This Antonito Teen Was Honored For Shining A Light On Foster Children — Literally

Claire Cleveland/CPR News
Mia Garcia won an Outstanding Youth Award for her work to raise money and donations for children in foster care. Left to Right: Maria Ruybal, Amaya Garcia-White Buffalo, Mia Garcia and Raymond White Buffalo.

Mia Garcia is a 17-year-old from Antonito, Colorado who loves to give back to her community. She's been organizing service projects since the age of 10.

It all started in 2010 when her cousins were placed with their grandmother while their mother was in rehab. One night, Garcia was sleeping at her grandmother's when her cousins came to her crying because their nightlight had gone out. She decided to raise money to buy Pillow Pet Dream Lites for her cousins.

"It made me really happy to see that I put a smile on their faces," Garcia said.

She soon realized there were more kids that could use a nightlight, so she raised money for 10 more Pillow Pets and donated them to kids in foster care across the San Luis Valley.

On Friday, she was recognized with an Outstanding Youth award as part of Colorado's celebration of National Philanthropy Day. She received $3,000 to go toward her education.

Ever since that first project, Garcia has been finding ways to give back to her community. She named her project L.I.G.H.T. or Lasting Impact of Generosity to Help with Transition.

In 2014, she hosted a school supply drive at a local Walmart, where she collected supplies and backpacks for 28 children. A year later, Garcia and her siblings started a coat and toy drive to donate to the Conejos County Department of Social Services.

"I thought it was a great idea and so we just started brainstorming on ways that we could make it grow," Garcia's mother Maria Ruybal said.

Ruybal and her husband Raymond White Buffalo have three children, including Mia, and they've encouraged each of their kids to pick a community service project to work on.

"Honor is not in what you receive but in what you have given," Ruybal said.

Garcia soon plans to attend college, although she hasn't quite decided where yet. She hopes to get a scholarship for basketball and go on to study sociology and criminology.

"I could go into being a social worker, so I could still help the kids in foster care. Or I could be a lawyer or a probation officer," she said. "The main reason why I want to go into this is cause I don't want to quit helping people. I know that with what I'm going into I'm going to help someone every single day."