Several Northampton County high school seniors were honored for their academic success and dedication to community service at the TPA Post L Lehigh Valley’s annual Altruism Awards Banquet on Thursday, April 14.

The awards banquet gives principals and counselors from local high schools the opportunity to recognize students who have demonstrated altruism both in and out of the classroom. The students in attendance included stellar athletes who volunteer with special needs children, standout academics who raise money for low-income neighbors, and aspiring leaders breaking down barriers for future students. 

“Tonight is about you,” Patricia Palencar, secretary of TPA Post L and chair of the organization’s Deaf & Near Deaf programs, told the students in attendance with their family members. “Your school chose you.” 

Fifteen local students received $100 scholarships from the nonprofit organization. Among them were Bethlehem Catholic’s Ella Trunzo (Bath), Northampton High School’s Duane Milnes (Northampton), and Notre Dame High School’s Jacob Wehr (Nazareth).

Bethlehem Catholic’s Trunzo makes a difference in the classroom, on the tennis court, and in her community. She is co-chair of the high school’s philanthropic club, The Movement, which recently raised $20,000 for the Sassy Massey Smiles Foundation. Trunzo was also recently honored for her academic achievements by the Daughters of the American Revolution. A repeated member of the school’s honor roll, Trunzo also finds the time to stay active on the tennis court, leading her team to several wins throughout the season. 

Northampton’s Milnes is an AP student and boys volleyball player who recently acquired his EMT certification. Helping those around him is a lifelong passion, something he looks forward to continuing as he studies nursing at Bloomsburg University following graduation. 

Notre Dame’s Wehr is an Eagle Scout who completed his scouting project with the Red Cross and Allentown Fire Department, raising money to donate and install smoke detectors in low-income housing. He also volunteered his time to help families plan out escape routes in the case of fires. 

This project, said Cheryl Fenton, director of operations at Notre Dame, was something Wehr humbly kept to himself, even though he was actively saving lives. 

“I am so impressed,” she said. “You don’t always see a Jacob coming your way.”

For the TPA members present at the banquet, the evening was reassurance that the organization’s dedication to volunteerism, altruism, and community will live on in the actions of future generations. As member Cathy Stephens said with a smile, the event “gives her hope.”

The TPA, or Travelers Protective Association, is a 129-year-old national nonprofit organization. Over the years, the organization has led the charge for societal changes that protect the health, safety, and wellbeing of children, including white lines on highways, compulsory vehicle inspections, DNA collection kits, and CHAD stickers to help identify children in motor vehicle accidents.

“This is a really good organization,” said Palencar. 

The organization doesn’t only advocate for national change but also local change. One of TPA Post L’s main focuses is supporting deaf and hearing-impaired children through scholarship programs. In 2021, three Parkland High School students received the organization’s generous scholarship.  

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