ATKINSON — Eight outstanding local high school senior leaders were honored this month at Community Crossroads in Atkinson, NH, and each honoree was awarded a $750.00 scholarship. These outstanding young leaders achieved positive change that resulted in a more welcoming and accessible community for people of all abilities. The honored recipients included Collin Morton from Salem High School, Kyra Aboujaoude and Christopher Kelly from Pelham High School, Alyssa Daniels and Kaitlin Pelletier from Windham High School, Kiley Davis and Katherine Stariknok from Pinkerton Academy, and Antonio Pallaria from Timberlane High School.
Kyra Aboujaoude - Pelham High School: A dedicated supporter of community and school inclusion, Kyra worked to create a positive and welcoming environment to ensure students of all abilities have the same opportunities and can discover a sense of belonging. Determined to make sure her brother and other students with disabilities would have a chance to participate in extra curricular activities and share their gifts and talents, she provided support in the Drama Club and at school dances. Her volunteerism and support of Pelham Challenger Baseball also provided meaningful recreational experiences to many students. Through her outspoken advocacy, Kyra also informed Members of Congress and U.S. Senators about the importance of continuing funding for a federal program that provides training for pediatricians to deliver culturally competent care to children with developmental disabilities and their families. Kyra plans to pursue a degree in art to express her vision and foster awareness for accessibility, acceptance, and community.
Alyssa Daniels – Windham High School: As a sibling, Alyssa observed the significant challenges her sister with Autism experienced. She stood by her sister’s side to provide patient support and encouragement in all aspects of her life. When Alyssa’s mom was diagnosed with cancer, she stepped up even more. Motivated by her personal experience with her sister, Alyssa went on to serve as a volunteer in a center that provides youngsters with occupational therapy. There she had many rewarding experiences helping children learn skills and strategies. It was there Alyssa’s passion for and around neuroscience began. She aspires to earn a degree and work in the field to help improve the lives of individuals with Autism. At her local library Alyssa will also be offering an introduction to programming class to children of all abilities. Using an inclusionary model, this educational experience will help bring kids together around a passion they share and is another way Alyssa has helped make her community more welcoming. She believes no one should be excluded on the basis of disability. One of the most important life lessons she has learned is, while we are all different and experience obstacles, we can help each other to overcome them.
Kiley Davis – Pinkerton Academy: Through her support and participation in unified basketball and physical education, Kiley realized kids are kids first and every student has strengths and something to offer. The opportunity to play on a team of students with and without disabilities taught her some important life lessons about the importance of teamwork and what’s important. By sharing her powerful experience with other peers more students became involved. As a member of the Leadership Council of Athletics, Kiley also supported fundraising efforts for The NH Special Olympics. Kiley has continued to work to improve her school atmosphere by promoting acceptance of student differences.
Christopher Kelly – Pelham High School: Normalizing disability has helped make the community more welcoming and accessible. Chris knows firsthand people with disabilities can do and achieve anything they want. Growing up Chris’ family life was touched by disability. The life experiences and bond he shares with his mother who experiences spina bifida has positively shaped his perspectives and attitudes about people with disabilities. Chris sees the person, not the disability. As a leader in The Boy Scouts and Civil Air Patrol, Chris was an important role model and worked to shift attitudes and perceptions about people with disabilities fostering a more welcoming environment. He was also supportive to a peer who experienced Autism helping to accommodate his needs so that he could fit in and be successful. Chris’ true passion is aviation. As a volunteer with the Young Eagles, an organization that gives plane rides to children, he talks with the parents and kids about safety. Chris plans on becoming a pilot and will work to improve airplane accessibility.
Collin Morton – Salem High School: With his unique perspective and personal experience as an individual who experiences Autism, Collin has overcome barriers and challenges as well as worked in support of a variety of fundraising and grant initiatives to benefit members of the community who experience disability. Part of his leadership efforts to create a more inclusive community, he sought to create sensory friendly rooms, playgrounds so that kids with Autism would feel more welcomed and comfortable, opening the door to greater community opportunities for many youth. His life was also touched by disability in other ways. Growing up Collin would be supportive and helpful to his mom who is legally blind. He assists with needed household tasks and creates some adapted materials like large print calendars. Collin’s leadership efforts have made his home and greater community more accessible for people of all abilities to enjoy together. He plans to pursue engineering and using sustainable materials create more sensory friendly settings for the benefit of his fellow citizens.
Antonio Pallaria – Timberlane High School: Given his passion for surfing and the peace and tranquility of the ocean has to offer, Antonio volunteered as an instructor with Surfing for Smiles, an organization dedicated providing kids and young adults individual support they need to experience the joy of the water and riding waves. Antonio learned the importance patience as worked to slowly earn the trust of a particular surfer who was very fearful. They began by the shore playing beach games and slowly they worked their way into the water. Over time she became comfortable and when she finally caught her first wave into shore she smiled confidently and squealed with delight. Summer after summer Antonio helped many others discover their confidence and passion for surfing. He is dedicated and helped to grow the program because he saw firsthand how the organization brought the surfing community and the greater community together in such a positive way and how each participant always left feeling better than when they first arrived.
Kaitlin Pelletier – Windham High School: As a volunteer intern and coordinator at Ironstone Farm, Kaitlin shared her love of horses and was dedicated to help people with disabilities benefit from equine-assisted therapy. Through this experience Kaitlin developed relationships and learned to appreciate how a person’s disability diagnosis is just a small part of who they are and how disability does not define what an individual can and cannot do. She learned the importance of overcoming ableist ideals and stigmas so that people with disabilities can be treated with the same dignity and respect and have the same opportunities as anyone. Kaitlin’s outstanding leadership and direction have benefited many individuals. Her positive attitude and efforts have helped make her community more welcoming.
Katherine Stariknok – Pinkerton Academy: Her affinity for fitness and being active, led Katherine to join unified track. Little did she know how this experience would monumentally change her life. Playing sports alongside her peers with and without disabilities led to many meaningful relationships and experiences. The following year she chose unified basketball over swimming because she saw how it fostered a more inclusive and welcoming community. Katherine bonded with a girl who was always very shy and kept to herself, but the trust they developed helped her to come out of her shell and open up. Katherine encouraged school inclusion and recognized the importance for all students to gain a sense of belonging socially and academically. Her leadership promoted more meaningful experiences and connection within her student body and in college, Katherine plans to join community outreach organization that provides guide dog training.