Arrow-right Camera

Washington Voices

Chase Youth Awards honor local leaders

Thu., April 2, 2009

The Chase Youth Awards were presented March 26, and several North Side and north Spokane County students received awards for citizenship, community service, courage, creativity, diversity, leadership, personal achievement and the Spirit of Jim Chase. There were four groups of nominations: youth, middle school, teens and adult.

Here are the winners and a brief description of why they were nominated.

Youth awards

Nathan Child: Teresa Child nominated her son Nathan, 11, for the Youth Award for Community Involvement.

When he felt his sixth-grade class at Riverside Middle School didn’t help enough with donating food for a community dinner held by the DECA Club, Nathan made fliers and taped them to all the mailboxes in his community.

He then held his own food drive to help out the DECA Club and the local food bank.

“He had a can-do attitude and knew he needed to help out our community,” Teresa Child wrote in her nomination letter. “He collected over 200 pounds of food for this event, on his own without anyone asking this of him. He dedicated his own weekend off to go out and pick up food.”

When his class didn’t win the competition in the school for collecting food, he continued to collect food during the holiday season and donated 100 more pounds of food to be donated directly to the Elk Food Bank.

“He would do anything for anyone if it’s in his reach. If not, he’ll reach higher to achieve it,” his mother wrote.

S.A.V.E ., Finch Elementary School: The 10 to 15 students involved in the S.A.V.E. program at Finch Elementary School received the Youth Group Award for Courage.

Nominated by Melissa Alfstad, a counselor at the school, Students Against Violence Everywhere worked to raise awareness against bullying and improve the school climate.

“The initiative and leadership these students display is commendable,” Alfstad wrote in her nomination letter. “They have generated many ideas for improving our school such as a school-wide newspaper bulletin board, a poster campaign that kicked off with all students signing a pledge to decrease violence and picking up trash on the school grounds.”

Other projects the students have planned for the school year include a school-wide recycling-awareness program, putting together craft kits for children in the oncology wing of Sacred Heart Medical Center and creating a “Welcome to Finch” DVD for new students.

“The students who introduced the organization to our community, and those that have joined in, have spent hours dreaming up ideas, meeting regularly with me and my intern, communicating with the principal and putting their ideas into writing so they can convey their message effectively and develop action plans.”

Mercedeez Ying: This first-grader from Logan Elementary School won the Youth Award for Creativity.

Nominated by her teacher, Lisa Vogel, Ying is a top academic student and has a caring soul.

Her best friend has cerebral palsy and the two support each other every day.

“They have been friends for several years, and even though he can’t say verbally how important that friendship is to him, they have this unspoken bond that everyone understands,” Vogel wrote. “If he’s down, she’s there smiling and helping him. If she’s sad, he seeks her out to cheer her up.”

Vogel also said Ying has been encouraging her family to be a family for other kids – her parents have become foster parents to many and have adopted Ying’s older brother.

“I think she would do this herself if she were old enough,” Vogel wrote.

She also has a little sister with medical problems, and Ying serves as her “watchdog” in school.

“Even though I know she cares for everyone without concern for herself, I can also see her needing someone to spend some time and energy recognizing her accomplishments and celebrating her special and unique gift she shares with us,” Vogel wrote.

Anastasiya Skoromnaya: Sixth-grade teacher William Sander nominated Skoromnaya for the Youth Award for Diversity.

Skoromnaya came from Russia two years ago, not knowing the language, customs or where she would end up.

Since arriving, she has been developing her English skills and telling her classmates stories about where she grew up.

“She speaks softly and never raises her voice,” Sander wrote in his nomination letter. “Her classmates love to hear stories about her homeland and compare their growing up experiences with someone from another country.”

Skoromnaya also plays the violin in school, as well as the piano and flute in her church.

“America will continue to grow and prosper as young adults like Anastasiya come and adopt this great country and add to its richness and diversity,” Sander wrote.

Jada Cortese: She is a 10-year-old fourth-grader at Regal Elementary School. She won the Youth Award for Leadership.

Nominated by reading teacher Susan Dellwo, Cortese has been known to think of others first and give students having a hard time fitting in some attention.

