New Jersey State Governor’s Jefferson Awards for Public Service honors NJCTS Youth Advocates

Since 2007, the New Jersey State Governor’s Jefferson Awards for Public Service has recognized volunteers who make a difference in their communities. Among the 2017 honorees were the NJ Center for Tourette Syndrome and Associated Disorders, Inc. (NJCTS) Youth Advocates who were recognized in the Youth Volunteer Group Category.

NJCTS Youth Advocates Anna Baldwin, Tommy Licato, and Tess Kowalski accept the award from Governor Chris Christie on behalf of the entire group of Youth Advocates. (Photo by Matt Smith/NJ Advance Media)

The 30 young volunteers who serve as NJCTS Youth Advocates inspire others to understand and accept people with disabilities. To create awareness and understanding, they share their personal experience living with a highly visible disorder. All Youth Advocates, between the ages of 13 to 18, are trained to present to a variety of audiences including students and faculty in schools, medical professionals in hospitals, and peers in community organizations, in every corner of the state. These young volunteers provide much-needed support for youth and young adults living with TS, teaching empathy and encouraging an anti-bullying culture.

“I am proud of our Youth Advocates for the profound differences they are making in their communities and throughout New Jersey,” said NJCTS Executive Director Faith Rice. “These young volunteers raise awareness of Tourette Syndrome—a stigmatized disorder effecting 1 in 100 individuals—by sharing their personal journeys with students in schools and medical professionals in hospitals. In leading by example, they teach kids that Tourette, or any difference, is not something anyone should hide behind.”

Growing up with a neurological disorder has many challenges. For the children living with Tourette Syndrome and associated mental health disorders, those challenges are compounded by visible motor and vocal tics and the isolation and bullying that comes from being perceived as different. Youth Advocates have a strong desire to help others and sympathize with those who may be struggling with challenges. They draw from their own experiences struggling with their diagnosis to stand up for others and give back to others struggling with their diagnosis.

“NJCTS Youth Advocates are making a difference every day and at the same time, they are gaining skills in leadership, public speaking, and advocacy in spite of the unique challenges they face,” said Rice. “I thank the New Jersey State Governor’s Jefferson Awards committee for recognizing our outstanding volunteers.”

The Jefferson Awards were established in 1972 by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Senator Robert Taft and Sam Beard and are America’s highest honor for public service and volunteerism, honoring the “informed and involved” citizen. Honorees of the New Jersey State Governor’s Jefferson Award achieve measurable community impact and represent outstanding acts of public service, without the expectation of recognition or compensations. Recipients demonstrate unique vision, dedication and tenacity of heroic proportion and serve as inspiration for others.

For more information about the New Jersey State Governor’s Jefferson Awards, visit http://www.njgovernorsawards.com. To learn more about NJ Center for Tourette Syndrome and Associated Disorders, Inc. and NJCTS Youth Advocates, please call NJCTS at 908-575-7350 or visit www.njcts.org.