A Del Norte County youth received recognition from the California Endowment last week for his role in organizing a high school student walkout to protest gun violence, advocacy work on behalf of LGBTQ youth as well as the environment.

Avi Critz, 17, was one of 14 youth to receive the Community Champions Award as well as $3,000, according to a press release from Building Healthy Communities. The California Endowment honored Critz and 16 other youth across the state at its first TCE Youth Awards ceremony in Los Angeles on Oct. 20. A total of 181 youth were nominated for the Community Champions Award, according to the press release.

“It was such an honor to be recognized because there are so many amazing people in our communities doing good work, Critz said in a written statement. “It was the best experience of my life!”

Since coming out four years ago, Critz has used public speaking, video, radio and mentoring to advocate for LGBTQ youth. He is a founding member of the Gay Straight Alliance at Del Norte High School, which has organized a gay prom for the past two years, according to the press release.

On April 20, Critz and the alliance organized a school walk-out to protest gun violence and advocate for inclusive policies at Del Norte schools.

“I just try to do what I can to make my community a better place,” Critz said. “I wasn’t really looking for recognition, but this award validates all the hard work I’ve been doing.”

Critz has been part of the Youth Training Academy hosted by the Building Healthy Communities initiative during the summer in Del Norte County. He is also on the Youth Strategy Council, which is planning next year’s training academy and has become active in a group through True North Organizing Network called “Whose Schools? Our Schools!” This group strives to help hte public learn more about their rights within the education system.

“We are excited to have the opportunity to celebrate Avi’s hard work,” said Michelle Carrillo, director of the BHC Initiative in Del Norte County. “Avi is part of a movement of young leaders making Del Norte and tribal lands a better place, empowering other youth to get involved in organizing and community engagement.”

The California Endowment is a private statewide health foundation dedicated to expanding access to affordable, quality health care to underserved communities. It funds the Building Healthy Communities Initiative, which is found in 14 communities throughout California including Del Norte County.