First launched in 2001 but on hiatus since 2011, Together’s Awards of Excellence have returned to showcase 32 Thurston and Mason county youths who might otherwise be overlooked.
Though many students are honored throughout the year for their academic or athletic achievements, many youths and the contributions they make to the community go unsung, said Danielle Koenig, Together’s communications and administration director. Recognition is a prime factor in helping youths feel supported and valued, so the goal of the nonprofit’s Awards of Excellence is to honor nontraditional leaders and those who have shown resilience in the face of hardship or overcome adversity, she said.
Traditionally, the Awards of Excellence were offered only to high school students nominated by their schools. But Together expanded them this year to cover middle schools as well as “community stars,” youths age 11-20 who were nominated by a community organization, rather than by a school, but following the same criteria.
Special recognition this year also is being given to six rising stars, elementary school students in Together programs who show strong leadership skills appropriate for their age.
A panel of community members also awarded scholarships to five nominees, as noted in the profiles that follow.
In addition to Together, the sponsors of this year’s program include Gateway Rotary, TwinStar Credit Union, South Puget Sound Community College Foundation, DZines, Forrey’s Forza, B&R Flooring America and The Olympian. Partners include Capital Region ESD 113.
These recipients are from Together’s elementary school programs and have strong leadership skills appropriate for their age or show promise to be an amazing star. Our six rising stars help the adults in the program, make significant improvements in their behavior and/or show leadership and compassion to their peers.
Nominated by Together Club House
Nominated by Together Club House
Nominated by Together Club House
Nominated by Together Club House
Nominated by Together Club House
Nominated by Together Club House
Middle School Awards
Awards of Excellence recipients nominated by a middle school.
Nominated by Aspire Middle School
Story of achievement: Aimee has a quiet and kind personality. She demonstrates compassionate leadership by helping others with cheer and understanding, whether she’s helping others with academic work or supporting a friend struggling with emotional or social upsets. She puts others at ease. Staff members often ask Amy to “buddy” with new students to help them adjust to our school. Aimee maintains both her kindness to others and her quality academic work while managing her own family, emotional and mental health challenges.
Other achievements: Aimee also puts in every effort to maintain academic accomplishments. She is always prepared and works hard to succeed at meeting academic expectations. Aimee remains true to her own values as she leads our community with kindness and compassion, and she has a brave and healthy sense of how and when to talk with adults when she is under family stress. Staff quotes about Aimee: “A quiet example of what to do.” “Always holds kindness as a priority.” “A wonderful example of perseverance.”
Nominated by Oakland Bay Junior High School
Story of achievement: Rachel has overcome many obstacles in her life. She was affected by tobacco use when she was born. She did not do well in school and was very shy. But now she is an honor-roll student and very active in the sign language club and the junior high school Students Against Destructive Decisions club. She has overcome the obstacles of being born premature and being shy with the help of her loving parents and her willingness to attend national and state leadership conferences.
Other achievements: Rachel is the co-facilitator of the Oakland Bay Junior High School SADD club. Last year, she attended the National Student Safety Program conference in Raleigh, North Carolina, and she is attending this year’s NSSP conference in Portland. She has attended several prevention summits in Chehalis and Yakima. Next week, she will be facilitating a media awareness program on alcohol, tobacco and marijuana at an elementary school.
Future plans: Rachel will be the facilitator for the Teens Against Tobacco Use and Multi-Media Awareness programs at the high school and junior high next year. Plus, she will facilitate the media awareness program at both schools. She also will be a high school SADD club officer next year.
Cecilia (Celee) Matheson
Nominated by Reeves Middle School
Story of achievement: Life has never come easy for Celee. She started out dealing with physical challenges with cerebral palsy as well as academic challenges throughout her education. She has learned to navigate the emotional divorce of her parents as well. Through sheer determination and a relentless positive attitude, Celee has persevered and experienced tremendous success. She has a maturity about life and understands that it may be difficult for her, but she’ll give it her all with a smile.
Other achievements: Celee won the Grit award for Reeves Middle School in seventh grade. This is awarded to one seventh-grader who has demonstrated grit and determination. Celee also won the Resilient award, nominated by her teachers, during the second quarter of eighth grade. This is awarded to one eighth-grader who works hard to be successful in all aspects of their life.
