Congratulations to the 2013 Heroes!
Alaska Communications and Boys & Girls Clubs – Alaska are proud to recognize the 2013 Summer of Heroes honorees. The seven youth heroes were selected from nominations received from communities across the state.
This year’s honorees are Kearstyn Cotten of Anchorage, Tyrel and Eric Gusty of Stony River. Sarah Mixsell of Anchorage, Chance Haller of Seldovia, Cassie Welch of Anchorage, and Jezzroy Gordon-Wolfe of Fairbanks.
Alaska Communications presented each hero with a $1,500 scholarship during a ceremony, which was emceed by KTUU-TV news anchor Corey Allen-Young, at the Alaska State Fair in Palmer on Sunday, Aug. 25.
Kearstyn Cotten, Age 9
An enthusiastic and fun-loving nine-year-old, Kearstyn Cotten has a passion for helping others by lending a hand and being a friend. While Kearstyn has lived with Type 1 diabetes since age six, she’s never let it keep her down. In fact, her disease is what motivates Kearstyn to support other kids and their families by sharing her story, offering encouragement and inspiration, and raising funds to help find a cure for diabetes.
Throughout her young life, Kearstyn has helped raise awareness and sponsorship funds for her local chapter of the American Diabetes Association. In the last few years, Kearstyn and her family have assisted with organizing diabetes fundraisers in Anchorage, including Tour de Cure and Step Out: Walk to Stop Diabetes, getting friends and other families involved – even Kearstyn’s Girl Scout troop walked in support one year. Every summer at a camp for diabetic kids, Kearstyn shares her story with other children and families who are affected by diabetes. She also participates in Family Link events, where kids with diabetes and their families take trips together to the Alaska Zoo, the Museum of Natural History and other fun places.
Last summer, Kearstyn’s passion for helping others led her to meeting her biggest hero, singer Crystal Bowersox. Like Kearstyn, Crystal has Type 1 diabetes, and was a feature performer at the Friends for Life concert at the International Children with Diabetes Conference. In addition to meeting Crystal, Kearstyn was recognized for an inspirational video she made with her mom, titled, “You Can Do This,” to show other kids the fun and amazing things they can do despite having diabetes.
Kearstyn’s dream is to pursue her passion for helping people affected by diabetes. When she grows up, Kearstyn would like to become a nurse practitioner for diabetes, as well as a writer and illustrator for books about the disease.
Kearstyn finds happiness in helping others, and says, “It makes me feel really good just helping others. It’s like they’re giving me something and I’m giving something back.”
Tyrel and Eric Gusty, Ages 13 and 12
Stony River, Alaska
Born and raised in the Athabascan and Yup’ik village of Stony River, brothers Tyrel and Eric Gusty, ages 13 and 12 respectively, are passionate about preserving their community, heritage and education. Inspired and empowered by their teacher Debi Rubera, Eric and Tyrel, along with their 10 classmates, started the village’s first store. Stocked with the only food available for purchase in the village of about 60 people, the students first used the store to raise money for an educational field trip to Southern California in 2011. The trip was the first time that many of the students, including Tyrel and Eric, had traveled outside of Alaska.
The brothers attend Gusty Michael School, a K-12 two-room schoolhouse located in the remote area of Bethel. The school was recently threatened with closure when enrollment dipped below 10 students. The students banded together to ask the school board to keep the school open for another year, both for the current students and for the many preschool children who were about to begin their education. The students donated money they had originally raised for a trip to Washington, D.C. to help offset the deficit, and went on to raise additional funds to offset the monthly electricity bill for the following school year.
Tyrel, Eric and their classmates won’t give up in raising the $10,000 needed to keep their school open for another year. They’ve helped plan many fundraisers throughout the year and are leading the charge to keep the store running all summer to generate funds for the school. The students are also expanding their avenues of revenue by learning to trap so they can use the fur to make hats and mittens to sell, building children’s toys, and adding to their bakery. They are confident they can raise the money needed to keep the school open through their hard work and dedication.
In addition to looking out for their classmates and younger children in the community, Eric and Tyrel are always looking to protect their elders. When temperatures ran low during recent harsh winters, the boys noticed that some elders were missing lunches. They took it upon themselves to ensure the elders always had a hot lunch and someone to talk to, and even delivered groceries from the store to the elders’ homes.
As demonstrated by their efforts to keep the school open – even when it meant donating two years’ worth of hard-earned travel money – the brothers value the place of education in their lives and their community. They aim to pursue higher education themselves and are committed to ensuring that all children in their village, including those in generations to come, have a school where they too can learn and pursue their dreams.
Sarah Mixsell, Age 11
On Sarah Mixsell’s ninth birthday, she realized how many clothes and toys she already had, and decided that instead of birthday presents, she would much rather have her friends bring toys to give to other children in need. Together they gathered toys and assembled “birthday parties in a bag,” so that all of the children at the Abused Women's Aid in Crisis Center in Anchorage could have a present and all the fixings necessary for an eight-person celebration.
