Seneca’s Charlie Castillo claims volunteer victory

Seneca Burlco Volunteer

With 84 applications from 21 schools, the Burlington County College Scholarship award is growing more competitive each year.

As of 2009, the award has been named in honor of Joe Laufer who passed away in 2014 at the age of 79.

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Laufer dedicated his life to volunteering and educating. He worked at Rowan College at Burlington County for 27 years in various academic and administrative roles, including associate dean for business relations.

He also served as a township committee member for Southampton Township and was a greatly respected man in the county.

The Burlington County Volunteer Center originally gave $1,000 in college scholarship awards to volunteers in the area who made a difference. The organization was then contacted by the Haines Family Foundation out of respect for Laufer, and with its help, the award grew to $7,500 the following year.

Now with the help of this family and the funds the organization receives from the Joe Laufer memorial fund, the award has grown drastically, and this year it has given $25,000 to four students in the area.

“Going forward, we hope to find another foundation to help with the funding because it is growing increasingly more difficult to narrow down the applications to such a select few winners,” said Michael Pippen, coordinator at the Volunteer Center of Burlington County.

Among the group of four winners from the 2015 class was Seneca’s own Charlie Castillo, who was given the largest prize of $10,000.

“I was very surprised to hear that I was awarded the scholarship,” Castillo said. “To be one of the few people chosen to receive this award means a lot to me. I feel very fortunate.”

Castillo will be attending American University in Washington, D.C., in the fall. Similar to most private schools, the cost to attend is high so winning the grand prize was very beneficial to him.

“I was surprised to hear that I was awarded the $10,000 scholarship. I’m relieved that I will have some money to pay for college, but I didn’t expect to win this much money,” Castillo said.

After going over the scholarship application requirements and the qualities of the candidates, Castillo believed he met much of the criteria the scholarship committee was looking for.

“I’ve been volunteering for as long as I can remember,” Castillo said.

His volunteering efforts have been widespread and have impacted a vast crowd.

His senior year of high school, he helped rebuild a house that was damaged by Hurricane Sandy. He volunteers at a thrift store in Camden called Clothes From the Heart, and from middle school to his early high school years, he volunteered as a docent in the Dinosaur Hall at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia.

Castillo has been a guest speaker at Rowan College at Burlington County where he spoke to students about his experiences growing up as a deaf person, and has also served as a student administrator in an organization called Hearing Optional.

He helps plan events that deaf and hard-of-hearing children and their families can attend where they can mingle and feel less isolated.

“Contributing to this organization makes me feel proud of my identity as a member of the deaf and hard-of-hearing community,” Castillo said.

As part of the criteria to apply for the award, students must be recommended by one school official and one non-school community leader.

Castillo received letters of recommendation from his high school guidance counselor and his former elementary school teacher, who is also a community leader that contributes to Clothes From the Heart as well as Hearing Optional.

Castillo has formed a lasting relationship with both of his former teachers.

“My high school guidance counselor helped me a lot throughout my four years of high school, with everything from my course schedule to general concerns that I had. My former elementary school teacher is a teacher of the deaf. She helped me to develop my strong language skills and encouraged me to take Latin in middle school. This gave me confidence to take honors and AP English in high school, as well as four years of French and to excel in both languages. We’ve been in touch ever since I left elementary school, and we still see each other every chance we get,” Castillo said.

Castillo is excited for the new opportunities that will await him at American University.

As someone with a strong interest in politics and international relations, the school’s location will suit him well. He plans to major in international studies, with a concentration in peace, global security and conflict resolution.

Castillo is very interested in taking part in activities that will benefit the local community and plans to take part in as many as his schedule can handle.

He’s interested in contributing to the student newspaper, joining Model United Nations, as well as the Community Action and Social Justice Coalition, and the Asian American Student Union.

After he graduates from American University, he plans to go into the Peace Corps to work with deaf children, focusing on helping them acquire language. He then plans to attend graduate school to further his knowledge and skills relating to international affairs.

“Perhaps one day I will be fortunate enough to work for the United Nations,” Castillo said.

The four winners for this year — Castillo, Carolyn Bresnahan from Cinnaminson High School, Catherine O’Rorke from Shawnee High School and Kacie Stettner from Bordentown Regional High School — will be given their awards at the Burlington County Library main branch in Westampton on July 29 at 4 p.m. Members of both the Laufer family and Haines family will be in attendance.

To apply for the 2016 Joe Laufer Scholarship award, visit

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