Future plans: Celee plans to go to Olympia High School. She has a strong passion for photography and plans to take classes in high school with a photography focus. Then she plans to go to college and possibly continue her studies with photography.
Nominated by Chinook Middle School
Story of achievement: Audil is a sixth-grader at Chinook Middle School and recently spoke publicly at a Lacey City Council meeting on comments about Muslims made by Councilman Jason Hearn. This brave young man is an asset to his school and the community as a whole and epitomizes the Awards of Excellence criteria of “showing resilience in the face of hardship.” His teachers describe him as “an enthusiastic learner and his positive attitude and willingness to work hard makes him a contributing citizen.”
Future plans: Go to college for law and eventually be a lawyer.
Nominated by Tumwater Middle School
Story of achievement: Robert describes himself as happy and outgoing and he likes to smile a lot. Despite going through peer conflict struggles at school, Robert took an opportunity to help Life Skills students at Black Hills High School who were in need of sensory activities. Robert took the initiative to design, acquire the materials for and construct a multi-sensory board complete with lights, knobs, wheels and other skills items for their education/enrichment.
Other achievements: Robert has been performing dance since age 7 and has lately started to do public performances, with one recently at the Olympia Performing Arts Center. Very soon, Robert will audition for a role as a backup dancer in a Ryan Lewis and Macklemore music video.
Future plans: After Robert enters high school, he wants to volunteer in the Life Skills program and be a leader and advocate for the students in special services to make sure they get the support and positive attention from peers that they deserve.
Nominated by Tenino Middle School
Story of achievement: MacKenzie has completely transformed herself since sixth grade, when she was shy and nonparticipatory. As an eighth-grader in Leadership Class, she has planned assemblies, presented leadership activities to the school board, and raised her GPA for each year of middle school, earning a place on the honor roll. She has blossomed into a skilled public speaker confident presenting in front of large groups of students and adults — a real triumph given her communication history.
Other achievements: MacKenzie participated in WE Day, organized fundraisers for hunger relief, and organized a food drive. She works with elementary students to model good behavior, is a reading buddy for special education students, is a Girl Scout and is active in her church youth group.
Future plans: Become involved with FFA in high school and join the Leadership Class; she plans to go to college after high school.
High School Awards
Awards of Excellence recipients nominated by a high school.
Nominated by Yelm High School
Story of achievement: Tiera is being nominated for her perseverance in the face of adversity and her resilience to overcome life’s obstacles. She has been homeless for most of her high school years and has maintained her grades and managed to stay on track to graduate with her class. Despite having no dedicated place to study and do homework, she has kept her focus to pass classes and succeed. Tiera values education and has set a goal to pursue higher education with determination.
Future plans: Tiera has applied to The Northwest College of Art and Design in Poulsbo.
Nominated by Timberline High School
Story of achievement: Charissa is being nominated because of her strong will and resiliency in the face of adversity. During her senior year, Charissa changed schools three times and was identified as a McKinney-Vento independent youth. The physical and psychological stress of trying to meet basic needs of food, shelter, safety and belonging would be enough to derail any adult, let alone a 17-year-old high school student; however, Charissa isn’t your typical student.
Other achievements: Despite life’s adversity, Charissa has successfully achieved a 4.0 GPA her senior year while maintaining a part-time job working up to 25 hours a week to help support herself and her family. Charissa also competed on the swimming team and has won numerous state and regional competitions in taekwondo.
Future plans: Charissa plans to attend college with a major in dietetics and nutrition. She would someday like to help people and serve her community through medical advancements and practice.
Scholarship: The Awards of Excellence Scholarship Committee awarded Charissa a $1,000 scholarship from TwinStar Credit Union.
Nominated by South Sound High School
Story of achievement: Chloe has faced difficult challenges including at age 9 when her house burned down and her family moved into temporary substandard housing to survive. Other extreme family stress affected her self-esteem, too. She put herself in risky, thrill-seeking situations, which caused many traumatic experiences. Chloe became a parent at 15 and began to make better life choices, with good support from her mom. Her son, Jackson, has inspired her to become a great student and good role model.
