With the pandemic and social unrest, finding glimmers of hope in 2020 was not easy.
But five young Hoosiers are doing their part to make this world a better place.
Each year since 2009, five community service-minded middle school students have been honored with Youth Power and Hope Awards from Indiana Electric Cooperatives and its magazine, Indiana Connection.
Proving you’re never too young to make an impact, this year’s busy volunteers play key roles in uplifting and serving their communities.
Grade 6, Danville
Danville might seem a long way away from Disneyland to most folks, but don’t tell Chloe Schut. Chloe’s demonstrated a love of her community and its furry and feathered members that makes you sing “It’s a small world, after all.”
She has been active with Hendricks County Humane Society’s animal shelter. She began her work there through her Girl Scout troop but continued volunteering on her own.
Once a week, she visits the shelter to clean the rooms, wash dishes, feed the cats, monitor the sick and give medicine when needed, and socialize with the kittens. During COVID-19, she’s fostered kittens in her home.
“Chloe has been a long-time volunteer, contributing many hours, her artistic talents and love of cats to help the animals of Hendricks County,” noted Tricia Pierce, operations manager at the shelter, in her YPH letter of recommendation for Chloe.
Through Girl Scouts, Choe has visited different nursing homes to sing Christmas carols and hand out cards. Her troop also built owl boxes for the decreasing barn owl population — coincidentally the cover story of this month’s Indiana Connection.
“We believe in being ‘girl-led’ with our Girl Scout troops,” noted Carolyn M. Harris, Chloe’s Troop 1433 co-leader. “In doing that, our girls vote each year on what type of volunteer work and projects they want to see to better serve their community. Chloe has always shown leadership skills and actively participated in making these projects successful.”
“Community service to me is my everything,” said Chloe. “Whenever I’m able to help, I get the same feeling you get after you find out you’re going to Disneyland!”
Grade 7, Ferdinand
Before COVID, Addison Schneider routinely visited nursing homes and homes of the elderly with her grandmother to spread cheer and talk to the residents. That is much of Addison’s community involvement: Thinking of and baking treats for seniors in nursing homes and the staff who care for them and for veterans.
“I am grateful to all of the veterans,” she said. “My dad taught me at an early age that anytime I see a veteran, to go up and thank them for their service. Each time I do, I see a smile come across their face, and they respond with a humble ‘thank you.’ It reminds me how much a small act can make a big difference.”
During e-learning brought on by the pandemic, Addison emailed her sixth grade English and social studies teacher to ask if they could write letters to the Honor Flight heroes of World War II and the Korean War. “As a result, we collected many letters that were sent in for the veterans when flights are able to commence,” noted Hannah Sitzman, the teacher, in her letter of recommendation.
“I also took them flowers to brighten their day,” Addison added. “In light of the COVID onset, I spent more time drawing pictures and writing out cards that we sent to the nursing homes letting the residents know that they are being thought of, especially since they couldn’t receive visitors. I routinely called individuals who lived alone just to keep in touch as I knew they were lonely. They said my call made their day each time I called them. I also made meals and delivered it to them (wearing my mask of course) to keep their spirits up during the pandemic.”
Grade 7, McCordsville
How many junior high kids do you know who not only volunteer at a soup kitchen, but genuinely enjoy the work and enjoy meeting and talking with the patrons?
Meet Kyle Kinker.
“What I liked about the Soup Kitchen the most was meeting the volunteers and the patrons,” said Kyle. “It is awful to be cold or hungry. I am glad that I am able to help my neighbors go to sleep at night with a full stomach.”
And while COVID-19 precautions have prevented Kyle from volunteering recently as he had been, Chris Wade, the volunteer coordinator for the Kenneth Butler Memorial Soup Kitchen, noted Kyle is special. “I have interviewed and worked with many of our young volunteers over the years. While I cannot remember each one, Kyle Kinker is a different story,” she wrote in her Youth Power & Hope letter of recommendation for Kyle.
“The reason I remember him is he genuinely wanted to be here. I really appreciate when our youth are hard workers, energetic and finish a task with no hesitation.
“The beauty of this young man,” added Wade, “is he has repeatedly asked his family when he can come back. This is the beginning of a genuine servant’s heart for years to come.”
Grade 8, New Harmony
“Let me make it work” is how Kelly Lashley, academic team coach at North Posey Junior High School, sums up the attitude of Brantly Oakley.
The North Posey Junior High School student helps teachers and volunteers at athletics at his school, and participates in 4-H, his church and other community activities.
“To me, community service means being active in your community and doing everything you can to make your community a better place,” said Brantly.
Brantly’s academic coach, Kelly Lashley, noted in her letter of recommendation, “His leadership and dedication earned him the role of our interdisciplinary team captain as a seventh grader. This role is rarely ever given to a seventh grader, which is a testament to his hard work and the way he carries himself around others. He is a natural leader who others look up to.”
Grade 8, New Harmony
For Kaitlyn, the twin sister of Brantly, “Community service is going out of your way to help others and enjoying the opportunity to serve others. To me community service means the opportunity to make a difference for your community and the people around you and a way to be an active member of your community.”
Kaitlyn has been active in Girl Scouts, collecting supplies for gift bags donated to Chemo Buddies, making blankets and collecting over 100 books for the Ronald McDonald house in Evansville. She is an active fellowship time server at her church and does nursing home outreach on certain Sundays, and participates in Relay for Life with her church and school.
“Kaitlyn can be described as an intelligent, respectful, hard-working, dedicated, conscientious, caring and responsible young lady,” noted her sixth grade teacher, Traci Newcomer, in her recommendation letter. “One thing that really stood out to me about Kaitlyn was her ability to make everyone feel accepted. She made it her mission to make sure that nobody was left out or felt excluded.”