This year’s winners — two sixth graders and three eighth graders from throughout the state — prove you’re never too young to make an impact in your world. All of these busy volunteers play key roles in helping others in their schools or communities.
Each of the Youth Power and Hope Award recipients will receive $500. They are also being honored at the Indiana Electric Cooperatives’ annual meeting on Dec. 4.
Sixth grade, Lowell Middle School
Although Elysia Laub is only 11 years old, she’s well versed in community service. She and her family participate in their church’s Angel Tree at Christmastime, she raises money and participates in a walk for the poor and she makes Valentine’s Day cards for veterans.
But her greatest impact was borne from a classroom activity conceived by her fifth grade teacher, Kerri Coapstick. During Coapstick’s “Genius Hour” on Fridays, students can pursue a topic they are passionate about. “While my other students were finding the best recipe to make slime or experimenting with art techniques, Elysia’s passion was to organize, promote and facilitate a school-wide food drive for the local food pantry,” Coapstick noted in her recommendation letter for Laub. As a result of Laub’s project, the school collected enough donations to fill the back of a pickup truck.
“I did this food drive because I don’t think anyone should have to go hungry,” Laub said. “If want to change things, I have to do something. I can’t just sit around and wait.”
Sixth grade, Hamilton Heights Middle School
When Campbell Lively built an “ARK” to ensure homeless community members would be warm in the wintertime, she started from the bottom up. ARK stands for Acts of Random Kindness, a program she created this summer. She came up with the business plan at camp, then began working on ways to make money to turn ARK into a reality. She raised $126 through sales of homemade friendship bracelets. With that money, she bought material to begin making blankets to sell and also donate to those in need. In three months, she raised over $1,300 for ARK.
“Even though I am helping others, I am really the one who ends up feeling good about the service I am doing,” Lively said. “I have learned so much by giving back to others.”
Jared Bourff, one of her sixth grade teachers, said he is motivated by her positive attitude and how she helps others. “She reminds me to pay it forward every chance I get,” he said. “Campbell has not only shown me what it means to be selfless, but also what it means to be a servant leader in her community.”
Floyds Knobs, Indiana
Eighth grade, Highland Hills Middle School
For Nathan Jekel, community service is a lifestyle. “When someone helps someone else create a better life, then they can be inspired to help someone else,” he said. In just one year, Jekel has logged in over 200 hours of community service. He is a member of the Youth Leadership Board for Miles for Merry Miracles, a youth-led organization focused on improving and enhancing communities through youth development and wellness initiatives.
Jekel has since become a leader of Good to Grow Green, teaching over 500 elementary school students about healthy lifestyles, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and philanthropy.
This summer, Jekel helped launch Teens for Tobacco Twenty-one (T4TT), which educates parents and students about the harmful effects of tobacco products and advocates raising the minimum legal age to purchase tobacco to 21. In addition to his other community-based activities, Jekel serves on the youth advisory board for his Indiana state senator, Sen. Ron Grooms.
Eighth grade, Attica Jr./Sr. High School
This junior high student council president helped found the “Start with Hello,” campaign at Attica Jr./Sr. High School. Inspired by a movement started by parents of children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012, the campaign was designed to get students to talk to others who may not be in their “friend” group. As part of the initiative, inspirational notes were placed on every locker at Rosswurm’s school, hot chocolate was provided to students and at lunch numbers were drawn to encourage students to sit at random tables to meet others. Student Council sponsor Rachel Swank said he went “above and beyond to make his classmates feel included and help end social isolation.”
Another student council-led program that Rosswurm helped organize focused on raising money to purchase four new microwaves for his elementary school. Through school-wide “dress up days,” such as pajama day, hat day and boot day, the student council raised enough money to purchase the microwaves in just a week.
In addition to his involvement in student council, Rosswurm volunteers at a local animal shelter and is an active 4-H member. “Both student council and 4-H have provided me the opportunity to be involved in my community and to make a difference,” Rosswurm said.
Eighth grade, Rochester Middle School
Zeta Whitmer’s community service outreach is as near as her Fulton County community and as far as Uganda.
Whitmer is president and executive board member of Rochester Middle School’s “Champions Together” program. “Champions Together” is a collaborative partnership between the Indiana High School Athletic Association and Special Olympics Indiana. It promotes servant leadership among student athletes and those with intellectual disabilities. Whitmer plans “Champions Together” activities and gives speeches about the program. Her school has been selected to be the state’s fourth official banner school.
As president of her school’s National Junior Honor Society, Whitmer plans group community service projects and talks with local business leaders to discover ways to help the community. Within her school, her sixth grade social studies teacher Dan Bailey noted Whitmer spearheaded a campaign which impacted her fellow students. “One of Zeta’s ideas was to write inspirational messages on the walls of the school and bathrooms to address the self-image concerns that many middle school students struggle with.”
Whitmer said one of the “coolest” things she has done to serve others is to make bracelets for and correspond with 23 Ugandan children.