Other achievements: Chloe has been on the honor roll at South Sound High School all this year and her current GPA is a 4.0. She also has excellent attendance, while juggling the demands of parenting. She received many awards at a recent awards assembly, including Career and Technical Student of the Term for professionalism, a Math Excellence award and the English Achievement award. The achievement not seen on her transcript is the beautiful smile on her son’s face.
Future plans: Chloe plans to submit scholarship essays and apply for financial aid prior to her graduation in June 2017. She plans to obtain a job in a human services field and begin classes at a community or state college. Chloe will major in paralegal studies and plans to achieve an associate degree. When she is economically stable, she plans to go to law school to become a civil rights lawyer. Chloe has a passion for writing and plans to one day write her memoir.
Nominated by North Thurston High School
Story of achievement: MacKenna is a phenomenal, caring, and compassionate young woman. However, life has not always been easy for her. She has gone through many challenges. Since the beginning of this school year, MacKenna has been living on her own, supporting herself completely. Despite this, MacKenna has become an unsung hero at North Thurston High School. She has worked extensively with our Life Skills students, leading study groups and championing the Special Olympics Unified Soccer team.
Other achievements: MacKenna has been recognized for her work with the Unified Sports program and has received the Unified Award. In addition to the extensive work she has done with the Life Skills students both inside and outside of the classroom, she has participated in a variety of programs and even put together an “Adopt a Family” Thanksgiving Meal Basket initiative. MacKenna also cares about the environment and has helped run recycling programs throughout her time in high school.
Future plans: MacKenna plans to attend The Evergreen State College and pursue a career in environmental conservation. Her dream is to work in the field to improve Washington’s ecosystems.
Scholarship: The Awards of Excellence Scholarship Committee awarded MacKenna a $1,000 Service Above Self scholarship from Gateway Rotary.
Nominated by Capital High School
Story of achievement: In her freshman year, Breanna had depression, low self-esteem and thought she was “stupid” because she is an Individualized Education Program student. She often felt as if there was no point in even trying. She wanted to quit school and get her GED, but thanks to family, friends and teachers who saw a bright future for her, she was convinced to stay in school.
Other achievements: Each school year, Breanna has improved her work ethics and study habits, earning her better grades. She has gained more confidence, faith and hope in herself. She met new people, achieved personal goals, and knows now she is smart and very capable of achieving anything.
Future plans: Breanna plans to attend college.
Nominated by Olympia High School
Story of achievement: Alex is one of the superstars of Olympia High School’s AVID college preparatory program. After a less-than-stellar middle school experience, Alex decided he was ready to work harder to become the first in his family to graduate and attend a four-year college. Alex will graduate with a GPA above 3.65 that includes two Honors, three Advanced Placement and seven South Puget Sound Community College classes. He has earned a College Bound scholarship and will undoubtedly make the most of his college education.
Other achievements: Alex is in his second year as a Bear Crew leader at Olympia High School, helping a small group of ninth grade students each year transition into high school and then supporting them throughout the school year. He also helps students as a peer tutor and is incredibly altruistic in nature. While coming from a low-income family can be a challenge, it is not one that Alex has let keep him from realizing his dreams.
Future plans: Alex will attend the University of Washington in the fall to pursue a degree in computer science or computer engineering.
Scholarship: The Awards of Excellence Scholarship Committee awarded Alex a $1,000 Service Above Self scholarship from Gateway Rotary.
Nominated by Black Hills High School
Story of achievement: Jordan is an example of perseverance. The road to success hasn’t always been easy for Jordan but her drive is unlike many students. Jordan is the first to say that life can be stressful and unpredictable at times. She has faced changes in housing, family separations, stress with transportation, and increased academic pressures, but always turned these challenges into opportunities. Jordan is kind, grateful, and empowering while managing these incredible life situations.
Other achievements: She is actively involved in Running Start at South Puget Sound Community College, attending the Pre-SAT class, while navigating the Intercity Transit system. Jordan’s school activities include Running Start and Key Club, and she is a successful library teacher’s assistant.
Future plans: Jordan’s goals are to graduate high school in 2017, complete her associate degree at SPSCC with the support of Running Start during her senior year, then further her education with an English or business degree, hoping to open a business with her mom someday. Jordan is pursuing a part-time job currently but is always keeping a keen check on her workload.
