background as an Eagle Scout with Troop 788 and his grandfather’s stories of his time serving in Vietnam have shaped Noel into a young man whose passion is to serve his community: today, through volunteering and tomorrow, through becoming a lawyer and fighting for justice.

Noel says he has a “profound sense of honor and respect for our veterans.” A dedicated history enthusiast, Noel enjoys reading about history. Talking to the veterans brings history to life. His passion for geography has taught him how the land shaped people and how people shaped the land. Hearing the veterans talk about their experiences brings a fresh understanding of the past — the real past, not just what’s written in history books — to today’s youth.

Some veterans struggle to reintegrate into society. Many carry physical and emotional scars, and don’t feel heard or appreciated by the public. Noel has made it his mission to make these servicemen and servicewomen forge a connection with high school students as a way to experience the gratitude we feel for their sacrifices.

American Heroes Club president Noel Villepigue, in the maroon top on the left side, sitting in the WHS cafeteria talking with veterans. /Courtesy Noel Villepigue

Tell us about your volunteer roles.

As president of Weston High School’s American Heroes Club, I lead the annual Veterans Luncheon on Veterans Day. Our day begins with a ceremony at the town hall where we present the veterans with a wreath and offer speeches of gratitude. After the ceremony, our veterans take a bus to Weston High School where they enjoy lunch alongside the students. Typically, about 20 to 30 veterans participate. We have three waves of lunch at the school, so nearly 1,000 students get to spend time with the veterans and hear their stories. This is a student’s opportunity to truly get to know our local veterans and the veterans appreciate being heard. The luncheon is followed by a Q&A session in our school library. Our goal for the Veterans Day event is to help to bridge the generational gap, allowing veterans to engage with a younger audience and build relationships with them. After all, the veterans were around high school age or slightly older when they enlisted or were drafted.

One year, over the holiday season, the American Heroes Club created personalized gift baskets which included hand-written letters, Sudoku and other game books, and treats. A few of the members and I personally delivered the baskets to our local veterans and their appreciation of our small gesture was evident. Funding for this initiative came from a grant I secured through the Hershey’s Heartwarming Action Grant Program.

We also hold Memorial Day events where we present memorial wreaths, perform flag ceremonies and give speeches to express the community’s gratitude for their sacrifices.

Valentines for Vets is another event we organize where students hand-write letters to veterans in our community as well as create thank you cards to active duty service members through a partnership with A Million Thanks Program. I built a relationship with this program by writing over 900 thank you cards in my pursuit of the Congressional Gold Medal Award. Then I introduced this idea to the American Heroes Club and the club members joined my endeavor and collectively we composed an additional 150 letters.


American Heroes Club president Noel Villepigue delivers over 100 prep guides to Central High School in Bridgeport, Connecticut. /Courtesy Noel Villepigue

I am an active member on the Joshua’s Heart National and local Board. Locally, we hold book, school supply and food drives. Our collections aim to assist underserved inner-city students. As we speak, we’ve donated over 10,000 books and I am always working to expand the club’s impact within our community. One of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had through volunteering was a book drive for Central High School in Bridgeport, Connecticut. I spoke with a guidance counselor at the school and learned that the school was sorely lacking college prep resources. This meant that these students were at a disadvantage when it came to SAT, ACT and AP exams. Colleges are placing more emphasis on standardized testing as part of the application process so I decided to find a way to help. I set up six donation sites around Fairfield County and collected over 100 college entrance exam prep guides along with AP exam prep guides, garnishing tremendous support from the community. I also applied for a WE Volunteer grant and used the funds to purchase books on scholarships and financial aid for the school. WE Volunteer is an organization that gives grants to help students serve their community.

On the Joshua’s Heart National Board, I am a Social Awareness analyst and work with a team to create Instagram posts, videos and PowerPoint presentations that we share with our partner organizations to show what the Joshua’s Heart Foundation is currently working on, including natural disaster recovery, climate change and much more. The organization is based in Miami and its focus is on alleviating food insecurity and overall fighting poverty.

I’m also on the Teen Advisory Board of my local Public Library. I have been working with the library for a long time, starting when I was in Cub Scouts. Over the past few years, I have assisted with planning and setting up for youth events, game nights and adult speaker series. One of my favorite events was a few years ago when my brother and I led a team that created thank you baskets for local emergency responders.

What inspired you to get started with this initiative?

My dedication to community service began when I was Cub Scout and participated in our troop volunteer activities such as setting up flags at town hall for veteran memorial events. As time went on, my involvement evolved into leadership roles as I started organizing my own initiatives. Upon entering high school, I actively pursued opportunities to further support veterans and became involved with the Joshua’s Heart Foundation, leading initiatives such as book and food drives. Being a part of the Joshua’s Heart Foundation has opened my eyes to the immense national impact we can achieve.

What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?

The most rewarding aspect is undoubtedly receiving feedback that validates our impact. Sure, it feels good to give back by dropping off much-needed supplies, but when we also hear how much our work is appreciated, it’s a whole other level of satisfaction. When veterans share their gratitude for being able to connect with students and feel heard, it reminds us why we’re doing what we do.

Witnessing the gratitude on the veterans’ and students’ faces makes every moment spent on grant applications, shopping, writing, organizing and leading events worthwhile.

Recently, I was recognized as one of the Samsung American Legion Scholar. The American Legion is a veteran’s advocacy group and to receive this award, I traveled to Washington, D.C., with eight other scholars. I was fortunate to have the incredible chance to speak with veterans, accompany them on a visit to Arlington National Cemetery, the Vietnam Memorial and overall, gain a deeper understanding of our nation’s history.

American Heroes Club president Noel Villepigue, wearing a black quarter zip top, presenting the memorial wreath on Veterans Day at Weston Town Hall. /Courtesy Noel Villepigue

What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?

Small gestures can yield large impacts. Even when I’m not organizing large-scale book drives, something as simple as crafting gift baskets for veterans holds profound meaning. In my community, there’s a strong culture of volunteerism, and I firmly believe in the ripple effect of goodness. Just one day of volunteering can stretch a long way. If more people grasped the magnitude of the difference they can make, I’m convinced we’d see a surge in volunteerism.

Why is it important for others to get involved with causes they care about?

Watching the news, you might think, “It doesn’t apply to me.” It’s easy to feel distant and detached from the events in the news. However, in every community, there are people who need help and actions we can take to improve lives. We don’t have to be stuck in the negativity of the media. Helping gives people perspective in the world. I believe that each of us possesses the power to reshape the prevailing narrative of our country.

Any advice for people who want to start volunteering?

Contact a local organization either online or in person. For example, see if there’s a food pantry near you, or any other volunteer organization. You can just walk in and ask, “How can I help?” They will be thrilled you’re there! They will tell you what they need and what you can do. There are many different groups focusing on alleviating suffering on so many levels. There’s definitely no shortage of organizations to research and join. As you keep showing up, you become more vested in the organization to the point you can’t wait to show up again. Helping is addictive! It’s not always easy to know where to start but once you start, you won’t want to stop. Helping is a good addiction to have!

What do you want people to learn from your story?

There’s always time to pursue what you are passionate about. I am involved in a lot of things, yet helping in my community is constantly in the forefront of my mind. Also, don’t underestimate the kindness of the people around you. If you’re committed to making a positive impact, you’ll find people who are eager to assist you along the way.

Do you want to make a difference in your community like Noel? Find local volunteer opportunities.

Jarmila Gorman