The Christopher Reeve Award
The Heart of America Foundation® Heroes of the Heart® Christopher Reeve Award is presented
each year to an extraordinary youth who has demonstrated tremendous compassion and caring
in serving his or her community.
Nominate a Hero for the Annual Christopher Reeve Award
1) Nominees must be high school seniors or younger and the
awardee must be a high school senior or younger at the time the recipient is notified in March.
2) Nominations are accepted from September 1st through November 7th, 2013.
3) One award recipient is selected in March and will
receive a $1,000 scholarship from Merriam-Webster, Inc. for post-secondary education.
*Please note that the nominator cannot be a relative of the nominee.
Nominations and questions should be sent to:
firstname.lastname@example.org via email –or– mail to:
The Heart of America Foundation
1625 K Street NW, Suite 400,
Washington, DC 20006
Attn: Christopher Reeve Award
**The nominator and nominee will be notified in March only if the nominee is selected as the recipient.
Congratulations to our 2014 Christopher Reeve Award Recipient:
Nicholas Cobb from Allen, Texas!
Alexis Werner from Pittsburgh, PA
Alexis Werner witnessed the effects of PTSD when her stepfather returned from serving oversees. Feeling helpless, Alexis searched for a way to make change. The idea of healing through service inspired Alexis to begin Seeds of Hope. Founded in 2011, Seeds of Hope began with one garden in the Werner family’s backyard that was maintained by community volunteers and veterans. The produce harvested was sold in farmers markets and the proceeds donated to the local VA hospital. Through outreach and community engagement, Seeds of Hope grew and created additional garden spaces on personal property, school grounds, and the local VA hospital. Interested in making a larger impact, Alexis pitched a scalable model of her Seeds of Hope project to organizations including the Girl Scouts and the Fisher House Foundation. This resulted in the creation of Seeds of Hope garden spaces in five other states nationwide. To date, Seeds of Hope has created over fifteen garden spaces.
While working with veterans in the garden spaces, Alexis was moved by their stories. She created a storyboard for a documentary that would capture veteran stories and their struggles with mental illness, including PTSD. With the project taking shape, Alexis began grant writing to acquire equipment and hire professional filmmakers to ensure the highest quality project. The documentary, Our Way Home, is currently in progress with interview filming underway.
Alexis wanted to find a way to communicate the message of veteran needs to a younger audience after witnessing her younger brother struggle to understand what was happening to their father. She created the framework for a children’s book entitled Seeds of Hope: The Beginning and recruited local college students to write and illustrate the final product. The book was published in 2013 and has been distributed to local schools, libraries, and veterans organizations.
To fund her organization, Alexis has organized an annual 5K in her community, spear heading every aspect of the process from designing t-shirts to retrieving permits. Alexis also created an alternative Christmas Groupon for Seeds of Hope that allowed individuals to buy tools and supplies for garden spaces in honor of a family member or friend. The bulk of the impressive $39,000 raised for Seeds of Hope has come from grant writing that Alexis researches and submits entirely on her own.
Through her many efforts, Alexis aims to: raise awareness, create an outlet for veterans, engage community volunteers, and connect people in need to available resources. Beyond her Seeds of Hope organization, Alexis has volunteered over 500 hours to other service efforts in her community. She is passionate about her cause and hopes to continue work with Seeds of Hope after graduating High School.
To learn more about Alexis Werner and her service activities, please visit www.seedsofhopeforvets.org
Emily Lites from Roanoke, TX
When Emily Lites was eight years old, her younger brother suffered a bilateral stroke leaving him disabled and in need of continuous medical treatment. Emily spent long hours in the hospital with her brother and was bothered by the sad atmosphere. She told her mother that she wanted to spread smiles among the patients and their siblings. In 2008, she founded Emily’s Smile Boxes. The first donation consisted of 12 boxes filled with fun activities for patients and their siblings. Five years later, Emily’s Smile Boxes has raised over $75,000 and has donated over 7,500 boxes to children in all fifty states and Canada.
To fundraise, Emily began by soliciting local businesses for donations or for space to host box making parties. As word spread about Emily’s organization, companies nominated Emily’s Smile Boxes for national donation campaigns. Last year, Emily organized and hosted the first annual Pediatric Stroke Awareness 5K in her community. These efforts, in addition to a Pay Pal account accessible through her website, have enabled her to gather an impressive $75,000 over the course of five years.