“She might sit down next to a younger student who is crying and ask them to play with her,” Dellwo wrote of Cortese. “When someone from her own classroom is having a hard time she is quick to give them a smile and ask them if there is anything she can do to help them.”

Dellwo wrote that Jada’s younger brother, Jorelle, has special challenges in his speech and Jada often helps others to understand him.

One day Dellwo and Jada were discussing Jorelle and his accomplishments. “Sometimes Jorelle does not seem like he is smart, but he is amazing,” Jada told Dellwo. Later that day, Dellwo was working with Jorelle and noticed he was forming the letters of the alphabet perfectly in sign language while he said the letters.

“I wondered later if I had not talked to Jada that morning if I would have been as attentive to Jorelle’s special challenges,” Dellwo wrote.

Dellwo has also worked with other students who have told her Jada sticks up for them when they are sad and plays with them.

“Jada Cortese is a leader now and I am sure her leadership skills will stand out in the future.”

Bemiss Peacemakers: The leadership group at Bemiss Elementary received the Youth Group Leadership Award.

Nominated by school counselor Melissa Kopczynski and third-grade teacher Forrest La Barre, the students have worked on several projects this school year to help the community.

They held a school-wide food drive for the local food bank. “Although we are a community of limited financial resources, our students generously give their time and resources to help others who are in greater need,” Kopczynski and La Barre wrote.

They also gave a holiday concert at Fairview Retirement Home, raised money for the Ronald McDonald House, mentored kindergarten and first-grade students during lunch, performed in a character education play in front of the third-grade classes at the school and acted as role models for excellent citizenship throughout the school year.

“We are very proud of our Peacemakers at Bemiss Elementary.”

Veronica Bybee: She is the recipient of the Youth Personal Achievement Award.

Born with Goltz syndrome, a skin structural disorder, Bybee is blind in one eye and legally blind in the other. She has moderate hearing loss in both ears. She has a prosthetic foot, walks with a cane and eats through a feeding tube in her abdomen.

But these physical challenges don’t affect her attitude.

Nominated by Principal Brian Melody and a number of Woodridge Elementary staff members, Bybee walks independently through the halls of her school. Her classroom this year is upstairs and she has been working to build her strength, balance and stamina.

“Academically,” Melody wrote, “Veronica has become an independent reader, makes steady progress with mathematics and has become a prolific writer.”

Melody wrote that Veronica knows the names of the children of the adults she works with and asks about them and their interests.

“As Veronica accepts challenges and overcomes obstacles, it is her persistent and determined optimism that, we believe, most qualify her for the Chase Youth Award. There are times when Veronica is in physical pain and times when she does not feel well, but she never complains and she never gives up,” Melody wrote.

Be the Change: A group of at-risk students at Logan Elementary received the Youth Spirit of Jim Chase Award.

Be the Change is a group of 30 students in the fourth through the sixth grades who meet to participate in team-building activities, have in-depth conversations and to learn to become better people.

“These kids are the kids that have every reason not to be successful in life – broken families, homes, drugs, abuse, gang activity, shootings, death, homelessness, foster care … multiple challenges to overcome,” wrote nominator Kara Nelson, a fourth-grade teacher at the school.

Nelson said that a member of BTC will announce a weekly challenge to the other members, such as say hello to 10 people every day this week or stand up for someone getting picked on this week.

The school then has a drawing to recognize students making a positive impact at the school or in their lives.

“Every child is very deserving of recognition for the impact they are making at our school,” Nelson wrote.

Middle school awards

Shaw Middle School Leadership: The seventh- and eighth-grade students in the leadership class at Shaw have been collecting food to donate in the Hillyard community this year. For their efforts, they received the Middle School Group Community Involvement Award.

The group developed a campaign to motivate the students at the school and in five days had collected two truckloads of food for the food bank across the street from their school.

“The students that could not donate food items donated time and energy to deliver the food,” wrote Kymberly Larson, the group’s nominator.

The students are planning another food drive for the spring and are in the beginning stages of staging an anti-drug and alcohol campaign.