Nominated by Shelton High School
Story of achievement: Alex is far from any “average senior on campus.” He is truly inspirational. Alex came to Shelton High school at the beginning of his junior year when he was placed at yet another foster home. He has been in the foster system since 13. Academically, Alex has an IEP in reading and math yet challenges himself to take increasingly challenging academic courses and collaborates with the teachers until he reaches mastery.
Other achievements: As an African American gay man on campus, Alex often finds himself in a position to be simply a good example of tolerance and acceptance. Alex has seen his share of racism and homophobia. He is able to own and communicate all of who he is in ways that are nonapologetic and full of self-respect. He is incredibly mature and self-aware for someone his age.
Future plans: Alex wants to be a supportive and successful occupational therapist. He has enrolled in school for next fall at Lake Washington Technical College and is ready for his next challenge. Alex is good at starting over, collaborating, and sharing the good example that he has become. Alex is well on his way, and his counselor is very proud of him.
Awards of Excellence recipients nominated by a community group or nonprofit organization.
Nominated by Mason County PASS
Story of achievement: Madilyn is a senior at Shelton High School and is the current secretary of the Shelton SADD club. She has been a member of the SADD club for four years. When she started in SADD, she was very quiet and unwilling to speak in front of any group. In the past four years, she attended many state and national leadership conferences and presented to many groups, including teachers. This year, she did a media awareness program (alcohol and tobacco advertising geared toward youth) in front of more than 800 middle school students and staff. Madilyn presented at the National Student Safety Program conference in Raleigh, North Carolina. She will be attending this conference again in Portland in July. Finally, she was a speaker at Prevention Policy Day in January.
Other achievements: Madilyn is a very good student and, in the past two years, has been a major actor in three videos produced by the SADD club on prescription drugs, texting and driving, and problem gambling. She is a varsity swimmer and studies French and Japanese. Also, she is involved in the SADD club Relay for Life team.
Future plans: She plans to attend Temple University, then go to Japan to study at the Temple University campus there.
Nominated by Bucoda-Tenino Healthy Action Team (B-THAT)
Story of achievement: Nicole started her B-THAT community coalition involvement when she moved to Tenino in 2013. She first volunteered with one of our parenting programs doing child care. She has younger siblings, so working with kids came naturally to her and she was a positive role model to the kids. She then started attending coalition meetings and helped at our after-school program in 2014. Nicole used her volunteer and work experience for her senior project, and advanced to being a paid Program Assistant with coalition activities throughout 2015.
Other achievements: Nicole was involved with the Gay-Straight Alliance and Random Acts of Kindness clubs at Cedarcrest High School. She loves photography and has been involved with yearbook since her freshman year. As a junior at Cedarcrest, she was the main yearbook photographer. She participated in Tenino High School fast-pitch and cheer (basketball) teams. Nicole also volunteers with youths as an assistant for the Lady Knights girls fast-pitch team.
Future plans: Nicole is very interested in working with youth, possibly as a counselor. She also plans to continue pursuing photography and is in the process of choosing a college.
Nominated by Shelton SADD Parent Booster Club
Story of achievement: Josh has overcome many obstacles in his life. His older brother smoked cigarettes and used marijuana on a daily basis. With Josh’s help, his brother is now drug free. Josh’s parents are currently going through a divorce. He has been a big help to his mom, who is on disability. This summer he obtained a job to help his mom financially and pay for his own driver’s education course. Besides this, Josh helps his community and school in many ways.
Other achievements: Josh is a sophomore at Shelton High School and has been a member of the SADD club for four years. He has attended two national SADD conferences and four prevention summits. He has a 3.5 GPA and turned out for football last year for the first time. He is involved in Relay for Life, Teens Against Tobacco Use and the Little Stars program. He is a media awareness speaker for the SADD club and has attended Prevention Policy Days at the state Capitol.
Future plans: Josh was selected by his peers as the president of the Shelton SADD club for the 2016-17 school year. He wants to go to the national SADD conference next summer in Washington, D.C., and be the Relay for Life captain. After high school, Josh wants to be a firefighter or law enforcement official. Each summer, he attends law enforcement academy in Yakima. Plus, he attends fire training at Mason County Fire District 4.
