Numerous youth from Defiance County were honored for their leadership and service during the 2019 Youth in Excellence Awards, presented by Holy Cross Catholic School of Defiance (HCCS), on Sunday afternoon at the Knights of Columbus hall in Defiance.

A quintet of winners was chosen by 12 judges from 32 nominees in Defiance County. The awards were open to all students in grades K-12 at every school in the county, as well as home-schooled students. Winners were chosen from the following grade groupings: K-3, 4-6, 7-9 and 10-12.

The inaugural winners of the awards include: K-3, Finn and Trig Tingle, Defiance Elementary School; 4-6, Khloe Siler, Holy Cross Catholic School; 7-9, Karli Vogelsong, Tinora Junior High School; and 10-12, Jaiden Shock, Defiance High School.

The awards were sponsored by the Defiance Area Foundation, First Federal Bank, Knights of Columbus Council 1039, United Way of Defiance County, The Women’s Giving Circle, The Crescent-News, and several anonymous donors.

“I was blown away by the winners, the speakers, our students at Holy Cross who led the program, the way it all came together ... it was a great showcase of talent shared with the Defiance community,” said Holy Cross Catholic School principal Rose Reinhart. “A lot of hard work went into putting this event together, from the Student Lighthouse Team, to the staff, to all our students ... it was an all-out effort.”

Serving as emcees of the program were HCCS fifth-grade students Jackson Bernal and Liam Armstrong. Following an opening prayer, and the Pledge of Allegiance, led by HCCS fourth-grade student Izzy Meyer, Paula DeCola shared how HCCS became a The Leader in Me (TLIM) school four years ago.

DeCola, a teacher at HCCS and a TLIM co-coordinator at the school, shared that the 2019 Youth in Excellence Awards were put in place to showcase how TLIM program has had a positive impact on the community, and highlight student leaders from every school across Defiance County.

“This year, instead of inviting the community to Holy Cross (like it has to highlight TLIM the past three years), we decided to bring leadership to the community,” said DeCola. “We wanted to recognize that great happens not just at Holy Cross, but also how great youth leadership is in our community.”

DeCola then shared a story about how former HCCS student Izzy Armstrong, now a seventh-grader at Defiance Middle School, went from a very shy young girl, to a leader, due in large part to practicing the seven (eight) habits of TLIM schools. Armstrong was introduced, and she shared how she Found Her Voice (one of the habits), and how the habits helped her make new friends at her new school.

Said Armstrong: “Learning the habits and being involved in The Leader in Me Program for several years, helped me to make good decisions, especially when making new friends. I hope to use the habits I learned, and my leadership skills even more, so that I can become a member of student council.”

Jolene Reinhart, a TLIM coach and consultant from Franklin Covey in Cuyahoga Falls, then spoke about “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” the book written by Franklin R. Covey. That concept led to TLIM model for schools which, “is based on principles and practices of personal, interpersonal and organizational effectiveness, and upon the powerful premise that every child possesses unique strengths and has the ability to be a leader.”

“To become president of the United States you must 35 years old, to serve in the armed forces you must be 18 years old, but there is no age restriction to being a leader and making a difference in this world,” said Reinhart.

Keynote speaker Brian Williams, a motivational speaker from Think Kindness of Reno, Nev., dazzled the crowd with his energy, his stories of being a fourth-degree black belt, and how a service project his freshman year of college, and a question from his martial arts teacher, led him to start, Think Kindness.

His college assignment was to come up with an idea to change the world in 15 days. Williams partnered with three middle schools in an effort to collect 5,000 pair of shoes for those in need. Not only did they collect more than 5,000 (8,000 total), Williams, some of the students from the middle schools, and chaperones delivered the shoes to children in Africa. Since that time, Think Kindness has collected more than 300,000 shoes for those without shoes.

One of those pair of shoes given to a young man in Africa named Peter, led him to competing in his country’s Olympic trials and making the Olympic team.

“When you do an act of kindness, it creates a ripple effect that you almost never get to see,” said Williams. “That pair of shoes led to something amazing for Peter, who now travels all across Africa to schools to tell kids to never give up on their dreams. What this world needs is more leaders, people like you, people who are willing to stand up and take action.”

Following Williams’ presentation, former HCCS student Carter Bernal read the list of nominees for the 2019 Youth in Excellence Awards by grade category, before reading the nomination letter for each of the winners. Neil Seimet and Mike Boff, fourth-degree knights of the Knights of Columbus 1039, passed out a medal and certificate to each nominee, and a star award to each of the winners.

Each of the winners also received a $250 grant to donate to a charity or cause of their choice. The winners have until Aug. 15 to decide how their grants will be used. All youth received a swag bag for attending, and each had an opportunity to learn about service opportunities from representatives in attendance from Kaitlyn’s Cottage, the Defiance Area Foundation, United Way of Defiance County and Defiance Public Library.

“We are really pleased with the turnout, and we feel that this event really validated our thought that our youth leaders in the area need to be recognized,” stated Aileen Meyer, marketing director at Holy Cross, who served on the planning committee with Jean Carr, Matt Cramer, Cristal Moore and Kristin Siler of HCCS. “I think like Jolene (Reinhart) shared, we as adults have to shift our paradigm and see the genius in youth. It’s there, we have to cultivate it.”

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