Close your eyes and imagine for a second what it feels like to be excluded and isolated because your mind and eyes work differently. That’s how it felt for 5-year-old Carter Braconi, a boy with autism and ADHD.
It was his birthday recently and he wanted to go to a skate park with his mother in his home state of New Jersey. What he and his mother were not expecting was to come across a group of teenage skateboarders.
After the teenagers arrived, Carter was experiencing too much stimulation and became nervous, until he was befriended by 13-year-old Gavin, a teenage boy a part of the skateboarding group.
Initially, Gavin spoke to Carter to give him tips on how to safely roll down the skate ramps without falling. Afterwards, he taught him how to skateboard.
The boys connected like long time friends, laughing and chatting away.
Learning it was Carter’s birthday, Gavin and his friends sung “happy birthday” and even presented Carter with a mini skateboard for a birthday present.
Kristen Braconi, Carter’s mother was very touched by the teenager’s kindness and posted several videos of their interactions to a Autism Facebook group, praising them for their actions.
“They were absolutely amazing with him and included him and were so beyond kind, it brought me to tears,” wrote Braconi. “I can’t even begin to thank these kids for being so kind and showing him how wonderful people can be to complete strangers.”
She bought them ice cream, but felt it wasn’t enough for gratitude. “Thank you to whoever these children are and thank you to their parents because you are doing a wonderful job!!!”
The videos were shared thousands of times until they eventually caught the eye of local news outlets and police officers.
The police department gave the teenagers honorary coins as appreciation for their compassion.
Braconi plans to arrange a pizza party for the teenagers as a thank you for making her son feel happy and included.
“That day made me feel overjoyed to see kind, compassionate, respectful teenagers doing the right thing on their own,” Braconi told People.
Comparatively few teenagers have the vision to establish a nonprofit organization. Few others have the logistical know-how to coordinate a public event with local businesses and news media.
But 16-year-old Malcolm Asher and 14-year-old Irie Page, both of Portland, Oregon, are not average teenagers. Last Sunday, the pair received national honors in Washington, D.C., for exceptional service to their communities. The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program, established by Prudential Financial and the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), judged Malcolm and Irie to be Oregon’s most committed high school and middle school volunteers.
The teens enjoyed a dinner reception at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History and accepted $1,000 awards from Olympic medalist Lindsey Vonn, who commended them for their service.
Both young adults earned their accolades for demonstrating “leadership and determination well beyond their years,” according to John Strangfeld, CEO of Prudential Financial. “[It’s] a privilege to celebrate their service,” he said.
Malcolm, a junior at Cleveland High School, established a not-for-profit foundation which helps hospitalized children all over the world create and share artwork with their peers. Malcolm volunteered at a children’s hospital in Portland and witnessed how drawing and painting helped young patients overcome the anxiety associated with a hospital stay. “I could plainly see what a lift this provided to kids who were feeling anxious and scared,” he told KATU news.
This experience motivated Malcolm to found ArtPass, which distributes art kits to hospitalized youth. The organization operates in 11 countries worldwide and encourages young people in developing nations to seek medical care, rather than delay treatment due to anxiety about a hospital stay.
Meanwhile, Irie hosted a nationally recognized author and educator at a free public event designed to inform teens about safe dating practices. Irie raised funds for the author’s speaking fee by establishing a GoFundMe account and securing sponsorships from local businesses. Portland State University provided a recital hall for the event, and local news media publicized the occasion.
As a result of Irie’s efforts, about 500 teens and their parents came to the program, prompting the author to waive his speaking fee. Irie subsequently offered the funds to local organizations which strive to eliminate sexual violence.
In summing up the awards ceremony at the Smithsonian, NASSP president Daniel P. Kelley told attendees that teens like Malcolm and Irie show that “one student really can make a difference. We are honored to shine a spotlight on the compassion, drive, and ingenuity of each of these young volunteers.”
More information about The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, along with a list of honorees for 2018, can be found at http://spirit.prudential.com and www.nassp.org/spirit.
High school students Hannah Thomas-Garner, 17, and Sylvia Davis, 15, went missing earlier this week.
Thomas-Garner was reported missing after she failed to return home from a party on Sunday, November 30. The following day, police found her car in Shasta City, California.
Since then, the teen was spotted hitchhiking on Interstate 5 near Dunsmuir, California, south of where her car was found. Surveillance footage from a convenience store in Redding shows a girl believed to be Thomas-Garner.
The runaway is described as blond with blue eyes, 5 feet 6 and 137 pounds. Her disappearance surprised her parents, who described her as a good student, fond of drawing and photography. The girl was recently diagnosed with a kidney infection and needs medication.
According to classmates, Davis also planned to run away prior to her disappearance earlier this week. Police are unsure whether or not Davis planned to travel with Thomas-Garner. No sightings of Davis have been reported.
Davis is 5 feet 9 inches tall, 105 pounds. She has dyed black dreadlocks and hazel eyes.
Officials ask that anyone with information on Thomas-Garner or Davis call the Ashland police department at 541-482-5211.