In a Durham elementary school classroom, Grace Mok tutors young students, helping them sound out words in books and asking them how the stories make them feel.
At a Durham nonprofit, Mok works with community members looking to transition out of homelessness and economically empower their lives, often through finding employment and housing or building their credit.
Mok, a rising Duke economics senior passionate about social and racial justice, has been named the 2018 Lars Lyon Volunteer Service Award recipient for her work in the Durham community.
Every year, the Duke undergraduate student award is presented to a rising sophomore, junior or senior who has exhibited a strong dedication to service at a Durham nonprofit or public school. The annual award is named after Lars Lyon, a mechanical engineering student who came to Duke in 1985 and volunteered with organizations such as Circle K International and Ronald McDonald House as well as served as vice president of Play Units for the Severely Handicapped (PUSH). Lyon died at 21 years old after a battle with cancer.
Duke undergraduate students are nominated for the award by Duke staff and faculty members, nonprofits and public schools. The Duke Community Service Center and Duke Office of Durham and Regional Affairs receive and read the nominations.
“I think the Duke student population has an impact in Durham regardless of whether or not they engage intentionally,” Mok said in a recent Skype interview about receiving the award. She is currently studying abroad in Argentina. “Service is just part of what a Duke student should be. It’s so important to do one-on-one work with people, and I think it really grounds you in the realities and in what people call experiential learning.”
As a head tutor with the America Reads/America Counts (ARAC) program at Duke, Mok has spent three years teaching math and reading to Morehead Montessori Magnet Elementary School students, as well as creating lesson plans and recruiting and training other Duke student tutors. She has also sought out professional development opportunities such as Student Coalition for Action in Literacy Education webinars to personally grow as a tutor.
“Grace sees the value in building relationships and growing together,” wrote Megan McCurley, ARAC’s program coordinator, in a nomination letter. “Having supported campus-based literacy programs for over 10 years, I can say with confidence that Grace is different than the average student leader.”
In 2017, as part of the DukeEngage-Durham immersive summer service program, Mok began volunteering with the Community Empowerment Fund (CEF), a Triangle nonprofit that offers relationship-based support, workforce development, financial education and matched savings accounts for individuals experiencing or at risk of experiencing homelessness.
Through CEF, Mok worked with clients on their economic goals such as growing their savings accounts, building credit and finding employment. She also helped plan the nonprofit’s 2017 Mayor’s Landlord Roundtable in Durham, where mayoral candidates, nonprofits, landlords and community members discussed affordable housing challenges and ideas.
“(Mok) is inspirational because she embodies the best of Duke: the challenges of scholarship and the discipline of study and the values of citizenship,” wrote Sam Miglarese, director of the Duke-Durham Neighborhood Partnership, in a nomination letter. “She is committed to the highest levels of service to community and nation.”
As the 2018 Lars Lyon Volunteer Service Award recipient, Mok will receive a partial scholarship of $12,500 toward her Duke tuition for the 2018-19 academic year. This financial aid is funded by Lars Lyon’s family and friends to continue to promote Lyon’s commitment to volunteerism and community service. Mok will also be recognized at an “In The Spotlight” event, which celebrates Duke student leadership and service and is sponsored by Duke University Center Activities & Events, on April 17.
“I just feel so appreciative for all of the opportunities I’ve had to serve and think more critically about what this service has meant for me,” Mok said. “It’s such a big part of my life at Duke.”