Saturday, December 20, 2014

Herald names 2013 Elite Citizen Scholars

By The Herald Staff | 5/17/2013

Recognizing top students who also are good citizens — That’s the goal of The Herald’s Elite Citizen Scholar program, which honors area high school seniors who balance homework with community involvement.

Hannah Thomas, Ottawa High School

Volunteer work can come in many different forms. And citizenship can be shown in many ways, Hannah Thomas, 2013 Ottawa High School graduate, said.

The honor student knows this firsthand, having logged more than 500 hours of community service.

“I personally show citizenship by volunteering within my community,” Thomas said. “I believe that by volunteering and helping out in one’s community, we can show respect for our city, our neighbors and our country. Citizenship is one of the most important aspects of personal integrity. Active citizenship is a responsibility of every American.”

“And when one is aware of the needs of their community,” she said, “their world becomes a better place.”

Thomas, 18, the daughter of Mark and Julia Thomas, Ottawa, graduated from OHS with a 4.0 grade point average and Summa Cum Laude honors.

The Herald has recognized Thomas as one of its 2013 Elite Citizen Scholars.

“Any project that benefits schools, the environment, the government or any aspect of being an American that we all share is an act of citizenship,” Thomas said.

Thomas plans to attend Pittsburg State University and pursue a degree in biology, with an emphasis in the pre-dental program, she said. After earning her bachelor’s degree in biology, Thomas said she would like to attend The University of Missouri-Kansas City’s dental school.

“I would like to join the Public Heath Service and provide health care to those who need it most,” she said.

In the past four years, Thomas has logged more than 500 hours of community service, she said. Of those hours spent volunteering, Thomas said her favorite was coordinating the 2012 Ottawa Make a Difference Day. Make a Difference Day is a nationwide day of service, which takes place each year on the fourth Saturday of October. Millions of volunteers join together to aid their city, community and world, Thomas said.

Thomas has volunteered with the Ottawa Make a Difference Day every year since she was in the sixth grade, she said.

“In May 2012, I was asked if I would organize the event in the upcoming fall. I agreed and went to work immediately,” Thomas said. “Over the summer I spent hundreds of hours raising funds, obtaining sponsorships and contacting organizations within the community that would be in need of help on the day of the event.”

As the school year rolled around, Thomas said, she was giving up social activities for planning sessions, perfecting schedules, posters, pamphlets and contact information.

“The morning of Make a Difference Day was one of anticipation,” she said. “I watched as hundreds of young volunteers packed into Ottawa High School with the intent of doing community service work.”

The event meant the most to Thomas, she said, because she knew it was the most significant of her volunteer work.

“The day’s activities directly impacted over 700 community members in a positive manner,” she said. “This event also showed the community how many outstanding students there are in USD 290 who love their town and want to better it.”

For her efforts and hundreds of volunteer hours spent on the project, Thomas was nominated for the Kansas Governor’s Points of Light Award, and she received a Presidential Volunteer Service Award from President Obama.

“I will never forget the 2012 Make a Difference Day, and I will always make sure to help someone out on the fourth Saturday of October,” Thomas said.

Thomas has participated in numerous groups and activities during her four years at OHS, including Cyclone Concert Band, Cyclone Marching Band, Key Club, National Honor Society, letterman’s O-Club, Ottawa High School musicals, Student Council, Political Science Club, Spanish Club, Tri-M Music Society, varsity cross country and varsity track and field.

She also has been involved in Sacred Heart Church and Parish, Sacred Heart Youth Group, Ottawa City Band, Garnett City Band, Rowdy Wranglers 4-H Club, County 4-H Council and Ottawa Swim Team.

Thomas also has worked for the Ottawa Recreation Commission in the summers, she said, and Sonic Drive-In. She also provides oboe accompaniment for weddings and ceremonies.

“I believe that active citizenship is important because it is the driving factor behind many forms of volunteer work,” Thomas said. “By practicing active citizenship, communities are brought closer together and future generations are given a chance to live prosperous, safe lives in the greatest country on Earth. Citizenship is one of the most important characteristics that one can possess.”

Morgan Scheckel, Central Heights High School

Morgan Scheckel said participation in the community shows a person’s true self.

Scheckel, senior at Central Heights High School, said citizenship is all about a person doing his or her part.

“Citizenship is helping out with your community, not just because you have to, but because you want to,” she said. “ ... It shows what kind of person you are inside and out and really reveals your true character.”

Scheckel has volunteered as a People to People Student Ambassador, but her work being a “big” in Big Brothers Big Sisters has changed her outlook on life, she said as her senior year drew to a close.

“I have gotten the great opportunity and privilege to participate in this activity the past year and a half,” she said. “It means the most to me because it gave me the chance to connect and become close to a unique and incredible young girl, who is now in first grade.”

Scheckel said she takes citizenship in the community a step further because she believes it’s one of the most vital roles in society.

