Introducing your Amazing Kids for the Clackamas Review/OC News
Clackamas Review/Oregon City News staff selected its 2018 Amazing Kids, and once again there are five extraordinary winners.
The five local winners will be among 29 honored in a special section coming out in all of the newspapers in the Pamplin Media chain.
The Clackamas Review/Oregon City News received a record number of nominations for its Amazing Kid program this year: 30. It was difficult to narrow them down to just five winners, and we encourage nominators to resubmit again next year.
Our five Amazing Kids will represent this area at a gala event scheduled to be held April 30 at OMSI in Portland. Former Trail Blazer Brian Grant will be the keynote speaker.
Here's a preview of our five winners:
Representing the county as a whole as an Amazing Kid, Déja Fitzwater, 13, tries every day to live by her own quote that she invented when she was 8: "In order to make a difference, you have to be the difference."
Déja's own "Arts for the Ages" program delivers art-supply bags filled with inspiration to children's hospitals and many other worthy causes. Since the age of 5, this Milwaukie kid has hand delivered or mailed art supply packets to over 3,200 children not only in the Portland metro area, but all over the world.
Each summer Déja holds a drive to collect art supplies. When these supplies inevitably run short throughout the year, she supplements the inventory using purchases from her own monthly allowance. Using these donated art supplies, Déja creates bags filled with coloring books, crayons, art pads and watercolor kits. Various organizations that have benefitted from Déja's project include the Caring Closet and U.S. troops involved with Operation Crayon, known for providing school supplies to Iraqi children.
Her biggest service project is collecting donations for the Ronald McDonald House, which aims to bring smiles to children with health problems. As one of the first Fun Junction volunteers, Déja spends every other Tuesday at Ronald McDonald's West House in Portland teaching children to do various arts-and-crafts projects.
Through OSU's Clackamas Extension program, Déja is involved in 4-H, a community of more than 100 public universities across the nation that provides experiences where young people learn by completing hands-on projects in areas like health, science, agriculture and citizenship.
Marissa Levy's courageous essay published in Oregon Humanities' February issue is just one of the many reasons she represents Oregon City well as its Amazing Kid this year.
Marissa, 17, wrote the essay from her personal experience, calling for "all individuals suffering from an illness or a sickness, including those with a mental illness ... to be treated with care."
Oregon City School District Superintendent Larry Didway calls Marissa "a leader and an inspiration to every young adult and advocate."
Marissa doesn't spare readers the gory details of her mental illness, which she says needs support and help mending "like someone with a broken leg." Marissa also doesn't shy away from the negative effects social media has had on her and her peers' self-esteem.
Marissa's personal essay speaks for countless teens confronted with an increasingly anxious world. Her unflinching honesty and openness about her condition makes her an ideal frequent volunteer and advocate with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).
She's also passionate about snow-sport helmet awareness, completing more than 80 hours of community service to earn her Girl Scout Gold Award at Timberline Lodge near Mount Hood over the past year and a half. Her brother-in-law's recovery from his own traumatic brain injury inspired her to complete the volunteer project.
Representing this year's Milwaukie Amazing Kid, La Salle Prep junior Andrew Shireman wants so badly to become a pediatrician that he has volunteered weekly at a local hospital and dedicated a large portion of his summer last year to a national youth leadership medical conference.
After volunteering weekly for five months during this school year at Kaiser Sunnyside Medical Center, Andrew, 16, isn't scared away from the medical profession. In fact, he's looking forward to doubling his volunteer hours at the hospital to twice a week this summer.
"I love directly applying myself, and I get to speak with patients," he says.
La Salle Prep Guidance Counselor Seth Altshuler described Andrew as a "great kid, super bright, hard working, and [he] somehow walks the balance of being accomplished and not arrogant." Altshuler noted Andrew is excelling academically on a math/science track, despite having "about as hard a schedule as you can possibly get," Altshuler says, adding, "He's one of those kids who really cares about being a good person, in addition to being a good academic."
Andrew's lost count of how many volunteer hours he's logged, which is of no concern for him, having long ago achieved his school's requirements.
"A lot of kids see volunteering as 'I have to get a certain number of service hours,' but I don't see it that way at all," he says. "I see it as an opportunity to help."
Adin Williams, a world-ranked para swimmer who was born with dwarfism, finished first in the 50-meter freestyle at the state competition this year, improving his personal record by 3 seconds. The junior at Gladstone High School also finished first in the 100 freestyle, improving his personal record by 4 seconds.
"The best part about watching Adin progress as a swimmer is seeing him compete," said swim coach Charlotte DeBaltzo. "He's a powerhouse who thrives on competition and there's no doubt in my mind that during every race, he gives it his all. I'm so glad to have him on our team."
Adin, 17, and his parents began lobbying the Oregon School Activities Association (OSAA) in the spring of his eighth grade year for the inclusion of disabled and non-full-bodied athletes in OSAA championship athletic contests.
This year's Gladstone Amazing Kid was successful in getting competitions scheduled for these special athletes beginning with the May 2016 OSAA Swimming State Championships and the OSAA Track & Field Championships in May. The 50 and 100 meter freestyle events were scheduled for swimming, and 100 and 400 meter sprints in track and field.
Adin, who is 4-foot-5 and weighs 90 pounds, told the Clackamas Review in 2016 how meaningful the opportunity of competing in state championships was for him.
Nicole Zhen, 18, this year's Happy Valley Amazing Kid, has succeeded academically and demonstrated exceptional leadership skills throughout the years.
However, the way Nicole truly stands out is how she uses her formidable determination to bring about positive change for others.
Now a senior at Clackamas High School, Nicole has dedicated much of her youth to helping others, starting with her first volunteer position at the age of 12 at the local library. Six years later, Nicole is still a dedicated library volunteer, and now leads a program she developed that provides teen reading buddies to young — and often struggling — readers.
As the chairperson of the Happy Valley Youth Council, a group committed to improving the lives of other teens through youth advocacy and the creation of safety programs, Nicole works with fellow council members to identify key issues for teens and develop effective plans to create positive impacts. Throughout the four years Nicole has served on the council, she has been instrumental in helping put on successful drug turn-in events, distracted driving initiatives and teen suicide prevention activities.
For more about these winners and to read about other Pamplin Media Group Amazing Kids throughout Oregon, check out next week's