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CHS grads set example as humanitarian leaders

October 2, 2011
By Kathleen Palumbo
In partnership with the Walmart Foundation, Project Love recently announced 10 finalists for the 13th annual Searching for Teen Leaders program. Two were Canfield students who were announced during the Good News Day celebration where, with more than 100 teens, parents, teachers and local community leaders present, the celebration honored all the nominees for the leadership they demonstrate in their schools and in the community.

According to its recent press release, Project Love is a character-building education and training organization that, through workshops, community events, leadership training, and media programs, empowers teens and adults to build a culture of kindness, caring and respect.

“George Gallup Jr. once said that children are 20 percent of the population but 100 percent of the future,” said Stuart Muszynski, co-founder, president and CEO of Project Love. “These teen leaders represent 100 percent of our future and we’re thrilled to recognize them because they encourage and inspire others to step up and follow their lead.”

Nominated by their schools, peers, family members or other local community organizations for their outstanding acts of leadership and kindness, and selected from more than 150 nominations, the 10 finalists will now compete in an essay writing contest describing their community service and leadership. The chosen winner will be awarded a $2,500 scholarship during the annual Kickoff to Kindness rally in November.

Amongst the 2011 finalists are two Canfield High School graduates of the class of 2011, Lauren Lewis, and Gia Velasquez.

Lauren was nominated by her mother, Leslie Lewis.

“Lauren has always cared deeply about people and her community and has spent countless hours volunteering for charities, particularly those that serve children and the elderly,” said Leslie. “She strongly believes the cycle of poverty could be broken if children have the opportunity to participate in sports -- they may grow up healthier, more engaged and more successful in school which could provide the opportunity to attend college."

Salutatorian for the Canfield High School’s class of 2011, Lauren shared that her involvements while in high school included band, speech and debate, Academic Challenge, Leo’s Club, Drama Club, NHS, and St. Michaels Youth Ministry.

Lauren planned and organized activities and crafts for residents of a local nursing home, including scheduling high school students to visit and interact with the residents. In addition, she organized drives to collect sports equipment for underprivileged children in Appalachia.

Gia Velasquez was nominated by her mother, Sharon Valesquez, who described her daughter’s outlook on the world as centered on a commitment to helping others less fortunate. She added that it was exemplified through her actions, such as tutoring Hispanic children through a local agency, and serving as an assistant swim coach for the Special Olympics.

While a student at CHS, in addition to her extensive community service work, Gia managed to remain active in music, theater, cheerleading, and athletics while maintaining a 4.0 and earning the title of valedictorian.

Currently a freshman at Yale, where she is majoring in chemistry and is a cheerleader, Gia said of college life, “It’s a big transition for anybody, but I love it.”

“I would really like to be an attorney,” said Gia, adding, “My major goal in life is to defend people who can’t defend themselves.” From eighth through 12th grade, Gia volunteered at the Mahoning County Court of Domestic Relations, as well as on the first Peer Court in Mahoning County as an attorney and juror.

Naming her involvement with the Special Olympics as her favorite of high school activities, “It was such a privilege. I was so humbled by those athletes,” said Gia, adding that she hopes to continue her involvement with the organization in New Haven.

As they continue giving of their time and talents, with their sights set on making the world a better place, it’s clear that both young ladies are in fact teen leaders in the eyes of their nominators, family, friends, and society as a whole.

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