Nominated by Family Support Center
Story of achievement: Aylin embodies resilience, perseverance and dedication. She is so deserving of this recognition. She just graduated high school and managed school, volunteerism, and raising a young daughter. She has never given up, made sure she got to school and has her sights set on becoming a nurse and providing the best for her daughter. She stays positive in challenging times, asks for help and perseveres through struggles. Her strength and resiliency are admirable.
Other achievements: Aylin just became the first person in her family to graduate high school and pursue higher education. She values education and wants to provide an amazing life for her daughter. She is engaged with the community, such as her volunteer work at the Family Support Center, and seeks out opportunities to grow and learn. Aylin is a great advocate for herself and has sought multiple scholarship opportunities to help make sure she has a clear financial path to higher education, navigating much of it on her own.
Future plans: Aylin has registered at South Puget Sound Community College. She is proud to be a first-generation high school graduate, though that is not enough for her. She wants to go to college and provide a solid, consistent and stable life for herself and her daughter. She values education, experience and hard work. There’s no doubt Aylin will be successful and will move mountains in her lifetime.
Scholarship: The Awards of Excellence Scholarship Committee awarded Aylin a one-year full tuition scholarship to South Puget Sound Community College via the SPSCC Foundation.
Nominated by Community Youth Services YouthBuild
Story of achievement: Monnika has overcome many obstacles during this academic year that she has been facing throughout her youth. In summer 2015, she made the crucial, progressive decision to apply for Community Youth Services’ YouthBuild program. She was accepted after a two-week evaluation for this program, which is designed to refocus youth on their academics, gaining employability standards and developing leadership. She’s a leader and prime example for others in the program, a shining exemplar of what changes can be achieved.
Other achievements: Monnika has overcome substance addiction, self-doubt and other personal struggles while taking steps to brighten her future. She is near to completing her GED and, more than ever, is dedicated to finishing. A participant in community service activities, Monnika strives to grow as a person.
Future plans: Monnika has taken to the hands-on construction trades learning in YouthBuild and is interested in joining a union under apprenticeship. She has made monumental shifts in thought and sees how much she can do. During her GED studies, Monnika’s interest was grabbed by the Social Studies section. She wants to learn more about society and governmental functions at South Puget Sound Community College.
Nominated by YWCA of Olympia
Story of achievement: Sierra is a recent graduate of Tier 1 of YWCA of Olympia’s Economic Empowerment Program. She is being nominated for her resilience and strength in the face of tragedy and loss, along with her compassion and drive for self-improvement. Having faced an abusive household, homelessness, and the loss of her brother to suicide, she committed to breaking the cycle of abuse in her family and making her brother proud of her. She has received her high school diploma and is enrolled in The Evergreen State College.
Other achievements: Sierra completed Job Corps, and is certified in Radiology, HIV and Infection Control. She is a graduate of Tier 1 of the YWCA Economic Empowerment Program and is enrolled in Tier II of the program. She has taken the Uplift and Launchpad trainings and is enrolled in ESD 113. Sierra is conscientious and deep thinking. Her compassion, kindness and willingness to demand better for herself inspire those around her.
Future plans: She plans to get her bachelor’s degree at The Evergreen State College, then join the Peace Corps. She wants to be in service to others. After returning from the Peace Corps, she would like to work in social services so she can make a positive impact on people’s lives.
Nominated by Tumwater Parks and Recreation
Story of achievement: Rachel is a youth who continues to shine and show resiliency. She volunteers for Tumwater Parks and Recreation’s special events and for the Tumwater Youth Program, and always lends a helping and welcoming hand at Tumwater Old Town Center. Whether she is dressing up as the Easter Bunny or connecting with the elderly at The Hampton, Rachel always finds a way to make sure that those around her know they are loved and cared for.
Other achievements: She has a 3.49 GPA at Black Hills High School and is a letter winner.
Future plans: Rachel wants to go to college and be a lawyer.
Nominated by Community Youth Services Bridge Program
Story of achievement: Gryffen joined CYS’ Bridge Program two years ago. He started out quiet and kept to himself. At first, he struggled to engage in the team-building activities that are core to the Bridge Program. But over time, Gryffen has become a leader. He worked his way up to become a Youth Music Mentor, and leads his own group. He has since realized the value of teamwork and leadership and is a proponent to other youth. He also has been a lead performer in the Summer Concert Series.