As Emily’s Smile Boxes continued to grow, Emily engaged local service organizations in box making parties. At these events, volunteers would come together and create hundreds of boxes within a few hours. These boxes would then be distributed to local hospitals. To expand her efforts, Emily has created a scalable box making party model which has engaged volunteers all over the nation in the creation and distribution of Emily’s Smile Boxes. In addition to this work, Emily’s Smile Boxes adopts Salvation Army Angels and donates funds to organizations that provide funeral funds to parents who have lost a child. For the last three years, she has also used the money she has raised to give small scholarships to girls who have served her local community in significant ways.
What began with a small personal donation to her brother’s hospital has grown into a licensed 501(c)(3) that donates thousands of boxes nationwide every year and engages volunteers of all ages across the country. Emily’s project has already brought her regional and national recognition, winning her a Texas top youth volunteers award from Prudential and four Presidential Service awards. Though she is still very young, she plans on continuing her work, expanding the reach of her organization, and sending more Smile Boxes to families in need.
To learn more about Emily and her service activities, please visit www.emilyssmileboxes.com
Kylene Hashimoto from Clovis, CA
In March of 2006, a tragic house fire took the lives of three family members and displaced the surviving two adults and four children in the Clovis Farms community. At the urging of Kylene, who was only 9 years old at the time, the Hasimoto family took the four children into their home enabling them to finish out the school year. During their months living together, the community rallied together and brought donations to the displaced family members. Kylene noticed that no one had donated pajamas, new or used. This thought would later inspire her to begin Kyndness4Kidz, a grassroots effort to collect new pajamas for children who have suddenly become displaced from their homes.
Beginning in 2008, Kyndness4Kidz has held an annual pajama collection drive in the community that runs from November, the “thankful month,” to February, the “friendship month.” Through these drives, Kylene has collected nearly 900 pajamas, she has recruited volunteers from the Girl Scouts, the 4H club, and other after school programs, and has partnered with a local women’s domestic violence shelter and a court appointed agency to distribute the clothing. To add a personal touch to each donation, Kylene folds and wraps each pajama set and writes a note.
Kylene is passionate about serving her community. In addition to her work with Kyndness4Kidz, Kylene has contributed over 1,000 hours to various community service projects, the most notable include: 120 hours as an assistant coach to a youth basketball league and 100 hours to a Kyndness4Kidz backpack drive that resulted in the collection of 17 backpacks filled with school supplies. Despite her large commitment to extracurricular activities and service, Kylene has maintained a 4.0 GPA. She is a driven young woman, a lifelong volunteer, and a natural leader.
To learn more about Kylene Hashimoto and her service activities please visit www.kyndness4kidzproject.com
Matthew Kaplan from Phoenix, AR
Matthew Kaplan has made a lifelong commitment to reducing bullying and create a positive, accepting school environment. His initial commitment began when Matthew’s younger brother became a victim of bullying at the age of ten. Matthew, who was just thirteen at the time, decided to work with his teachers, peers, and experts in the field to bring about change. In 2010, Matthew created the “Be Open to New Experiences” (Be O.N.E.) project. While most efforts to address bullying focus on high school, the Be O.N.E. Project recognizes that, by high school, bullying behavior is ingrained. The time to intervene comes earlier - at middle school - before the bullying behavior becomes habit. The cornerstone philosophy of the Be O.N.E. Project is that peer pressure can be captured and reversed, so that students challenge each other to include rather than to exclude, and to support rather than discourage each other.
With this in mind, Matthew developed programming and activities that are executed during workshop style seminars at middle schools. The activities aim to build bridges, open lines of communication, and instill a sense of trust and community. Matthew launched his program within his own school, Arizona School for the Arts (ASA), petitioning the school board and gathering the support of over 80 school administrators. He recruited the services of an attorney and an accountant to help formalize the organizational structure, write a business plan, and file for 501(c)(3) status. He obtained in-kind services from a graphic designer who helped to develop a logo, website, and collateral marketing materials. Matthew continues to work with business professionals in the area to develop online and social media plans as well as a PSA about middle school bullying. In four years, over 700 students have gone through the Be O.N.E. program.
Matthew is actively meeting with state education officials and school district officials to expand his program throughout Arizona. Matthew intends to continue developing Be O.N.E. into a statewide and potentially national model. Matthew plans to study business and non-profit leadership and management when he attends college. His goal is to continue to make positive contributions to our country’s middle school educational system and to help improve the quality of life of young people.
To learn more about Matthew and his service activities, please visit www.thebeoneproject.com
Previous Award Winners
2012-2013 Christopher Reeve Award Recipient
Allyson Ahlstrom from Santa Ana, CA
The Heart of America Foundation® recognizes Allyson Ahlstrom from Santa Ana, CA as the 2012-2013 national recipient of The Christopher Reeve Award. Founded by Mr. Fred Matser, The Christopher Reeve Award is presented each year by The Heart of America Foundation to an extraordinary high school senior or younger who has demonstrated tremendous compassion and caring in serving his or her community.
