Today we’re making heroes. Heather Cavanaugh oversees the Summer of Heroes program, a partnership with ACS and the Boys & Girls Club. The program nominates and awards Alaskan youths for their outstanding community service.
“Anybody can nominate a youth ages 6-18, and you can nominate them on our website alaskacommunications.com, or you can come in to any Boys and Girls Club and pick up a nomination form,” says Cavanaugh.
Winners of the award will receive a $1500 scholarship, as well as invitations to special events and recognition ceremonies. The past winners range from organizers of beach cleanups, to moose advocates and authors like Shaylee Rizzo.
“She wrote a story called Missy the Moose, that raises awareness for being more aware when you’re driving. Her goal was to reach kids because often kids are in the car with their parents, and the kids will educate the parents. And it’s become a wildly successful program. All Across the Kenai Peninsula she goes and visits different schools and classrooms, and she was just recognized nationally for her work,” says Cavanaugh.
Cavanaugh says that most nominees have no idea they’ve been nominated, which makes the hero awards all the more special.
“For the kids to get recognized in this way is so special to them. So to encourage them to continue doing the great work their doing and for them to be recognized for it is very meaningful, and I think that’s one of the best parts of the program for them,” says Cavanaugh.
Last year, Regan Fitzgerald also didn’t know she had been nominated for an award.
“I came to school one day and everyone was congratulating me and I couldn’t figure out why. And then one of my counselors told me ‘you’ve been nominated for this award,’ so I went online and saw that one of my teachers had nominated me,” says Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald wasn’t just nominated for the award, she won. She had been volunteering her time to several different charities, but she was recognized for her focus on foster care.
“I read about foster children in Anchorage and found out there’s an extraordinarily high number of foster children. Especially kids who are continuously being recycled in the program, which is very sad,” says Fitzgerald.
She discovered that most of these foster kids kept all of their belongings in pillow cases when being moved from home to home, and that they often didn’t have basic items like warm clothes and tooth brushes. So she came up with an idea she calls Pillow Pals.
“I’m hoping if I get enough people involved we can decorate them for little girls or boys, and then they’d have necessity items like toiletries, toothbrushes, toothpaste, hairbrushes. And then non-necessity items like small children’s books, toys, socks, gloves for the winter. And then I hope to get little hand-written notes in there too,” says Fitzgerald.
Her plan is to start with a donation of 100 Pillow Pals to Anchorage’s charities, which she says would cost about $5,000 – $7,000. So far, the response to her idea has been great, but fundraising has been slow. She hopes to complete a prototype next year to help in her efforts. She says her award of the title “hero” has been humbling, but also inspirational.
“I think that it definitely shows that no matter what age you are if you’re passionate about something you can do whatever you want,” says Fitzgerald.
And Fitzgerald isn’t the only one getting inspired. Summer of Heroes organizer Heather Cavanaugh is constantly amazed by the kids she gets to meet who are doing amazing, thoughtful and selfless work.
“We all kind of talk about how it makes us feel like we’re not doing enough because these young kids who are in high school or some of them even younger are taking initiative that many adults don’t even do. When I was in high school I was thinking about myself, not about what I could do to help my community or other children, so it’s pretty incredible,” says Cavanaugh.
The deadline to nominate a youth hero is July 22nd. Click here for the application.