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)