As the recipient of the award, Allyson will receive a $1,000 college scholarship sponsored by Merriam-Webster, Inc.
Allyson founded Threads for Teens in January 2010 after reading the book Generation Change, by Zach Hunter, which details different service projects teenagers have done across the country. Just 14 years old at the time, Allyson was inspired by the book to start her own service project in her community. Threads for Teens benefits under-privileged girls ages 13 through 18, with the goal of giving them hope, and building self-esteem and confidence by providing them with new, fashionable clothing.
In her first week Allyson sent over 300 letters and emails to clothing manufacturers asking for donations. She was happily surprised at the enthusiastic response. She secured clothing donations and a donated storefront, setting up a small boutique. In August 2010, the boutique opened, serving 13 teenage girls. It received 501(c)3 status in September 2011.
Threads for Teens operates like any other store, except that all of the clothing is provided free of charge. Allyson works with local social workers to locate teens, generally in foster care or group homes, who might benefit from the project and then Allyson invites them to the boutique. Once they arrive, they receive a personalized shopping experience and are invited to select two full outfits apiece, as well as various accessories, jackets, a pair of shoes, and make-up. In addition to meeting day-to-day clothing needs, Threads for Teens also has given out 200 backpacks full of school supplies, and over 100 prom dresses.
Allyson is in the process of planning Threads for Teens On Tour for the summer of 2013. The tour will kick off days after she graduates from high school, and she plans to visit all 48 continental United States and Washington, D.C. She has secured a tractor trailer and plans to convert it into a mobile store with dressing rooms, with the goal of outfitting 1,000 girls during the tour.
In addition to her work with Threads for Teens, Allyson has been class president for two years and is a varsity member of the track team. Since age six, she has volunteered to support hurricane relief victims, helped to support a local group home, and has volunteered at her church.
Our 2012-2013 Finalists:
Zachary Certner - Morriston, NJ (2012-2013 Finalist)
Zach was eight years old in 2006 when he co-founded SNAP, Inc. (Special Needs Athletic Programs) with his older brother, Matthew. SNAP, which received 501(c)3 status in 2009, supports special needs children through sports clinics, an In-Home Buddy program, and sensitivity training. Zach, president of the organization since 2009, has raised over $60,000 and has been able to expand its programs.
Read more about Zachary...
SNAP sports clinics serve Morristown and the surrounding communities, and include basketball, baseball, soccer, swimming, and tae kwon do, as well as music and art programs. The clinics run throughout the school year and serve 15 to 30 special needs children per session. The children are paired one-on-one with mentors, who encourage students to learn the sport and focus on building lasting bonds in a non-competitive environment. Over the past two years, in addition to coordinating the clinics and recruiting instructors, Zach has also integrated one-on-one homework tutoring into SNAP’s existing sports programming and calendar.
Zach’s goal is to expand the anti-bullying sensitivity training to schools across New Jersey, and eventually throughout the country. He believes that all schools should have programs in place to give students the education and awareness they need to create a safe, harmonious learning environment. The organization strives to teach children to become understanding adults who will advocate, educate, and employ people with disabilities.
In addition to his work with SNAP, Zach is a member of the National Youth Leadership Advisory Council for the National Youth Leadership Council, and is Vice President of Morristown Key Club International.
Maren Johnson - Watertown, SD (2012-2013 Finalist)
Maren Johnson began volunteering with the Global Soap Project in May 2010. The Global Soap Project works to prevent the 2.4 million child deaths worldwide due to poor hygiene and sanitation by providing soap to vulnerable populations that either can’t afford soap, or don’t have access to it. The Global Soap Project partners with hotels to receive partially used soap bars. That soap is shipped to a processing plant in Atlanta, turned into fresh bars, and then distributed around the world. The Global Soap Project estimates that about 2.6 million soap bars are discarded daily in the United States.
Read more about Maren...
Since 2010, Maren has developed partnerships with 160 hotels across four states in the Upper Midwest and two Canadian provinces. Her network stretches more than 400 miles in radius, and she has engaged over 500 adult and youth volunteers. She recruits hotel employees to collect the soap, and engages high school students in sorting and packaging the soap for transport, as well as outreaching to additional hotels. She also collaborates with the Minnesota Chapter of the Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International to centralize the collection and shipping of soap for all participating hotels in the Midwest.
In addition to recruiting hotels and arranging shipping logistics, Maren often visits schools throughout South Dakota and North Dakota for public awareness campaigns regarding hygiene issues in developing countries. She describes the importance of hand washing, the challenges some parts of the world face in accessing soap, and how students can get involved in the project.
