Fresno State graduate student volunteered over 400 hours last year

Ariel Mendez was awarded the 2021 University Volunteer of the Year Award for making a difference in her community.
FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- A graduate student at Fresno State, Ariel Mendez, was awarded the 2021 University Volunteer of the Year Award for making a difference in her community.

In the last year, she volunteered over 480 hours, but her passion for giving back stems from an early age. She says she clearly remembers being around eight years old when asking her parents if she could give her food to someone who was homeless.

"We are so blessed. We have so much in this life to just give a little bit of your time. You learn so much when you go out there," said Ariel Mendez.

Starting in her hometown of Tulare, Mendez began handing out donated clothing she collected from family and friends to the homeless. Then, she drove to five states in five days handing out the remaining clothes.

At the beginning of 2020, Mendez went to over ten states in 12 days giving out more donated items and things that she purchased herself.

Her efforts did not stop there. Knowing that farmworkers were deemed essential and working to provide food to the Valley and beyond during the pandemic, Mendez drove to Farmersville, Exeter, and Tulare County and donated Gatorade and water to farmworkers.

Mendez donated over 1,500 meals and over 2,000 hygiene and essential care products to homeless families and essential workers.

"She didn't take that as a free pass to hang out at home and so online schoolwork. She used it as a time to figure out how she could better serve her community," said Taylan Parker, special projects coordinator at Fresno State.

In October, Mendez became a wildfire response volunteer for the American Red Cross after seeing families being displaced and losing their homes in devastating wildfires. Also, Mendez volunteers as a Richter Center Student Leader and a LIFT Conference co-director.

Through it all, she's maintained a 4.0 GPA as an undergraduate, her credential program, and now in her master's program.

She hopes to one day manage a nonprofit that will continue with the gift of giving to as many people as they can.

"I want them to know that they are just as important as everyone else in the community, and they are loved," Mendez says.
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