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Alaska Communications

Meet the 2014 Heroes

Congratulations to the 2014 Heroes!

Alaska Communications and Boys & Girls Clubs – Alaska are proud to recognize the 2014 Summer of Heroes honorees. The six youth heroes were selected from nominations received from communities across the state.

This year’s honorees are Zoe Ballard-Huffman of Huslia, Sharhan Sylva of Anchorage, Gabrielle Thompson of Anchorage, Jenna Hansen of Nikiski, Dakota Jones of Anchorage and Sarah Dykman of Anchorage. 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, August 24.

Meet the 2014 Heroes

Dakota Jones, age 17
Anchorage

Dakota Jones gives back to his community simply because he feels everyone should, and everybody truly needs something that others can provide. This approach has led him to pursue work with the Anchorage Youth Court and Special Olympics. 

After a presentation in his middle school class, Dakota got involved with the Anchorage Youth Court in 2011 as an eighth grader. Over the last three years, he has held various roles with the court, currently serving as Chief Judge. In this role, Dakota is responsible for judging and sentencing juvenile cases, as well as mentoring the more junior judges. Dakota also plans and participates in all of the Youth Court’s fundraising activities. 

Seeing his peers go through Youth Court allowed Dakota to realize many of them are truly sorry for the mistakes they made and are grateful for a second chance. Dakota aspires to attend law school after completing college, and spending his time volunteering with Youth Court, as well as participating in his school’s debate team, is preparing him well for his future plans.

Dakota splits his volunteer time between Youth Court and the local Special Olympics program. Shortly after starting high school, Dakota became involved with the Partners Club at South Anchorage High School, a school-based Special Olympics program. Through this program, Dakota meets with students with intellectual disabilities at least once a week to have lunch or participate in after-school activities together, including bowling, tennis and basketball. 

During the last three summers, Dakota has spent two weeks of his break as a partner and team captain at Camp Shriver Alaska, where student athletes participate in a variety of sports. Dakota enjoys the time he spends with fellow students here, because he is helping them get involved in activities that they would not otherwise have the opportunity to pursue. Furthermore, he recognizes that this also helps them engage with the broader high school community. 

Dakota is a high school senior, and when he is not spending his time helping others, he enjoys playing tennis.

Gabrielle Thompson, age 14
Anchorage 

Those who know Gabrielle Thompson describe her as an all-around compassionate and artistic young woman with an entrepreneurial spirit and a love for charitable giving and volunteerism.

Discovering her love of art at a young age, Gabrielle first combined her creativity with her desire to one day have her own business, just like her father. At age 10, Gabrielle started her first business venture, Art and Soul America, with her own kids booth at the Girdwood Forest Fair. Gabrielle held a silent auction to sell her original artwork – owls that she created with acrylic paint and scrapbooking paper on canvases. Gabrielle’s goal was to use her earnings to adopt an endangered species owl through the World Wildlife Fund, and her efforts exceeded her expectations. Generous donations allowed Gabrielle to adopt three owls with her earnings.

Since this initial donation, Gabrielle has raised and donated hundreds of dollars to wildlife protection agencies, including the National Park Foundation and the National Wildlife Federation. Over the last five years, Gabrielle has grown Art and Soul America and increased the donations.

Gabrielle has been able to increase the donations she makes while also growing Art and Soul America. In addition to her original artwork, she has added t-shirts, greeting cards and handmade owl pillows made of recycled clothes, all adorned with her artwork. Gabrielle sells these items at various gift shops and art galleries throughout Alaska.

While staying busy with her business and fundraising, Gabrielle has also continues to put her full efforts into her schoolwork. After winning a competition for her project on raising awareness for genetically modified organisms (GMOs), Gabrielle competed on the district and state level, which led her to the national competition in Washington, D.C. This project helped Gabrielle realize her passion for raising awareness across Alaska to promote labeling GMOs, and she wants to help get this on voters’ ballots in the near future.

Gabrielle is a freshman at West High School, where she is in the highly gifted program. When she is not pursuing her fundraising and creative activities, she also enjoys spending time with her mother helping the homeless by putting bags of food and clothes together and distributing them in the community.

Jenna Hansen, age 17
Kenai

For Jenna Hansen, volunteering is something she believes in doing whole-heartedly because she genuinely wants to help others and have a positive impact on her community.

From a very young age, Jenna has been involved with showing livestock with her family, and has been an active 4-H member for nearly a decade. In 2012, Jenna attended a 4-H district council meeting where the president spoke about the large number of homeless youth in the Kenai community. Saddened to learn that children her own age in her community did not have coats and shoes to get through the cold Alaska winters, Jenna convinced her group to use the fundraisers they had already been planning for 4-H to raise money for the local homeless children. In addition to raising money, Jenna helped purchase coats and clothes for the kids.

Jenna’s involvement with 4-H has also helped her discover her love of reindeer and share it with others. Two years ago, Jenna was raising a reindeer as a 4-H Junior Market Livestock Project, named Scene of the Crash, or “Crash” for short. As she tamed, trained and socialized Crash, she realized she could not give him up and wanted to keep him as her own. Jenna learned a lot about reindeer while training Crash, and she wanted to use her knowledge to spread awareness throughout her community. She trained Crash to go to schools and educational events to teach others about reindeer.