Since beginning her service with the Global Soap Project, Maren has recycled more than 10,000 pounds of soap. Those 10,000 pounds translate into more than 60,000 bars of new soap – enough to provide a year’s worth of soap for more than 5,500 people. The soap she has collected, once processed in Atlanta, has gone on to support people across Africa, including to a women’s prison in Ghana, an orphanage in Cameroon, and has been included in water hygiene kits for pregnant women in Malawi.
Maren has also shared her message through a variety of press, including writing an article for the White House blog in October 2011 about the Global Soap Project, as well as writing a blog post in May 2012 for the Huffington Post. In recognition of all of her work, the Global Soap Project has named her its only Youth Ambassador.
Ariana Luterman - Frisco, TX (2012-2013 Finalist)
Ariana, at the young age of twelve, is already a highly accomplished athlete. She ended the 2011 season ranked sixth in the country in the duathlon for the women’s 15 & under age group. In the 2012 season she completed 15 duathlons and triathlons, and was the Texas State Sprint Triathlon Champion and the Southwest Regional Duathlon Champion for the 15 & under age group. Two of her races were Olympic distance and in one of them, the Toyota US Open Olympic Triathlon Championship, she placed first in the 19 & under age group.
Read more about Ariana...
In 2010, when she started competing in adult triathlons, she began to attract attention from media and sponsors. She has been interviewed on news broadcasts, featured in magazine articles, and even had film crews follow her to her races. Wanting to shift the attention to a cause that she thought was more important, in 2011 she decided to use her racing as a fundraising platform for Vogel Alcove, an organization in Dallas that provides free child development services for homeless children six weeks to five years old.
As Ariana became more well-known through her racing she decided to combine her two greatest interests, racing and Vogel Alcove, and created Team Ariana. Team Ariana’s goals are to fundraise for Vogel Alcove and increase awareness of child homelessness. In 2012, Team Ariana raised $48,481.
She raises the money through securing racing sponsorships, hosting an e-store, website donations, and by donating all of her race winnings. When she decided to start Team Ariana, she spent a year designing the logos and colors, and worked with graphic designers to design the website. She partnered with a clothing designer in New York to design her own line of Team Ariana clothing, which she wears while racing and sells on her e-store.
In addition to raising money and increasing awareness, she continues to volunteer at Vogel Alcove –regularly traveling the 75 miles to the facility to interact with the children and provide support however she can. She also continues to hold toy and clothing drives, most recently collecting hundreds of toys and games to support the facility’s Holiday Store.
Emily Morgan - Moscow, PA (2012-2013 Finalist)
Emily started an organization called How to Eat a Book in 2010 to share her love of reading and encourage children to be excited about books. How to Eat a Book promotes reading by building literacy centers, hosting a summer camp, and publishing a children’s magazine. Since 2010, Emily has raised more than $24,000 through donations and raffles to build six literacy centers in Pennsylvania. She has reached out to companies for donations and support, and inspired 60 companies to lend a hand, including Broyhill Furniture, IKEA, Staples, and Lowe’s.
Read more about Emily...
The literacy centers include new books, bookcases, games, cushions, and more. Locations that have received a literacy center include the Lackawanna County Women’s Resource Center, a school for autistic and at-risk youth, a Boys & Girls Club, a Scranton-area New Mother’s Pantry, and the Scranton School for the Deaf.
She also regularly provides new books to schools and organizations serving at-risk populations, including providing a class with a full set of Magic Tree House books, donated by Barnes & Noble, and giving away books at a local wellness fair. In all, she’s donated more than 2,000 new books to schools and organizations in her community.
In addition to building literacy centers and distributing new books, Emily has also designed, planned, and overseen a summer camp for the past two years. The camp, called the All-American Camp for Girls, is a free reading camp for girls ages seven through ten, and is designed around the American Girl book series.
At camp, the girls enjoy reading American Girl books and connecting them with multicultural and historical activities like dancing or making butter. Each two-hour session is comprised of reading, crafts, a physical activity and a snack. Girls receive reading-related gifts and a book, and parents receive a pamphlet with tips on encouraging reading at home.
Recently, Emily created a quarterly children’s magazine, called Eat a Book! Her first published issue featured a writing contest sponsored by TGI Fridays and Auntie Anne’s Pretzels, as well as an article on presidential pets, book recommendations, poetry by children, and kid-friendly recipes. She distributes the magazine at local libraries, schools, offices, stores, and through her website.
