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Kids making a difference

The students at M.E.A.D Alternative School know well the stereotypes some people hold against them.

“They think it’s only a school for druggies and people who drink a lot or are pregnant,” said Lisa Grishko, 15. But then people meet the M.E.A.D kids doing service projects and the stereotypes fade. They learn, says student Keenen Davis, 17, that the only thing that matters is “who you are and what you do.”

And the M.E.A.D kids are doing plenty. They are involved in two dozen service projects this year, from teaching younger students about reusable grocery bags, to listening to elders tell their stories, to collecting water bottles for homeless children.

Thursday, their work was rewarded at the Chase Youth Awards. The students won in the “teen group community involvement” category. Individuals and groups accepted 30 different awards that honor the spirit and vision of former Spokane Mayor James E. Chase, who believed youth deserve recognition for the value they add to the community.

The sun was shining as the awards ceremony began Thursday evening in Cowles Auditorium on the Whitworth University campus. Girls wore spring dresses and some of the boys wore their Sunday best. And the winners’ stories offered inspiration after a long, hard winter.

A sampling:

•Reo Layton, a first-grader at Medical Lake Elementary School, helped his little sister Aria through her cancer journey. He accompanied her to doctor’s appointments, shaved his head in solidarity and “remained a silent presence that gave her healing comfort,” said his mother, Julia Hayes.

•At Mountain View Middle School, a suicide prevention group put on a student assembly about suicide risks, spread encouraging messages on the school announcements, and traveled to East Farms Elementary School to talk to the younger students about expressing their feelings.

•The Logan Elementary School “Be the Change” team announces a weekly challenge to fellow students that adults could borrow in these stressful times, including “Say hi to 10 people each day this week” and “Stand up for someone getting picked on.”

•Rogers High School student Vince Telles held his family together after his parents divorced. He works 25 hours a week, keeps his grades up at school and, while his mother works an evening shift, makes sure his younger siblings do their homework and get to bed.

Spokane Mayor Mary Verner looked around the packed auditorium – 1,000 nominations were received this year – and summed up the sentiment: “The achievements of our youth and teens are truly amazing. Today is about good choices young people have made.”

The Spokesman-Review will take a closer look at all the winners in future Voices sections.