Crash has also given Jenna the opportunity to raise money for causes she’s passionate about. During the holiday season, she takes him and her other reindeer, Comet, around the community for photo opportunities in exchange for donations. She then donates the proceeds to homeless youth in the Kenai community.

As Jenna enters her senior year of high school, she plans to continue staying active with 4-H and fundraising for the local homeless community, and she also looks forward to deciding on a college to continue her education.

Sharhan Sylva, age 19
Anchorage

Sharhan Sylva makes his community a better place by helping other Anchorage youth and inspiring them to become the best that they can be.

When he joined his cousin to help volunteer at his local Boys & Girls Clubs – Alaska Clubhouse for the first time two years ago, Sharhan discovered his passion for helping others. He quickly became involved with the Northeast Community Center Boys & Girls Club, where he helps run the kids’ gym, tutors younger members, helps plan and organize teen programming and volunteers at all special clubhouse events, including the annual Halloween and holiday parties.

Since getting actively involved in his community two years ago, Sharhan has continued to seek new opportunities to make a positive impact. In his role with the teen advisory council at the Muldoon Library, Sharhan helps plan and implement youth activities for the library, which include painting and making candy with the kids, as well as playing card games and learning magic tricks.

In addition to devoting his time to serving as a positive role model for other youth, Sharhan has also sought opportunities to help his community through his high school. While enrolled in a work readiness course at the King Career Center, Sharhan helped organize a winter coat drive. Applying his passion for art and graphic design, Sharhan joined the advertising and decorating committee and used his artistic talents to create all of the fliers and posters for the event.

As a recent high school graduate, Sharhan continues to expand his role in the community while also planning for the future. In his current role with Boys & Girls Clubs – Alaska, Sharhan helps teach kids about sportsmanship and healthy lifestyles, and is hoping to help teach the Passport to Manhood program, further serving as a role model to other youth. Sharhan plans to attend college, with the hope of pursuing a career in graphic design and advertising, and joining the ROTC program.

Zoe Ballard-Huffman, age 13
Huslia

For Zoe Ballard-Huffman, helping others with a smile on her face comes as second nature.

At age 10, Zoe was diagnosed with an illness that required an organ transfer at an out-of-state hospital, but this hasn’t affected her spirits. Despite health issues that limit her physical activity, Zoe is both the treasurer and secretary for Huslia’s Junior Dog Mushing Club, helping to raise money for races by organizing bake sales, while also assisting with the care for the dogs. In Huslia, youth and community dog races are an integral part of bringing the village together, and Zoe’s efforts do not go unnoticed.

In addition to her work with the dogs, Zoe helps both the young and the older members of her community. Zoe often babysits her siblings and cousins after school, and parents are confident leaving their children in her care. She can usually be found helping younger kids learn to ski or snowshoe. The village elders recognize Zoe as an incredibly respectful and considerate person, and she helps them by fishing or doing house-related chores that involve cooking, serving food and cleaning up. In fact, one of the elders nominated Zoe for the 2014 Summer of Heroes award.

In school, Zoe is an honor roll student who gives every assignment her best, serving as a role model for her peers. She values education and is always focused on the task at hand, excelling while remaining humble about her achievements. She never hesitates to help her peers when they are struggling with an assignment, and it is obvious to her teachers that the other students are appreciative.

Zoe will enter eighth grade this fall, and already has plans for several ways that she would like to continue helping others in her village. She wants to help her family and the elders by fishing during the summer, and continue working with the dogs in an even larger capacity. Zoe spends her free time writing and enjoys all types of outdoor activities.

Sarah Dykman, age 13
Anchorage

At age 13, Sarah Dykman has given more to her community than others do in a lifetime. Sarah believes that small deeds can build a bridge to anywhere across the globe. She feels it is important for kids her age to get out in the community and share their kindness with others.

Since being crowned Miss Alaska Jr. Sweetheart through America’s National Teenage Scholarship Organization in 2013, Sarah has raised awareness funds for local youth, the art community, pets in need of adoption, families in transition and many others. America’s National Teenage Scholarship Organization is a national organization that recognizes young women based on their academic achievements and dedication to community service.

One of Sarah’s greatest passions is helping children in need. Through The Salvation Army, Sarah is involved with the McKinnell House in Anchorage, a temporary shelter for families with children who are moving toward self-sufficiency. Each month, Sarah and her pageant sisters plan and host parties for the kids at the McKinnell House. This includes creating a theme, buying food, party favors and other materials, and playing games with the kids. As Sarah and her pageant sisters get more creative with each party, they have also been able to collect donations from local businesses, including cakes and party favors for the kids’ goodie bags.

Sarah’s involvement in causes that help others has also made her curious about the different issues that people face. When she attended a luncheon for the American Heart Association earlier this year, Sarah heard a man’s story of his stroke, which has inspired her to pursue a certification through the Red Cross in which she will learn about heart-related diseases and how to help others during medical emergencies.

Having dedicated more than 400 volunteer hours since October 2013, Sarah has enjoyed giving her time and efforts to Braziers to Nowhere, an art auction to raise money for breast cancer awareness; Aero Femme, which awards scholarships to young women interested in a career in aviation; and United Way’s Walk for Warmth, among many other causes.

As she continues to fulfill her role as Miss Alaska Jr. Sweetheart, Sarah furthers her commitment to her community and to helping those in need.

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