The idea inspired her to launch Alaska Kids for Kids, a youth-led nonprofit. Through the organization, her goal is to recruit 364 other kids to give back, so that on every day of the year, Alaska kids will be serving fellow Alaska kids in a meaningful way on their birthdays. She’s already recruited 20 kids to join her, and provides tips for how others can get involved on her website. Sarah kept the birthday giving tradition alive when she turned 10 years old, holding a jewelry making party to create jewelry sets that she could sell at craft fairs, stores and booths at Spenard Market. Her efforts raised more than $1,700, which she donated to the Children’s Hospital in Providence.
This year, Sarah designated Covenant House as the nonprofit on which she would focus her charitable efforts. She raised money for supplies, household items and comfort items for teen mothers and their babies at the organization’s Passage House.
In addition to her philanthropic ventures, Sarah is a competitive ice skater, a clarinet player and a dedicated Girl Scout. She has Olympic aspirations and is already working on her double axel, while also focusing heavily on her academics. She enjoys math and science, and hopes to pursue a career in either geology or archeology.
Chance Haller, Age 16
Chance Haller’s friends, family and community know that he’s not afraid to step up and help others when they need it most. Since age 14, Chance has been serving as a volunteer firefighter and emergency trauma technician with the Seldovia Volunteer Fire Department. Chance was inspired when his father volunteered to be the local fire chief, realizing that his community had a shortage of much-needed volunteers.
Responding day and night to everything from EMS calls to forest fires, Chance has helped dozens of people in his community get through some of the worst situations they’ve encountered. Inspired by the gratitude of those he has helped, Chance is taking his volunteer role one big step further. He is currently seeking his Firefighter 1 Certification to advance his training and take on more responsibilities at the fire station.
Chance’s desire to help others doesn’t stop at the fire department. He also volunteers his time to help local elementary school kids in the Seldovia Prevention Program, which helps educate kids about drugs, alcohol and other negative influences. As Student Council President at his high school, Chance helps run a snack cart that provides late-morning snacks for students who wouldn’t otherwise be able have a breakfast each morning. Chance also loves to play basketball and is looking forward to joining the debate team this school year.
Chance’s biggest inspiration for helping others comes from his family. His two older sisters also volunteer at the fire department and his dad is the chief of police. As his role model, Chance saw how his dad stepped up to lead the volunteer fire department, and now wants to follow in his footsteps by pursuing a career in law enforcement.
Already a role model to youth in his community, Chance believes that the future is what you make of it. When asked what advice he would give to others, he says, “The choices and decisions you make in your youth will affect your future, so make sure you put your best foot forward in everything you do.”
Cassie Welch, Age 9
Cassie Welch was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when she was eight-years-old but she doesn’t let that slow her down from 10-mile bike rides.
Soon after she started adjusting to changes in her everyday life, which now involves insulin shots and finger pricks multiple times per day, Cassie discovered the Tour de Cure, a fundraiser for the American Diabetes Association (ADA). The annual bike ride raises money and awareness for ADA’s mission of finding a cure for diabetes, and also subsidizes a diabetes camp in Cooper Landing each summer.
A longtime bike rider, Cassie recruited 14 friends and family members to ride with her in the 25K ride. Together, they raised more than $5,000. In 2013, she built up her team to include classmates and even more friends, bringing together 25 riders that collectively raised $7,200 for the cause.
Educating others about the disease and giving other children with diabetes a sense of camaraderie is important to Cassie. As part of her school’s student council, Cassie and her brother created “spirit bracelets” to sell to the student body to benefit the ADA. She also worked with her cousin to develop a children’s book about living with Type 1 diabetes.
Cassie wears her “Red Riders” jersey (for participants with diabetes) with letters that read, “I ride to thrive,” and “I am not alone,” with pride. She plans to train even harder this year to achieve her goals of completing a 50k Tour de Cure.
Despite having diabetes, Cassie lives an active lifestyle filled with soccer, dance and volleyball in addition to the many miles she logs on her bike. She maintains a poise and understanding of her personal health that’s mature beyond her years. She also loves math and reading, and one day hopes to become an artist or a doctor.
Jezzroy Gordon-Wolfe, Age 18
Jezzroy Gordon-Wolfe is happiest when he’s serving the community justice system and helping with local fundraising efforts.
Jezzroy discovered his passion for criminal justice while reading a series of fiction novels about an attorney. He soon realized that he wanted to become a district attorney. As a high school student – with the possibility of attending law school still several years away – Jezzroy looked for opportunities to start pursuing his dream immediately. He became involved with the North Star Youth Court in Fairbanks and worked hard to become a prosecutor. Jezzroy has learned about procedures, evidence and how to prepare for a case through his training with local legal professionals.
Jezzroy realizes that lawyers oftentimes are not portrayed in a positive light, and he’s motivated to change that perception. For him, it’s not about “winning” in the traditional sense – he feels that winning is really all about finding the truth.
When he’s not prosecuting cases in youth court, Jezzroy spends his time volunteering and fundraising for many local organizations in Fairbanks. He’s actively involved in cross-age tutoring for the Literacy Council of Alaska; volunteering at the local Food Bank and the public library; and fundraising for his martial arts studio, the Midnight Sun Run, the Fairbanks Resource Agency, and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, among other organizations.
Outside of his community service activities, Jezzroy’s interests include writing and voice acting. In fact, he’s currently working on his first voice acting project. As he embarks on his first year of college, Jezzroy is focused more than ever on his goal of attending Harvard Law School after he completes his undergraduate degree.