QUEENS — Soham Daga, 17, of Forest Hills, has been doing community service since he was a little boy, something he said, he was inspired to do by his grandfather, a social worker in India.
Daga, who on June 22 received the Congressional Award Gold Medal, Congress’ highest award for young people, has in recent years spent countless hours cleaning up Queens parks, helping at senior centers and working at medical camps serving the poor in India.
He said watching his grandfather, Tansukh Raj Daga, 70, a social worker who toiled for decades to address educational and medical needs of the underprivileged, encouraged him "to do community service.”
“I really enjoy it,” he said. “Every time you help someone out, you feel better inside as well.”
To earn the award, young people must complete at least 400 hours of community service and 200 hours of personal development and physical fitness activities, among other requirements, according to Rep. Grace Meng, who presented Daga with the award.
Daga, who is graduating this month from Stuyvesant High School and will study financial engineering at Princeton University this fall, said his goal is to have his own startup by the time he graduates from college.
For many years, Daga, who has been the captain of his high school policy debate team and volunteered for Boy Scout service projects, both as a member of the organization and outside of it.
He participated in the cleanup of MacDonald Park in Forest Hills after it was hit by a tornado in 2010, said Soham's father, Manoj Daga, 44. He also volunteered at senior centers and public schools.
Currently, Soham said, he is working on a project seeking to repaint the Church-in-the-Gardens on Ascan Avenue.
During summer breaks, he also volunteers at medical camps in India, serving poor people there. “People really appreciate when you go out and look after them,” Daga said. “It’s a wonderful experience.”
Soham, an avid bicyclist and swimmer, said that completing the required community service hours had not seemed a significant sacrifice.
“It’s just a matter of time management,” he said.
Daga, who is already planning to complete an MBA, was also the finalist in the 2014 Intel Science Talent Search contest for his project on using Google trends for models of mortgage delinquency.
His father said that he is extremety proud of his son, but he noted that Soham's passion was instrumental in winning the honor.
“He had the desire to do it,” Manoj Daga said about his son.
The family immigrated to the U.S. from India in 1999, when Soham was 3. But when he was 8, his parents sent him back to his native country, where he lived with his grandparents for 3 years, before returning to the U.S.
“It was for him to understand and learn Indian culture and values,” Manoj Daga said. “We wanted to make sure that he was close to his roots while we also wanted him to have higher education in the U.S.”
“Soham is an exceptional young man who worked tirelessly to help others and achieve very challenging goals,” said Rep. Meng, who presented the medal to Soham during a special ceremony on Capitol Hill that recognized 283 students from across the country.
The award was established by Congress in 1979 and it’s open to young people ages 14 to 23.