Introducing Mia Gregory: A 2022 Scholarship Winner

This is part of a series of blog posts introducing you to our 2022 Build A Better Future scholarship recipients and their projects. We hope you will find their stories as inspiring as we do! For information on our scholarship, click here.

It’s time to introduce another scholarship awardee! When Mia Gregory was in the 8th grade, she really began noticing the homeless community in her neighborhood. Instead of feeling sorry for them, she decided to take action. She explained the motivation behind her project as follows:

“I knew that I could never solve homelessness directly, but to me, it was more about making them feel loved despite their hard situations. I didn’t like the awkwardness of turning your head from them as if they weren’t human. I wanted them to know that I saw them and that they deserved care.”

And love them she did.

Pass It On bags became Mia’s way to serve the displaced people in her area. Each bag contains food, water, hygiene products, socks, and a pamphlet to connect them to a church organization that provides shelter for the homeless. All throughout high school, she kept a bag or two in her car to hand out to those who needed them. She wrote down her thoughts and feelings about what she was seeing and shared it with her peers. Her words encouraged others to donate supplies and many decided to keep bags of their own to pass out.

Mia has also started connecting with local churches and organizations to raise more awareness for her project; ensuring that bags are still being created and shared after she leaves for school. She is hoping that once word gets out, more donations will come in and more people will be inspired to pass out bags and interact with those who are so often ignored. She will be attending Lipscomb University and is already researching the area and brainstorming ways to network with the university’s mission program to establish Pass It On bags within the Nashville community.

“It’s time to take action, love them anyway, and pass it on.”

Planting the Seed

Here is a brief list of book recommendations for early readers (PreK-2nd Grade). Stay tuned for more recommendations and more age groups!

Matilda by Roald Dahl

A cult classic for many, Matilda might be daunting for your littles to read on their own, but it makes a GREAT read-aloud! Trunchbull is a bit intense for some, however, so teacher/parent discretion is advised. Rewards for finishing the book can include chocolate cake and watching the equally classic movie adaptation.

Enemy Pie by Derek Munson

This book is a perfect way to teach kindness and friendship. After Jeremy Ross (or “#1 Enemy”, as he is known to the young narrator), moves in down the street, our narrator turns to his dad for help. The father has just the solution! A recipe for a pie that gets rid of enemies. But as it turns out, this secret recipe is much more effective at turning a best enemy into a best friend.

Who Wet My Pants? by Bob Shea

While it might sound like a potty-training story, Who Wet My Pants? is actually a story about how embarrassment can lead to anger, accidents can (and will) happen, and kindness is the best response.

The Book With No Pictures by B.J. Novak

This book is required to be read aloud. No, really. The book starts off with, “Everything the words say, the person reading the book has to say. Side effects of reading this book can include uncontrollable giggles, choruses of, “Again, again!” from the kids, and not being able to take yourself seriously.

What books resonate well with your early readers? How do you encourage them to be excited about reading?

Introducing Michael Wilson: A 2022 Scholarship Winner

This is part of a series of blog posts introducing you to our 2022 Build A Better Future scholarship recipients and their projects. We hope you will find their stories as inspiring as we do! For information on our scholarship, click here.

The next scholarship recipient that I want to share with you is Michael Wilson and his work in establishing a local chapter of the Arizona Old Time Fiddler’s Association. As someone who was homeschooled, he often participated in “real life projects” as part of the curriculum. These projects included providing manual labor for his elderly neighbors, performing with his family’s band at senior care facilities (Michael is an accomplished vocalist and mandolin player), and working with kids in an after school program.

It didn’t take long for Michael to notice that there were two major problems in his community. The first issue was the isolation of seniors. Many residents were limited to their nursing homes and never received visitors. Even outside the nursing homes, many of the seniors were homebound and living alone. The lack of visitors was made worse during the pandemic and let to a steep decline in the quality of life for the elderly. The second issue was that many of the children were coming from foster care and otherwise broken homes, which limited their access to positive role models. Michael realized there was a way to hit both birds with one stone: music. Once he found the mission statement of the Arizona Old Time Fiddler’s Association, he knew it was exactly what his community needed:

“The Arizona Old Time Fiddler’s Association is a non-profit organization whose objective is to preserve, promote and perpetuate the art of old time fiddling, to encourage all people, young and old, to develop their musical talents and afford them opportunities to perform in public, to hold jam sessions and other musical events, for the members’ own enjoyment and to educate the public on the values of old time fiddling. And to brighten and improve the lives of “shut-ins” and other needy people, by furnishing musical entertainment and performing other charitable, civic and community services.”