Other achievements: Gryffen has stepped up into adulthood with grace. He has addressed his past struggles with the law, challenging authority, and other issues and put it behind him. He strives to become a better person. In the past 2 years in the Bridge Program, he has shown maturity and growth and has become an example in the program. If staff could give him an award, it would be Mr. Congeniality because he continually is humble, helps other youth who are struggling musically and is respectful and kind to all.
Future plans: Gryffen wants to continue to help others and himself to grow with music development as a source to deal with life’s challenges. He currently works, and he volunteers as a Youth Music Mentor for the Bridge Program.
Nominated by YWCA of Olympia
Story of achievement: Mikia has faced incredible hardship and thrived in the face of it. She graduated the YWCA Economic Empowerment Program while in the midst of poverty and homelessness. Mikia thrived while working at YWCA’s Other Bank as part of the EEP job skills training because she has a heart for serving those who are marginalized in society. With incredible drive and vision, she embodies the entrepreneurial spirit, remains resilient in the face of hardship and is unwavering in her compassion for others.
Other achievements: Mikia is preparing to begin classes at SPSCC and has faced several challenges in completing her financial aid application, accessing all necessary supporting documents and finding funding. However, she has not given up. Mikia is committed to her education and continues to work steadily toward her goal despite these setbacks. Mikia is a graduate of New Market Skills Center’s YouthBuild program, in which students gain experience in the construction trades. She earned her diploma while in this program.
Future plans: Mikia wants to run her own restaurant and will soon begin the culinary arts program at South Puget Sound Community College, where she will continue to cultivate her business and cooking skills through a combination of cooking and business classes.
Nominated by Pizza Klatch
Story of achievement: Cheyenne has been a participant of Pizza Klatch for 2 years and this year has really stepped up her leadership. She applied for and was selected to be a voting member of Pizza Klatch’s board of directors. She also recently completed a 2-day “train the trainer” course, after which she is now prepared to train on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender suicide prevention at her school and other schools, as well as in youth-facing organizations throughout Thurston County. She is kind, generous and eager to support others in life.
Other achievements: Cheyenne volunteers at the local food bank and currently is a senior with plans to stay involved in Pizza Klatch after graduation from North Thurston High School. She moved to the North Thurston area from Shelton 2 years ago and had considerable challenges at home. Her grandmother is her main caregiver. Her ability to step up quickly into a leadership role at Pizza Klatch was impressive, as is her interest in being a trainer and leader in the community on LGBTQ youth suicide prevention.
Future plans: Cheyenne is registered to attend South Puget Sound Community College in the fall. After that, she hopes to transfer to Central Washington University. She will stay involved with Pizza Klatch as a board member and as a trainer, which staff are very excited about. She has really blossomed with the community that she created and built tons of advocates for her success. Pizza Klatch staff are confident Cheyenne will continue to reach her goals, no matter the challenges she faces in life.
Scholarship: The Awards of Excellence Scholarship Committee awarded Cheyenne a $1,000 Service Above Self scholarship from Gateway Rotary.
Nominated by Rainier Community Cares
Story of achievement: Katie has come a long way in 5 years. She overcame her shyness and being bullied in middle school to become one of the most determined and focused high school seniors in her class. She began to change her story by joining the cheer squad at Rainier High School and competing in local pageants to give her more confidence and pride. Her titles include Miss Puget Sound Teen Queen and Miss Thurston County Teen USA 2013. She also is a successful dance competition team winner.
Future plans: Katie received a partial scholarship to attend the University of Montana to complete her premedical studies with a major in biology and a minor in chemistry. She will then transfer to Bastyr University to study naturopathic medicine.
Nominated by Boys & Girls Clubs of Thurston County
Story of achievement: Matthew is a resilient young man who has overcome many obstacles. He was in trouble numerous times during eighth grade for truancy. He eventually went to Timberline High School, but his attendance was very poor. He was disenchanted with his place in life. His mother pushed him to go to Boys & Girls Club to make connections with positive adults and other peers. He has since transferred to South Sound High School, is on track to graduate and works as a mentor at the Boys & Girls Club.
Other achievements: 2016 Lacey Boys & Girls Club Youth of the Year; South Sound High School Honor Roll; Gateway Rotary guest speaker.
Future plans: He is interested in graphic design and plans to attend South Puget Sound Community College.