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Event at OMSI honors metro area's amazing kids, including Cornelius boy

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Kids from around Oregon who have made spectacular contributions to their community were honored at the fourth annual Amazing Kids event on Monday afternoon. What were you doing at 10 years old? Perhaps sitting in the classroom, counting the days until summer vacation, when homework and other obligations wouldn't be a drag on time for personal fun.

For some kids — those imbued with selflessness and a sense of purpose — the work never stops.

Certainly not for youth like Salsabel Al Asri, a 14-year-old Syrian refugee who came to Portland only a year ago, or Katie Frazer, an 8-year-old from Tigard who raised $24,000 for Ugandan orphans in 2016.

Nor is it the case for 28 of the other fine students chosen by Pamplin Media Group as "Amazing Kids," an annual special section honoring young folks who are doing spectacular work to improve their communities. The children were honored at the fourth-annual occasion at OMSI on Monday, May 8, where students, family and some educators mingled for a luncheon, inspiring speeches and presentations.

"It's an honor. It feels good to be recognized. I've been proud of what I've done, but there's more to be done," said Henry Morissette, 17, a student at Oregon Episcopal School, where his studies include classes on genetics, religion and social justice. Morissette is interested in solving Portland's housing crisis; he helped build a tiny home for a homeless man. The home was placed at Dignity Village, a city-authorized village of about 60 people in Northeast Portland.

Keynote speaker Brian Grant, a retired basketball player for the Portland Trail Blazers, gave an encouraging talk about the time and dedication it took to become an NBA athlete.

Grant told kids the characteristics that helped him get there were his work ethic and ability to see opportunity. The father of eight children grew up in a small Ohio town and worked extremely hard to ultimately be drafted eighth in the 1994 NBA draft.

"The one thing I wanted to do for my town was change the perception of me, because the perception was 'he won't graduate, he's probably going to go to jail if he doesn't get killed,'" Grant said.

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Retired Portland Trail Blazer basketball player Brian Grant told kids his inspiring backstory.He now runs the Brian Grant Foundation, helping empower people who have Parkinson's Disease, which he was diagnosed with in 2008 at 36 years old, only two years after retiring from the NBA. He told kids the importance of making connections in the community.

"What you kids have done in your community, you've been recognized as Amazing Kids. Remember that, because there's going to be more opportunities that come for you to be able to do things for other people, and there will be opportunities to walk through that door like I did all those years ago," he said.

Community is important to Pamplin Media Group — the main reason it puts on the Amazing Kids event, an event organizers hope continues to grow.

"I think it's all about what we do best — community journalism," said J. Brian Monihan, vice president and publisher of Pamplin Media Group. "Telling these kids' stories is so inspiring. It's all about making a difference in the community and there's no better way to make a difference than telling their stories."

Company President Mark Garber agreed.

"Certainly this group of young people, they have made tremendous contributions to their community and will make even more in the future," he said.

"It was really exciting," said Cornelius Amazing Kid Jacob Heldt. "It was a great event."

"Brian Grant is such an inspiration," said Karen Heldt, Jacob's mom, who was there along with his father and sister. "I think Jake was overwhelmed."

Steve Heldt, Jacob's dad, left feeling inspired. "It's really nice that Pamplin does something to recognize these kids across the state," he said. "There were a lot of great stories today."

Reporter Stephanie Haugen contributed to this story.

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