“Receiving the Lars Lyon Service Award was entirely unexpected for me, and it was extraordinarily humbling to be recognized.” –John Bollinger, 2017 Lars Lyon Award Recipient
“I was very surprised, but honored, to be nominated. I initially didn’t feel I deserved the honor because I knew of so many people doing great things on campus and in the community.” –Derek Williams, 2010 Lars Lyon Award Recipient
“I remember being surprised by such an honor but glad that students engaged in service were being recognized.” –Tara Kumar, 1998 Lars Lyon Award Recipient
This April, the Duke Community Service Center will recognize the 30th annual recipient of the Lars Lyon Service Award. For 30 years, Duke undergraduate students have been surprised and humbled to learn that they have been nominated for the award by a representative of a local nonprofit or public school with which they volunteer. And for 30 years, those students have received a partial scholarship toward their tuition, paired with the affirmation that their work was valued and encouraged by the Duke community.
The annual award was established in 1989 as a way to honor the life and values of Lars Lyon, a Duke undergraduate student who passed away at the age of 21 after a battle with cancer. Lyon is remembered for his generous spirit, as he spent his time at Duke volunteering with multiple service organizations and providing support and encouragement to friends and community members.
Past recipients of the Lars Lyon Service Award reflect that it was a much-appreciated gesture of recognition at a critical point in their lives. Brandi Stewart, the 2005 recipient of the award, recalls feeling that the award affirmed her personal values and goals, that “those who nominated me for the Lars Lyon award made me feel like I could make a difference, and that was really meaningful”. Saam Azar, the 1997 Lars Lyon Award recipient, expressed a similar sentiment that “it was a warm endorsement and a nod to push onward at a critical time in my young adult life.”
With this “nod to push onward,” many recipients of the award have carried the thread of community engagement through their adult lives and careers, noting that their community service involvement at Duke was just the beginning of a lifetime devoted to equity, advocacy and community building.
One can see the same spirit of lifelong commitment in this year’s Lars Lyon Award recipient, Gino Nuzzolillo. Janet Xiao, co-director of the Community Empowerment Fund (CEF), nominated Nuzzolillo for his outstanding dedication not only to the work of the organization but also to the greater principles on which CEF is founded. CEF provides relationship-based support, workforce development, financial education, and matched savings accounts to enable and sustain transitions out of homelessness and poverty. Since beginning at CEF in his sophomore year, Nuzzolillo has been an Advocate, a Team Leader, and a Special Initiatives Coordinator, fully committing himself to the work of the organization in an effort to build capacity. Through his time at CEF, he has witnessed the power of a supportive community and has sought to make all spaces he enters more equitable.
From building authentic one-on-one relationships to working toward systemic change, Nuzzolillo shares that his experiences at CEF “tell the story of a CEF community that has enabled me to be vulnerable, critique myself, nurture friendships, and find purpose in challenging economic injustice.” His reflections mirror those of past recipients, seeing this work not as an extracurricular activity but as an essential component of being a member of a community–at Duke, in Durham, and in the world.
After observing this perspective in practice for the past two years, Xiao says confidently, “I believe he will continue to powerfully drive change wherever he goes.”
“CEF taught me that I always have a responsibility to carry on the work of justice and community. While economic, racial, and social inequality persists, within this paradigm of public service which centers marginalized people in a loving community, I can move closer to glimpsing a world without it. CEF and its community are why I do what I do, and they’ll remain a part of me long after I leave Duke.”–Gino Nuzzolillo, 2019 Lars Lyon Award Recipient