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Service Above Self announces youth challenge winners

SALISBURY — Another year has gone by, and Service Above Self has inspired a litany of student service projects at all levels within local schools.

Each year, community judges decide which projects stand above others as part of the Service Above Self program. Judges name winners at the elementary, middle and high school levels.

This year was a bit different because program sponsors partnered with Rowan Partners for Education to provide grants and transform the youth awards into a youth challenge with a focus on volunteerism. The local nonprofit has provided small grants for service projects historically, but it joined with Service Above Self this year to make grants up to $500 part of the program.

Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, Catawba College and Livingstone College also joined to provide scholarship opportunities for winners. The program is sponsored by Rotary Club of Rowan County, Cheerwine, Rowan County United Way, Rowan Partners for Learning, Catawba, RCCC and Livingstone.

Service Above Self Committee Chair Wendy Barnhardt said the highlight of her week has been calling the winners to congratulate them on their wins. She saw the excitement on their faces and heard it in their voices.

“Some of them have never received recognition for anything they’ve done before,” Barnhardt said, adding this motivates students to do more in the future.

Winners are the following:

High school

Winner: Students Demanding Change at Salisbury High School

Students Demanding Change is a group of students advocating for social justice and equity. Started in May 2020, the group came together in the wake of high-profile killings of unarmed Black men, including Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd. The students set out to help build a relationship between the community and Salisbury Police Department.

The students asked the department to work with them to create a curriculum that would be friendly to students and officers. The project envisions providing students with information on interactions with law enforcement and getting the community and law enforcement to use the same language to communicate.

The group has planned and hosted a voter registration drive at the school, which will become an annual event, created a platform for student voices and given every student law enforcement interaction cards with quick information for encounters with officers.

First runner-up: Bailey Webster of South Rowan High School

Webster collected essentials for veterans including clothes, hygiene supplies, blankets and material for bags.

Second runner-up: North Rowan High School JROTC.

The North JROTC sponsored two blood drives with American Red Cross, collecting 78 pints of blood. Cadets recruited, educated and scheduled donors for the event.

Middle school

Winner: Emry Starnes of Corriher-Lipe Middle School

Starnes helped faculty member Sherilee Deal build handicap-accessible picnic tables for the animals and plants class. The goal was to get students outside where they can space out and participate more.

Starnes welded the steel bases at her home with the help of her dad. She cut the wood tops as well.

Deal said Starnes’ mother said they built tables for a different project in the past. These tables will help with hands-on projects.

First runners-up: Tie between Trent Smith of West Rowan Middle School and Everett Sutherland of North Hills Christian School

Smith collected a litany of items to donate to the veterans at the W.G. “Bill” Hefner VA Medical Center.

Sutherland refurbished some commercial picnic tables for Happy’s Farm where children can sit while socially distanced and hold animals.

Second runner-up: Girl Scout Troop 1612 at Knox Middle School

Scouts Nellie Smith and Isabel Branch held a supply drive and donations to purchase supplies for local animal sanctuary Faithful Friends.

Elementary school

Winner: North Rowan Elementary School fifth graders

A group of fifth-grade students on the fifth-grade leadership team wanted to reach senior citizens who are struck at home during the pandemic. With some help from adults, the students purchased essentials for 12 local seniors. Those supplies included non-perishables, face masks and hand sanitizer.

Project leaders also gave the seniors handmade cards from students at all grade levels.

Project adviser Mitzi Rusher said the students were concerned about people in the community, and this particular group of fifth graders has shown perseverance, grit and empathy.

Rusher said the students received thank you cards from the people they helped.

First runner-up: Isenberg Elementary fourth graders

Aaliyah Constantino set up a pen pal program between the fourth grade and The Laurels of Salisbury, a local senior living facility. Her project involved donating a teddy bear to each resident and delivering the letters.

Second runner-up: Kayden Weeks of Isenberg Elementary School

Weeks created 50 bags of supplies to give to people experiencing homelessness in Salisbury. The bags had essentials like snacks, bottled water, socks, ibuprofen, bandages, sunscreen, toothbrushes and toothpaste.

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