Two Xavier Prep students – junior Sonya Colattur and senior Claira Chong – recently received the 2022 Junior Achievement of Arizona 18 Under 18 Awards for their dedicated contributions to the community through the organizations they created.

The recognition celebrates creativity, generosity and entrepreneurial spirit to benefit the local community and “make the world a better place.” The pair each received a $1,000 scholarship toward their future education expenses and free Chick-fil-A for a year.

Sonya was inspired to create a nonprofit while visiting her great grandmother in assisted living facilities. She noticed how many seniors were lonely and without visitors. Companion dogs and cats offered comfort and support, but it was hard for many seniors to afford to take care of their pets. Determined to help, Sonya founded GrandPaws Pantry at the age of 10. 

“It started in 2016 as a small organization being funded solely out of the donations I asked friends and family to give instead of birthday presents,” Sonya said. “Since then, it has grown tremendously to provide over 1,000 pet care packages to senior citizens in assisted living facilities in the last year alone.”

Sonya puts together monthly pet care packages for those on a fixed income or disability. Her goal is to serve two underrepresented communities simultaneously: pets and seniors. 

“Today, one in four seniors suffers from anxiety and depression. Seventy percent of adults report that having a pet helps them cope with their physical and emotional struggles,” Sonya said. “Through year-round fundraising efforts, community support and individual donations, GrandPaws Pantry is here to help.”

Sonya said that receiving the 18 Under 18 Award and scholarship was a huge honor.

“Junior Achievement is an incredibly impactful organization in making a positive change in the community,” Sonya said. “To be recognized as a recipient affirms that I’m making a meaningful impact, which means the world to me.” 

After high school, Sonya plans to study public policy in college and become a lawyer after graduation. 

When she was a freshman, Claira Chong felt like she and her peers needed more knowledge of practical life skills. This was the driving force behind EmpowHerX – which Claira co-created in August 2020 with a dozen founding members. 

The group has grown to include over 45 girls from schools across the Valley who participate in monthly meetings on various topics. 

“Our mission is to educate and empower high school girls with knowledge about self-defense, financial literacy, career readiness, leadership, cultural awareness, and effective communication, all of which are necessary for success and confidence in college and beyond,” Claira said.

She handled many responsibilities while setting up EmpowHerX. To keep the organization going, she took over website development, social media management, advertising, and finances. As president, Claira ensures the executive board and committee leaders are set for successful sessions each month. She was overjoyed when she learned she’d received the 18 Under 18 Award. 

“Not only was this a tangible recognition of the work being done through EmpowHerX for my community, but it showed that others recognized the importance of our mission and message,” Claira said. “Being an award winner has provided me with a cohort of like-minded changemakers inspired to make a difference in their community.”

Now a Xavier senior, Claira is looking forward to finding the best fit for college where she can further explore community affairs. In the meantime, she hopes to continue expanding her nonprofit.

“I am excited to see how EmpowHerX evolves and grows with new leadership,” Claira said. “I want to continue strengthening our network of empowered college students who can impart wisdom to others.”