“Active citizenship is more than just participating in community service activities,” she said. “It is being respectful, polite and courteous in each and every situation a person is put in.”

A member of FFA, Pep Club, Spanish Club, Key Club, Future Business Leaders of America, Family Career and Community Leaders of America, Student Council and National Honor Society, she said she tried to teach her “little” sister about life and a be a positive influence, but it was Scheckel who learned the most.

“Through this voluntary program, I first set out to make a difference and positive influence in this girl’s life,” she said. “But in the end, she somehow ended up influencing me and my life in the best way I know possible.”

After high school, Scheckel said, she plans to attend the University of Kansas where she wants to major in communications.

Whitney Earnest, West Franklin High School

It’s a major part of becoming a great leader, Whitney Earnest said.

“Active citizenship is a key component in making a difference,” Earnest, a graduating senior at West Franklin High School, said. “Making a difference in our community allows us to grow and become the best that we are able to be.”

After graduation, Earnest said, she plans to attend Washburn University to study Business and History Education.

“I plan to teach both business and history in a high school setting,” she said. “After graduating from Washburn I would like to teach in the Topeka area and eventually return to Washburn University for a graduate degree.”

“Ultimately becoming a college professor,” she said.

Earnest was a member of Future Business Leaders of America, Family Career and Community Leaders of America, National Honor Society, Student Council, school plays, varsity girls golf team and a member of the Flint Hills League Academic team.

Earnest said out of all of her community service activities the past four years, working with consumers at COF Training Services meant the most to her. While volunteering at COF, she said, she helped people with mental and physical disabilities by helping them participate in such sports as volleyball, basketball and softball.

“These people have never really gotten the chance to be treated as a normal individual and the joy on their faces when they score a basket [in basketball] or hit the ball is truly amazing,” she said. “COF clients are absolutely wonderful to work with.”

COF is an acronym for the names of the three counties in which services are provided: Coffey, Osage, and Franklin, the organization’s website says. At COF, individuals with intellectual/developmental disabilities (I/DD) have access to a variety of services and resources, providing the opportunity to increase independence, productivity and integration into the community.

“Working with these people has made me realize that even doing something as small as clapping for them when they hit the ball or make a serve or make a basket truly does make a difference,” Earnest said. “ ... By working with them, you are helping them accomplish their dreams and increase their self-confidence.”

Earnest said she would also like to become an advocate for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America.

“This is very important to me because, as a teenager with Crohn’s disease, I want to encourage others to follow their dreams,” she said. “I want to be an example for other teens in the future who also have this disease by setting an example that no matter what, they can always reach their goals.”

Mikayla Douglas, Wellsville High School

It’s the little acts of citizen stewardship that help improve a community, one area high school graduate said.

And while the size of the deed can vary, maintaining active citizenship is crucial to a community’s development, Mikayla Douglas, a soon-to-be Wellsville High School graduate said.

“I believe if you are an American citizen you should be doing everything in your power to make this place a better place to live,” Douglas said. “It could be simple tasks such as voting, community involvement, volunteering, belonging to an organization or being a mentor. Whatever the act may be, little or small, do your part.”

Boasting an extracurricular and volunteer list as broad as an eagle’s wingspan, Douglas, 18, has served four years with the school’s Student Council, Future Business Leaders of America, Art Club and Fellowship of Christian Athletes. She also was a two-year National Honor Society member, worked four years with Wellsville’s yearbook, and four years with the Kansas Association for Youth, as well as two years with the Eagle Lift-Off Mentor program. A four-year dance team member with the Wellsville Eagles, Douglas also participated in the school’s track team and worked as a manager with the softball squad.

In addition to school-related activities, Douglas also volunteered for Miracle League Baseball, Special Olympics and Children’s Mercy Hospital. She helped raise funds for the Wellsville City Library and homeless in the Wellsville community, as well as helped in organizing Wellsville Days, the American Enterprise Workshop and visited seniors at a local nursing home.

While she enjoyed many of the groups’ activities and events, Douglas said one community service activity in particular had a positive effect on her.

“Within the past four years, the community service activity that made the most impact on me was acting as a volunteering for the Special Olympics,” Douglas said. “Working with developmentally disabled children and adults was not only an emotionally rewarding experience, but also a humbling one. Spending the day interacting and playing bocce ball with the athletes grew my appreciation not only for the athletes but the volunteers who give their time every weekend working with them.”

After graduating from high school, Douglas said she plans to attend a university to major in marketing with an emphasis in public relations. She hopes to attain a master’s degree in the field, she said, and plans to pursue a career in public relations to promote businesses.

Throughout her future, Douglas said, she intends to maintain her ideals of active citizenship. Being raised in the tight-knit community of Wellsville, Douglas added, taught her the importance of helping her local community, which she hopes to continue in the future.

“Growing up in a small community, I understand the importance of giving back and helping others,”  she said. “I aspire to keep volunteering the rest of my life.”

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