2018 ESL Jefferson Award winner: Kurt Engel

May 15, 2018 07:39 AM

Each year, we ask our viewers to nominate people from our community for their volunteerism. The ESL Jefferson Awards are part of the national Jefferson Award Foundation which strives to build a culture of service in communities across the country. Founded in 1972 by well-known public servants including former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, the Jefferson Awards are the country’s longest standing and most prestigious honor of its kind.

It's just before noon and it's noisy. The kitchen is a cacophony of clanking plates and cheerful chatter.  


These volunteers are feeding hundreds of the homeless. Among the volunteers are teenage refugees who have themselves escaped hunger, heartache, and unspeakable violence.  

Kurt Engel is their guide. He calls himself a life coach of sorts.  

Deanna Dewberry: "I was told that you volunteer as much as 50 hours a week."

Kurt Engel: "Seven days a week."

Kurt volunteers for the MAC Academy, a lifeline for teenage refugees living in Western New York.

"The culture is different," Kurt says. "The language is different."

The MAC Academy helps each student adjust to their new home with everything from English classes to life skills training. 

Murtaza Ehsani is a MAC Academy success story.  

He was only 11 when he fled the horrors of war-plagued Afghanistan. After years of intense vetting in a refugee camp, he was sent to America. It was like landing on another planet.

Murtaza Ehsani: "I didn't know the post.. how to mail, how to bank. I never used a bank."

Deanna Dewberry: "The basic things like mailing a letter, going to the bank...  all that was new to you. 

Murtaza Ehsani: "New.. all of them."

But through MAC Academy and Kurt's guidance, Murtaza learned English and got a good job. He is earning his GED and plans to enroll at Monroe Community College.

Deanna Dewberry: "What has the MAC Academy meant to you?"

Murtaza Ehsani: "The MAC Academy is like my family."

As for Kurt, his kids' success is his greatest joy.

Kurt Engel: "It makes me so proud. I'm in awe." 

In awe of kids who now follow his lead and volunteer.

Kurt Engel: "Give that feeling of community and of contributing your time and talent to helping others."

Giving back and helping others -- these young people are learning that from one who knows it best.

If you’d like to learn more about the organization’s volunteer or donation needs, please visit their website


Deanna Dewberry

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