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Thomas Sullivan has always dreamed of going to medical school. He knew it would become a reality while volunteering with a group of Montana State University Billings students in El Salvador.

Most of the people the students worked with were health care professionals.

The group spent a week and a half working with Kiwanis, a volunteer organization, to help provide wheelchairs for those in need. They also spent an ample amount of time in rural villages, providing amenities such as toothbrushes, toothpaste and toys for children.

The children knew exactly what to expect from their volunteer visitors.

“We drove up to one community and our adviser with us stepped out of the car and about 50 kids swarmed her,” Sullivan said.

It was an experience Sullivan will never forget, and it soon led to more opportunities. He spent time abroad in Costa Rica and volunteered at a day care. He hoped he would be able to practice his Spanish skills with people at his learning level: 3- to 6-year-old children.

“I thought it would be easier to work with kids,” Sullivan said, “but it was harder because I couldn't articulate with them.”

His desire to volunteer began as a middle school student. He joined the Builders Club, a youth organization that is part of Kiwanis. Once he started high school, Key Club became a top priority. At the college, he is an active member of Circle K International.

With graduation set for spring, Sullivan looks forward to finally applying for medical school and one day participating with an organization like Doctors Without Borders, with a focus on Central and Latin America.

“I saw somewhat of a need down there to help them,” Sullivan said.

After spending countless hours volunteering and traveling to distant countries, Sullivan is now being recognized by the Association of Fundraising Professionals with the Outstanding Youth Award. It's the first time the youth category has been awarded.

Other area volunteers will also be recognized during a dinner Tuesday at the Billings Depot, 2310 Montana Ave.

The winners are:

Outstanding philanthropists: David Orser and Ossie Abrams.

Outstanding corporation: Little Horn State Bank.

Outstanding volunteer fundraiser: Shelly Van Atta.

Outstanding professional fundraiser: David Irion.

The award winners were chosen by a nominating committee. People in the community can nominate candidates for the award.

“People kind of have a hard time when they are being asked for money, to fundraise or work special events,” said Jennifer Drinkwalter, AFP's community relations director. “Then you think about how it makes our community move forward to grand things, and if we don't have philanthropy, those things don't happen.

“We want to recognize people in the community so it doesn't fall through the cracks.”

Sullivan didn't even know he won the award until last week, but he had an idea that he had been nominated. The person who nominated him kept asking him questions.

He will be there Tuesday night with his parents to celebrate.

The reception starts at 5:15 p.m., followed by dinner and the award ceremony at 6 p.m.

Tickets for the reception and dinner are $35, and reservations are required. To make a reservation, contact AFP Montana by e-mailing or call 651-6555.

Contact Chelsea Krotzer at or 657-1392.

Contact Chelsea Krotzer at or 657-1392.