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Spokane youths honored for service at Chase awards

One is so dedicated to the Make-A-Wish Foundation that he asked for charity donations instead of birthday presents.

Another can perform everything from classical ballet to gymnastics and break dancing.

Others volunteer at a local elderly care center, spend hours hauling boxes for food banks and help raise awareness for anti-drunken driving campaigns.

All were among the dozens of students honored Thursday as part of the annual Chase Youth Awards, aimed at spotlighting the best and brightest of Spokane’s youth, from elementary school students to seniors in high school.

“It’s nice for the students to be recognized,” said David Casteal, a sixth-grade teacher at Cooper Elementary School.

Casteal’s class won the elementary school division award for diversity for a play the class performed about racial discrimination.

Called “The Audition,” the play brought students on stage to dance and speak about discrimination and social justice. Other Cooper Elementary students were honored Thursday, too, including a group of drummers who performed West African drum and dance at five schools on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Hundreds filled the Martin Woldson Theater at The Fox for two sessions of an award ceremony where children outnumbered adults, and good grades and community service were the norm, not the exception. More than 2,000 children were nominated for more than 30 awards.

Winners included Ethan Mendoza-Pena and his sister, Brittany Mendoza-Pena.

Ethan won a leadership award for his work helping first-grade students learn to read. Brittany received the individual personal achievement award in the elementary school category for her work to “achieve perfection in everything she does, from classical ballet to imaginary rock star performances.”

Honored for leadership in the teen category was Larry J. Hill, a student at the Community Images School who advocates for educational and vocational programs for students with disabilities. Hill was described Thursday night as a young man who has “not only learned to excel with his developmental disability, but has also become an example for others and genuine leader.”

Another boy, Kevin Tsuchida, won the courage award in the elementary school category for his work with the Make-A-Wish foundation. Kevin, who has epilepsy, began by asking for donations to Make-A-Wish instead of birthday presents. Now he’s considered a leading youth advocate for seizure disorders and epilepsy, and has traveled to Washington, D.C., twice to ask for more funding to find an epilepsy cure.

Also honored for her courage was Christina Nelson, a student at East Valley High School and a leader in soccer, basketball and track. Nelson lost her parents to cancer, and she’s held fundraisers to fight the disease while maintaining membership in the National Honor Society and Spanish Club. She also was crowned homecoming queen.

The award committee revamped its selection process after two students honored last year turned out to be frauds.

“We made it an absolute point to contact every reference,” said Michael LeaderCharge, youth involvement coordinator.

LeaderCharge said in addition to contacting references, it was required that each reference be an adult like a teacher, coach, principal or other person in an official capacity.

Chase Youth Awards winners

• Elementary Individual Community Involvement: Nick Nelson

• Elementary Group Community Involvement: Girl Scout Troop 2472

• Elementary Individual Leadership: Ethan Mendoza-Pena

• Elementary Individual Courage: Kevin Tsuchida

• Elementary Group Creativity: The Cooper Drummers

• Elementary Group Diversity: Mr. Casteal’s sixth-grade class, Cooper Elementary

• Elementary Group for Leadership: S.A.V.E., Finch Elementary

• Elementary Personal Achievement: Brittany Mendoza-Pena

• Elementary Spirit of Jim Chase : The Dragonflies

• Middle School in Community Involvement: Joseph Hatzinikolis

• Middle School Courage Individual : Jordan Sumpter

• Middle School Creativity Individual : Tarakyn Turner

• Middle School Creativity Group : Forst Bitten

• Middle School Leadership Individual : Joseph Hall

• Middle School Leadership Group : Girl Scout Troop 2328

• Middle School Personal Achievement : Sara Grozdanich

• Middle School Spirit of Jim Chase : Greenacres Middle School Spirit Service and Builders Club

• Teen Individual Community Involvement: Nhung Tran

• Teen Community Involvement: TEConnections

• Teen Courage : Christina Nelson

• Teen Creativity : Kelsey Rakentine

• Teen Individual Diversity : Mary Dombrowski

• Teen Individual Leadership: Larry J. Hill III

• Teen Group Leadership: University High School Teens Against Tobacco

• Teen Personal Achievement: Nick Hutchinson

• Teen Spirit of Jim Chase: Girl Scout Troop 2546

• Jim Chase “Asset Builder” (Adult): Clarence Busby

Staff writer Sara Leaming contributed to this report.