“For me and for many of my staff members, I know we did not think the students would rise up to the challenge,” Larson wrote. “These amazing and giving students proved me and anyone else who didn’t think they would make a significant impact to the problem of hunger in the Hillyard neighborhood, completely wrong.”

Tracy Wertman’s second-period fitness class: Wertman, a fitness teacher at Riverside Middle School, said she gets a fuzzy feeling every day when she teaches her class, the winners of the Middle School Diversity Award.

“Observing this group of seventh and eighth graders interact with kindness, compassion and caring attitudes toward each other is the highlight of my day,” Wertman wrote of her class. “What makes them special is that they are a diversified population that includes general education students, as well as students with physical and mental disabilities, specialized learning disabilities and students with health impairments including ADHD and ADD.”

The students help each other learn games and welcome new students.

“The first time I witnessed Zach helping Megan learn a new game, I thought to myself, ‘What a great kid!’ But over the past 3 ½ months I have seen each and every one of them step in and help another out,” Wertman wrote. “They are all great kids.”

Whitney Kelly: Leadership teacher Kymberly Larson nominated Kelly as the recipient of the Middle School Leadership Award.

“From the first moment I met Whitney I knew she was a natural leader,” Larson wrote in her nomination letter.

Whitney ran for ASB president earlier this year at Shaw Middle School, and after three rounds of voting, she lost the election. She then immediately took up another role as leader with a great attitude.

“During the school year, Whitney had to deal with students that were making bad choices. She stood up and confronted them, showing that she understood what a true friend really is and should do,” wrote Larson.

Whitney helped organize the school food drive, spent at least four nights alone at Safeway collecting for the Toys for Tots penny drive, keeps the inventory at the student store at Shaw, writes and co-anchors the weekly news broadcast at the school and helped to organize the ASB dance.

“I often find myself wondering what Whitney does in her free time, but I know … she comes to school on Monday morning with a new idea – this week a drug message to share with students and staff during our advisory time,” Larson wrote.

“Without question, she is perhaps the most amazing eighth-grade student I have met in my years as a middle school teacher.”

Shaynea Bautista: The Glover Middle School seventh-grader is the winner of the Middle School Personal Achievement Award.

Nominated by her fifth-grade teacher at Madison Elementary School, Colleen Niemczyk, Bautista has been in foster care since 2005. Before that, she was responsible for her two younger siblings and missed half a year of school.

When Niemczyk met Shaynea, she had just found a new foster family and was in counseling. She was in the fifth grade, but she was reading at the third-grade level. Niemczyk said that through hard work and determination Shaynea was caught up with her reading skills by the sixth grade.

“Now in seventh grade, she is earning straight A’s and takes pride in all she does,” Niemczyk wrote. She is now a co-captain of the varsity softball team she plays on. She also plays on the varsity volleyball team and is trying out for basketball.

“Shaynea has had many losses in her life, but she always has a positive attitude, a smile on her face and a willingness to help others,” Niemczyk wrote.

Teen awards

M.E.A.D. Alternative High School: The students at M.E.A.D. Alternative High School are the recipients of the Teen Group community Involvement Award.

Nominated by a volunteer at the school, Shelley Barton, the students have been active in the community to help make it a better place.

“I observed them as they split up for two weeks and served the businesses around the school,” Barton wrote. “They helped by doing office work, cleaning, visiting the elderly at the nursing home, assisting in an animal hospital and much more.”

The students also spent a week at Mount Rainier National Park to help preserve the beauty of the park, have been educating the community about how important it is to stop using plastic bags and passed out reusable bags that were donated from local businesses.

“They give with their hearts and are very respectful of others,” Barton wrote. “I came here believing I was giving of my time to help them in any way possible. I was delighted and healed in many ways by their unconditional love, tender expressions either by words, letters, gifts or hugs.”

Christian Brower: The North Central High School sophomore is the recipient of the Teen Creativity Award.

Nominated by his uncle, Mark Brower, Christian found his love of music and dancing at an early age.

“Before he was 2 years old,” Mark Brower wrote, “he was most happy playing his Native American drum to music, in perfect rhythm.”

Christian has devoted almost all of his free time to dance, taking classes four nights a week for two hours a night and all day every Saturday.

