When 17-year-old Allie McDonnell got a phone call from the Chase Youth Commission asking her to appear at the awards ceremony Tuesday evening, she assumed she was just a seat-filler.
But during the ceremony, when the young woman started to hear her life’s accomplishments read off to the assembled crowd of teenagers and adults – including her work transcribing children’s books into Braille – she quickly realized why she’d been asked to come.
“They said they wanted enough people to come just so they could hold the show,” the young woman said. “But when they said ‘Braille,’ I knew it was me.”
McDonnell, along with dozens of other young people ranging from kindergartners to seniors in high school, received the annual awards meant to honor creativity, diversity, courage, leadership, community service and citizenship Tuesday night. Judges had more than 2,500 nominated young people to choose from this year.
In three separate sessions, various age groups assembled in the Cowles Auditorium at Whitworth College, and each winner’s tale earned the respect of the adults – a minority in the room. As each student passed through a handshake gantlet from various city dignitaries, they grabbed their certificates and sat on risers.
The seats held children like Gina Myers, who in her 11 years has used opportunities for world travel – not to sightsee, but to make a change.
Gina helped build a school out of mud bricks in Kenya, taught English to natives in the Andes Mountains and learned of the Amazon rainforest’s Huaroni people and their struggle to preserve land from oil developers.
The awards also recognized budding citizen activists, like the Franchino children – Dominick, 14, Maria, 10 and Luigi, 8 – who gathered petitions and gave a presentation to the city’s Parks Board in a successful attempt to save the Comstock Pool.
Riverside High School junior David Watts began participating in wheelchair athletics and last year helped make a presentation to the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association proposing that wheelchair athletes be able to score points for their schools at track meets. The proposal is on the way to passing this spring.
After bullies taunted Andrew Warren through his freshman year at Cheney High School, the 16-year-old surprised himself by becoming a leader in forming a club that seeks to protect minorities and the forgotten in his district.
Warren said that during the times when papers were taped to his back with violent messages, he never thought he’d be on stage, recognized for his leadership in creating Pride Over Prejudice.
The soft-spoken teenager eventually settled on saying, “Wow,” to describe how it felt to win the award.
After the flashbulbs slowed down and the crowd began to move to the exits, Allie McDonnell approached her stepbrother, Christian Draper, who nominated the young woman at the suggestion of his English teacher.
“She was the best person I could think of,” Draper said. In his nominating letter, he called his stepsister “near-saintly” for her work, which includes volunteering as a teacher’s aide in math and teaching a blind student how to read Braille.
“That kind of activity may sound like it was reserved for a cheesy movie, but she really does do that,” 15-year-old Draper wrote.