In addition to How to Eat a Book, Emily volunteers with her church, supports the Ronald McDonald House, and, with her peers, organized a school-wide Pajama Day that raised $8,000 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Casey Sokolovic - Winterville, NC (2012-2013 Finalist)
Casey Sokolovic is the founder of Help Them L.A.S.T. (Love a Sea Turtle), which is a charitable fund under the sponsorship of The Greater Greenville Community Foundation. L.A.S.T. strives to save the world’s sea turtle population, inspire young people to get involved, and provide hands-on summer camps to underserved students. Since founding L.A.S.T. in 2005 as a fourth grader, Casey has raised more than $68,000 and dedicated over 1,500 hours of service to the fund.
Read more about Casey...
After a field trip to the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center in third grade, Casey decided to hold a turtle cookie bake sale to raise money for sick and injured turtles. That initial bake sale and the support of her parents led to the creation of L.A.S.T. Over the years, she has sold more than ten thousand cookies and expanded her mission and fundraising methods.
In 2007, she partnered with Joe Van Gogh coffee to create a Fair Trade Organic Sea Turtle coffee blend. Casey approved the final bean selection and aroma, and Joe Van Gogh agreed to donate 10% of net profits to the Karen Beasley Center. The blend has been a top seller in the Whole Foods Markets in North Carolina and South Carolina, and is now available for purchase in Fresh Market stores across the country.
In summer 2010, Casey narrated a video for a local Boys & Girls Club which inspired her decision that L.A.S.T. would fund an environmentally-focused summer camp experience. Casey named it The Upstream Downstream Connection, partnered with A Time for Science Nature & Learning Center to host the camp, and developed the curriculum to focus on science, technology, engineering, and math.
During camp, students learn about the importance of water quality, pollution, water sources, and global water issues. The students also get to apply their knowledge through use of calculators, GPS units, computers, and water quality kits. The students learn to kayak during a trip to the local river system, and spend a day at the ocean learning to snorkel, cleaning the beach, and studying coastal marine life.
In addition to her efforts with L.A.S.T., Casey has instituted an ongoing recycling program at the five Boys & Girls Clubs in Pitt County, spoken to over 5,500 students about how to get involved with her program, held National Make a Difference Day events, and was sponsored by Disney for a 2012 Global Youth Service Day event.
Past Christopher Reeve Award Recipients:
• Alison Mansfield, Founder of Operation U.S. Troop Support, Inc. – Fort Wayne, IN (2011-2012)
Alison founded Operation U.S. Troop Support, Inc., which supports members of the U.S. military, after completing a 5th grade writing project. Alison's class was instructed to write about someone who exhibited civic virtue, and she decided to select a person who did the right thing when nobody was watching. In church she had heard about a soldier, Sgt. Statzer, who received serious injuries in an Iraqi convoy explosion, requiring him to undergo extensive face and skull reconstruction. At the time he was being treated at Walter Reed Medical Center. Alison arranged a phone interview with Sgt. Statzer and his father. His passion for serving his country, as well as his assertion that he would do it all again if needed, inspired Alison.
Later that year, she had the opportunity to fly to Washington, D.C. and meet Sgt. Statzer at Walter Reed for Veteran's Day. Collaborating with the airline she was traveling on, she collected letters of support and thanks from her fellow passengers and hand delivered them to the soldiers at Walter Reed. She began collecting other items later that year.
In 2007 she kicked off Operation Socks For Our Troops, after a local Post Office clerk told her about a relative serving in Afghanistan that requested warm socks. Alison's initial goal was to gather between 500 and 1,000 pairs of wool socks, but that goal was shattered after the AP picked up a story written about her project in a local paper. As of January 2012, she had collected and shipped over 12,000 pairs of socks to soldiers serving in the coldest parts of Iraq and Afghanistan.
In 2009, collaborating with the Fort Wayne Museum of Art, as well as local artists, she created a coloring book for soldiers to share with Afghan children. 1,000 copies of the book were distributed overseas, along with small toys and treats for the children.
Since that initial visit with Sgt. Statzer in 2005, Alison has collected and shipped over 72,400 items to troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, including 12,000 pairs of wool socks, 500 boxes of Girl Scout cookies, 50,500 personal hygiene items, 5,000 letters and cards, and small toys for Afghan and Iraqi children. Goods donated, as well as in-kind and cash donations, are valued at an estimated $250,000-$265,000. To learn more about Operation U.S. Troop Support, please visit her website at www.operationustroopsupport.org.
• Mary Claire McGlynn, Co-Founder and Executive Director of NETwork Against Malaria – Belleville, IL (2010)
• Melissa Monette – Hawaii (2009)
• Heather Wilder – Las Vegas, NV (2008)