November 18, 2017
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  • This year’s Young Heroes Essay Contest winners were invited to Northeast High School on October 25 to receive a citation and meet Senator Bryan Simonaire and Delegates Nic Kipke and Meagan Simonaire.
    Photo by Stephanie Mennell Photography
    This year’s Young Heroes Essay Contest winners were invited to Northeast High School on October 25 to receive a citation and meet Senator Bryan Simonaire and Delegates Nic Kipke and Meagan Simonaire.
  • Ashley Anne Hackmann of Fort Smallwood Elementary School received a standing ovation at the Young Heroes Essay Contest ceremony. She is battling cancer, yet she devoted her essay to Emily Solley, who volunteers at a homeless shelter.
    Photo by Stephanie Mennell Photography
    Ashley Anne Hackmann of Fort Smallwood Elementary School received a standing ovation at the Young Heroes Essay Contest ceremony. She is battling cancer, yet she devoted her essay to Emily Solley, who volunteers at a homeless shelter.
  • Karina Cool looks up to her cousin Jessica Knoedler because Jessica helped build a playground for handicapped children and stood against bullying.
    Photo by Stephanie Mennell Photography
    Karina Cool looks up to her cousin Jessica Knoedler because Jessica helped build a playground for handicapped children and stood against bullying.
  • “After writing about my sister raising money for St. Jude Hospital, it inspired me to help others,” said Aidan Whay of St. Jane Frances School.
    Photo by Stephanie Mennell Photography
    “After writing about my sister raising money for St. Jude Hospital, it inspired me to help others,” said Aidan Whay of St. Jane Frances School.

Young Heroes Contest Inspires Youth To Think Positive

Zach Sparks
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November 10, 2017

Local Kids Recognized For Their Essays On Role Models

A woman prying a passenger from a burning car, a man dropping his kid’s Happy Meal to perform the Heimlich maneuver on a choking customer — these headlines are ubiquitous, but are tales of heroism always so profound? What about the Eagle Scout who builds a bus stop for his neighborhood or the activist who finds a voice to battle discrimination when others are silent?

Senator Bryan Simonaire started the Young Heroes Essay Contest 10 years ago to recognize people ages 18 and under who demonstrate leadership, initiative, courage or compassion in their communities. The contest encourages elementary school kids to write about someone their own age who serves as a role model, and both the author of the essay and the hero are recognized during an awards ceremony.

In 2017, Simonaire and his staff culled from 470 essays to select nine winners, one from each participating school. All participants were invited to Northeast High School on October 25 to receive a citation and meet Senator Bryan Simonaire and Delegates Nic Kipke and Meagan Simonaire. Like each preceding year, the 2017 winners shared stories that were diverse in scope.

“One thing that stood out to me was kids going through really tough trials in their own lives,” Simonaire said. “One girl had cancer. Her hair was cut from the radiation, and she was writing about somebody else. For the first time in 10 years, there was a standing ovation.

“Then, we had the little boy who had leukemia,” Simonaire continued. “Just reading the story about how every day he had to get a needle. I hate needles, I don’t faint, but don’t like needles, so that’s really tough for a kid to go through. Another girl was an ambassador at her school, helping kids who were bullied.”

Ashley Anne Hackmann of Fort Smallwood Elementary School is the girl who received a standing ovation. She is battling cancer, yet she devoted her essay not to herself but to Emily Solley, who volunteers at a homeless shelter. As for the ambassador against bullying, Sunset Elementary School student Karina Cool looks up to her cousin Jessica Knoedler, because Jessica helped build a playground for handicapped children, donated money to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and was a role model for students being bullied in her school.

“Right when they said ‘Karina,’ I was in tears. I was so happy,” said the Sunset Elementary winner. “Winning something like this is a big deal for me because I don’t do sports, and it was a great opportunity.”

Surprised to discover that he was a winner, St. Jane Frances student Aidan Whay learned from his peers that he can go out in the neighborhood and assist people in need.

“After writing about my sister raising money for St. Jude Hospital, it inspired me to help others,” he said. “For example, to collect clothing or food for the homeless.”

Andrew Henthorn (Bodkin Elementary) wrote about Chris Carson because he built a shelter at the Bayside Beach bus stop. Shayla Casey (High Point Elementary) chose her brother Tommy Waddell. “He saved my life in the pool, helps others when he doesn’t have to, is kind and helps me with my homework,” Shayla wrote. Olivia Frank (Riviera Beach Elementary) selected Rebecca Vasquez “because she always stands up for me and always follows the rules and is respectful.”

Jacobsville Elementary’s winner, Kennedy Harris, shared his inspiration, Zion, who has been through many surgeries. Gracie Nestor (North Glen Elementary School) wrote about her brother Bentley Nestor who “inspired me by being strong and keeping a smile on his face when he battled cancer when he was just a baby.” Kendyl Adair from Point Pleasant Elementary praised her hero, Sydney Adai, saying, “Sydney’s super powers are being funny, loyal and happy. She makes me laugh when I am feeling down.”

All winners are granted a trip to Annapolis, where they tour the state capital and visit the gallery of the Senate and House of Delegates. Beyond that, the experience has inspired some of the students to enact positive change, just like their heroes.

Aidan reinforced plans to help the homeless, and Karina and her friends will soon organize a lemonade stand. “Once we get enough money, we will give it to a children’s home so they can stay warm for the winter,” Karina said.

Those intentions don’t surprise Senator Simonaire, who is often reminded of the contest year-round. “I’ll be in the grocery store and someone will come up and tell me that their son or their daughter has the plaque on their wall still,” he said. “It’s not just a one-year deal. They remember.”

For helping to judge essays and coordinate the awards presentation, Simonaire thanked Kara Contino and Verna Jones from his office, along with Emily Gilleland of Kipke’s staff and Delegate Simonaire’s legislative aide, Wanda Shawyer.

The Young Heroes Essay Contest was conceived after the senator’s son Isaac, then a teenager, wanted to create a commemorative day for young people. Since then, the contest has grown from two schools to nine, urging more children to become role models themselves.

“After hearing these stories by their classmates, they realize they can also make a positive impact in their school, community and family,” Senator Simonaire said. “It is my hope that these students will now look for new opportunities to help others in our community.”


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