“Because of his dedication and love of dance, he has risen through the ranks at his dance studio and has enjoyed learning and performing a number of dance methods, including tap, jazz, hip-hop, ballet, break and lyrical.

“It is wonderful to see a young adult find their passion so early in life, and then have the wherewithal to chase it with vigor, strength and focus that no naysayers could disrupt,” Brower wrote.

HYPER-Formance Jazz Dance Club: The majority of students involved in the HYPER-Formance Jazz Dance Club come from low-income families, and any child is accepted. The group won the Teen Group Award for Creativity.

Cynthia Hamilton, group instructor, wrote the nomination letter and knows that physical activity and exposure to the arts is vital for the children’s future.

“One of the first areas they can exercise the development of their ability to control a segment of their lives is in the mastery of their own physical motion,” Hamilton wrote. “Interesting physical activity at an early age sets a fine precedent for future activity, as opposed to watching television or other sedentary pursuits.”

The group also works with disabled students.

“We will work with any child who attends. We have worked with deaf, blind, club-footed, developmentally disabled and perfectly healthy, without any rancor or particular notice paid,” Hamilton wrote. “We feel it sets an excellent example to the other children.”

The dancers have classes all over Spokane, including Northeast Community Center, West Central, the Edgecliff Community Center, YWCA, the WSU Co-op Extension and the Libby Teen Center.

“This program has, since its inception, been focused upon relieving financial inequities, increasing opportunities and creating situations for mingling with purpose, all of which, it is hoped, promotes community.”

Angella Breithaupt: The 17-year-old former student at Havermale High School is the winner of the Teen Personal Achievement Award.

Angella grew up in poverty. She had a single mother, moved around a lot and changed schools often. At 15, she was in trouble with the law and pregnant.

“This forced her to change her life,” wrote Hydee Reber, an intervention/transitional support teacher at the school. “Her school attendance improved and she focused on writing, one of her passions.”

Angella found that getting her life in order was hard work. She spent her time at legal, medical and DSHS appointments. She was sentenced to a year in drug court, which meant more appointments and requirements.

“She had her son, Alijah, a few days after her 16th birthday and she still met her required appointments even if it meant pushing a stroller through the snow,” Reber wrote.

Last spring, Angella decided to get her GED and passed it within a month. She finished her requirements with the drug court shortly after that. She decided to attend Spokane Community College in the fall. When her financial aid was delayed, she got the money together and started.

“She is now 17, living on her own, raising her son and going to college,” Reber wrote.

Even though Angella no longer attends Havermale, she and Reber keep in touch.

“I admire Angie because she is not only smart, but a leader in her own life. It takes strength and courage, but I believe she can do it. She has already proved that she has what it takes,” Reber wrote.

Rogers High School Interact Club: The students are the recipients of the Teen Group Spirit of Jim Chase Award.

Nominated by Ellen Gillespie, one of the teacher advisers to the students, the group has been involved in many community service activities for the past four years.

They have sponsored a Harvest Festival for children in the Hillyard community, volunteered for the Spokane Guilds’ School Penny Drive, sponsored and volunteered at the Terri Kim Charity Benefit for local shelters, participated in the Hillyard area clean up and park restoration, collected Coats for Kids, cleaned and maintained bird houses along the Centennial Trail, volunteered at Spike and Dig, collected donations to local children’s and women’s shelters, sponsored at least two families during Christmas with donations and gifts, and has contributed school supplies and DVD players to a small school in Cabecera Rio Ora, Costa Rica.

“The attributes that make these kids special are that some of them come from families who could benefit from the services they are providing to their community,” Gillespie wrote. “They have heart and desire to help others.

“Rogers High School sits in the poorest ZIP code in Washington state, yet you would not know it, based on their heart and drive to help others,” she wrote.

Not only is Interact helping their own community, but they have inspired teens in other neighborhoods.

“Several other high schools have now initiated the process to start an Interact Club at their school and have asked for advice from the kids at Rogers High School.

“These kids deliberately make a place in their schedule for these community service activities,” wrote Gillespie.

Click here to comment on this story »