When she graduated high school, Kayla Pfeffer was introverted. She was heading to Florida State University, a large school far from her home in Shamong.
Shortly after she arrived, Pfeiffer found her voice through helping others.She became part of PeaceJam, an organization that introduces middle- and high- school students to service by connecting them with Nobel Peace Prize Laureates.
Now a senior at Florida State, Pfeffer has been recognized as the school’s Humanitarian of the Year, a prestigious award that honors students with a commitment to service.
“I wasn’t expecting it,” Pfeffer said of the award. “I didn’t join PeaceJam for any sort of recognition, but it made me reflect back and think about the impact I have made on the community. It just makes me feel good.”
Pfeffer now serves as a leader for PeaceJam, where she helps young students turn their ideas into service plans they will present to a Nobel laureate.
“Our main motive is educating them on our social world and dynamic right now,” Pfeiffer explained. “We put an emphasis on sustainable service. Not just service to do it for recognition, or to get community-service hours. It’s something that in the long run will make a difference.”
For Pfeffer, helping the community has always been at the forefront. She was the president of Seneca High School’s Environmental Club; worked at Homeward Bound Pet Adoption Center; and helped her mother, who works at Samaritan Health Care and Hospice.
She remembers making crafts for hospice patients to brighten their days.
“It was just something to make them smile and make them feel better,” she noted.
Pfeffer said PeaceJam helped her come out of her shell. She feels more comfortable communicating with others, something she believes will help her as she begins work as an actuary after graduation.
“It’s a symbiotic relationship,” Pfeiffer said. “I’ve learned a bunch of collaboration skills through volunteer work that I don’t think I would have gotten exposed to before. And, on top of it, helping out the community.”
Ricky Amandeo, a longtime friend of Pfeffer’s, said he’s glad to see her work honored.
“She’s not a very attention seeking person,” he said. “I think it was just a nice touch to give it to somebody who deserves recognition.”
Humanitarian of the Year awards were given out at a virtual ceremony where administrators from Florida State lauded Pfeiffer’s work.
“The past year was a challenging one for everyone,” said University President John Thrasher. “But in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, these students chose to rise to the aid of others.”
Pfeffer’s academic advisor, Jennifer Anderson, nominated her for the award.
“Kayla’s dedicated service is inspiring future leaders and, in turn, their communities to create positive, sustainable changes on both the local and global levels,” Anderson said.