Friends think 18-year-old Derrick Dyer will find college quite easy. He’ll get a dorm room and hot meals.
And for once, most of his classmates will be living on their own, too.
Because of family problems, Dyer, a Rogers High School student, has lived alone much of his life. Last summer, he slept in his car.
“I’m amazed he survived it. A lot of kids under the same situations would’ve just given up on school,” said Sarah Leverett Main, a chamber of commerce employee who helped him find after-school jobs.
Dyer’s persistence earned the applause of more than 500 people Tuesday night, along with the Chase Youth Award for Courage.
“I’ve worked really hard to get where I am, where people thought I would never be,” Dyer said after the ceremony. “Getting this award is a way of proving myself, that I could make it.”
The 11th-annual ceremony, held at the Spokane Opera House, honored kids who shine in categories from community service to creativity.
Besides preparing for college, Dyer is organizing a group of teenagers to help renovate the Garland Theater, a north Spokane landmark that features $1 movies.
“It’s been one of the only theaters I could afford, and I would like to give something back,” Dyer said.
Now he’s making plans to attend Eastern Washington University next fall, and hopes to become a high school teacher. “It’s going to be wonderful, easy in comparison,” said Main, who nominated Dyer for his award.
“I want to do as much as I can for high school kids,” Dyer said.
The program highlighted other impressive students, too.
The awards, named after former Spokane mayor James Chase, were divided into two groups: the youth division (kindergarten to sixth grade) and the teen division (grades seven through 12).
Megan Kurtz, a fifth-grader at Greenacres Elementary, spends Saturdays helping disabled adults learn to bowl for the Special Olympics.
She stood nervously on the stage after winning the night’s first award for Community Service.
Eric Robinson rides his bicycle to Lewis and Clark High every day, where he leads an environmental club. Worried about pollution, he rarely rides in cars and trucks.
On Tuesday, Robinson wrapped his arms around Spokane Mayor John Talbott and Spokane County Commissioner Phil Harris while photographers captured him winning an Environmental Concern award.
Nursing home visits helped win dozens of Broadway Elementary fifth-and sixth-graders a Spirit of Jim Chase Group Award. The after-school group, which crowded the stage cheering and hollering, makes routine visits to the Mission Ridge Assisted Living Center.
Some of the kids don’t have grandparents who are still alive, and many of the seniors have few visitors. The program is so popular, other schools want to join in.
A 9-year-old north Spokane girl won the Courage Award in the youth division. Lynessa Stefan was riding her bike last May when she was hit by a car. The impact broke the tiny girl’s leg and jaw, tore her lower lip and knocked out teeth.
Stefan was angry at herself for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
But instead of dwelling on her anger, Stefan turned her attention to the stage. Since the crash, she’s told her story to more than 1,600 students during bike-safety lessons.
“It’s a pretty powerful message,” said Mike Cosgrove, principal at Madison Elementary School, who has watched Stefan mesmerize crowds of elementary students with her hospital pictures.
After her presentations, families line up to purchase bike helmets for their children, Cosgrove said.
During the ceremony, she bounded up to the stage to shake Talbott’s hand and quickly scampered back to her seat.
“It’s helped her deal with it emotionally and get beyond the nightmares and emotional scars she has,” Cosgrove said.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo