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Donna Duvin left, Daxton Gutekunst right, holding the award
  • Service Learning
  • Student Recognition

On Oct. 20, Daxton Gutekunst '23 was honored as the IRC’s Youth Leader of the Year!

The San Diego chapter of the IRC provides opportunities for refugees, asylees, victims of human trafficking, survivors of torture, and other immigrants to thrive in America. Each year, thousands of people, forced to flee violence and persecution, are welcomed by the people of the United States into the safety and freedom of America. These individuals have survived against incredible odds. The IRC collaborates closely with government bodies, civil society actors, and local volunteers to support refugees, asylum-seekers, and other immigrants in San Diego, as they work to rebuild their lives,” per the organization’s website. The Youth Leader of the Year award was established  'to honor an outstanding young person in our community and was named to commemorate the incredible impact of a past volunteer with IRC Youth Programs, Richard L’Heureux.”

Joining Daxton and his family for the awards ceremony were Bishop’s Director of Global Education David Moseley and Associate Director of College Counseling Noor Haddad. The award was presented by the Executive Director of IRC-San Diego, Donna Duvin, who has worked with Daxton and his organization, Kid By Kid, since 2018. The parents of the award’s namesake Richard L’Heureux were also in attendance and spoke to Daxton following the event. 

The following email interview with Daxton has been edited for length.

What does this recognition mean to you?

I started Kid By Kid with what I thought was a simple idea of ‘kids helping kids’. The early stages of Kid By Kid, the behind the scenes effort that took place long before the first lesson ever happened, were slow-going. About six months into my exploration, my family and I attended IRC's Refugee Film Festival at MOPA; each film had a Q&A at the end with the IRC and that film’s director / producer. The series spanned a month, with each week providing a different view into the lives of refugees fleeing their homes and their harrowing journeys. It was at one of these Q&A’s that I had the good fortune to meet the IRC’s Executive Director, Donna Duvin; I walked up to Ms. Duvin and just started talking about my idea.

So much good has come from that chance meeting. Ms. Duvin opened so many doors for Kid By Kid, including my introduction to the Haitian Ministry of San Diego and the Karen Organization of San Diego – two ECBOs Kid By Kid still works with to this day. She also introduced me to UCSD’s Youth Advisory Council where I’ve been a member since 2020. Throughout the years, she and I have kept in touch and communicated about refugee resettlement, Bishop's bicycle donation program for resettled refugee transportation needs, my internship with IRC's Small Business Development Center and resources for me to explore for a Town Hall meeting with the Mayor’s Youth Commission. 

When I received an email from Ms. Duvin a few weeks later that I’d been selected as IRC’s Youth Leader of the Year recipient, I really couldn’t believe it. This was not something I’d applied for – or really even knew existed – I was humbled. She cited my work as a City Youth  Commissioner, my work on the Youth Advisory Council (UCSD) and my ongoing efforts with Kid By Kid - we had just reached a milestone of 10,000 1:1 tutoring hours. This award represents a meaningful recognition of a journey that started in middle school. 

How do you see Kid By Kid continuing its work in the future?

I believe the student-led online tutoring model  will become an indispensable tool in the education toolbox, nationally. At a time when there are not enough teachers, adult tutors, locations, time and resources, help is needed more than ever. Students are keenly aware of many of the obstacles challenging our communities and combined with our desire to make a positive contribution to future outcomes within the world in which we live, students represent a huge, untapped resource for change. 

I’ve met with the City’s Director for the Office of Child and Youth Success to discuss youth being part of the solution to the multi-faceted issue of education; I talked about the student-led tutoring platform as one approach to consider in the overall masterplan. I’ve also reached out to the Superintendent of San Diego Unified School District to discuss the idea of establishing a pilot program for student-led tutoring.

In terms of community partnerships with universities, I was an in-person panelist at last month’s annual conference for the Coalition of Urban and Metropolitan Universities. I was invited by Dr. Robert Shumer (Minnesota) as his co-panelist to present on Education Collaboratives; he’s submitting our paper to be published by CUMU. As part of this, I’ve reached out to the UCSD Design Lab to see about them taking on the idea of a student-led tutoring model as a candidate in their program. Lastly, I’m collaborating with a group working on an EdTech project that matches under-resourced high schoolers with university student mentors via an algorithm of commonalities and shared backgrounds with the universities involved. All of these are ways I see Kid By Kid continuing its work in the future.

What inspires your ongoing involvement with the refugee community in San Diego and beyond?

Whether because of religious, social, racial or political persecution, war, hunger or climate change, there have never been more forcibly-displaced people at any point in human history. The need for frameworks of help are ongoing and will continue. What inspires me now is what has inspired me since the beginning – seeing first-hand, I can make a difference to an outcome and have a positive impact on a child’s life.  


  • IRC San Diego
  • Kid By Kid
  • Youth Leader of the Year