He immediately got to work establishing the Payson chapter of the AOTFA. He ran booths at community events and promoted the project on the radio in order to recruit members and meet the requirements to become a chapter. A local pastor provided a building for the weekly jam sessions–although the sessions were moved outside during the pandemic–and local musicians helped lead the sessions, as well as supplying instruments and music selections. He even incorporated a potluck into the sessions so others could contribute even if they weren’t interested in playing music.

Michael had two goals going into this project: to renew a sense of purpose and inclusion for the elderly and providing structure and guidance to the younger members of the community. In addition, all ages were able to experience learning and improving new skills to increase their self-esteem and instill a sense of pride. The generational gap was bridged and lasting relationships were formed. But don’t take my word for it; the pictures speak for themselves.

Introducing Christian Duckworth: A 2022 Scholarship Winner

This is part of a series of blog posts introducing you to our 2022 Build A Better Future scholarship recipients and their projects. We hope you will find their stories as inspiring as we do! For information on our scholarship, click here.

The first scholarship recipient I would like to highlight is Christian Duckworth and his project: Foldable Dome Homes. Christian was first made aware of homelessness when, as a boy scout, he was invited to help cook breakfast at a local homeless shelter. He was so moved by that experience that he later dedicated his Eagle Scout project to renovating the Light of Life Rescue Mission, which is the largest homeless shelter in Pittsburgh. Through his Eagle Scout project, he developed close and long-standing relationships with many of the employees and residents of the shelter.

When Christian became President of the Technology Student Association during his freshman year of high school, he was able to start exploring sustainable housing technologies, even winning several architectural and robotics design competitions in the process. Christian used his knowledge of the homeless community and his skills with architectural design to create the environmentally-friendly Foldable Dome Home.

In Christian’s own words, “Inspired by the work of Buckminster Fuller, the Foldable Dome Home is highly livable, highly space and energy efficient, and highly efficient to assemble, disassemble, and transport. In just 254 square feet, it provides over 10 amenities in its service core (full bathroom with sink/toilet/shower, sleeping loft for two people, stove, microwave, kitchen sink, refrigerator, washer/dryer, HVAC unit, flat-screen TV, and storage), 23 square feet of solar panels, and LEED certification. When disassembled, one entire home fits inside an 8’6” cube, which allows six homes to be transported on one 51-foot-long flatbed trailer.”

Christian’s prototype included a description of the materials used as well as explanations for why those materials were chosen. It also contains several different floor plans, a map of the plumbing and electrical systems, and assembly instructions.

Christian will be attending Carnegie Mellon University where he has been accepted into their School of Architecture. He will use resources there to help build a working prototype of his design and he hopes to attain property from the city of Pittsburgh where he can set up the homes. Once built, he plans to invite residents from the Light of Life Rescue Mission to stay in the homes and provide feedback. As he continues to make improvements to his design, he wants to collaborate with homeless shelters in other cities to test his prototype under different environmental conditions. Ultimately, he wants to identify manufacturers that would be interested in mass producing the Foldable Dome Home so it can be used to combat homelessness on a global level.

And The Award(s) Go To…

Going into this scholarship season, I knew that narrowing down the list of scholarship applicants to the five awardees would be difficult but I couldn’t have prepared myself for just how challenging it turned out to be. The levels of passion and selflessness reflected in the Design A Better Future projects that were submitted had me wishing I could award 16 scholarships, but alas, I slowly had to whittle the list down to five. There were many projects that got me thinking about my own interactions within my community and there were others that opened my eyes to issues I wouldn’t normally encounter in my day-to-day routine.

“The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members.”

Coretta Scot King

The scholarship was founded in the 2012-2013 school year as a way to show Honors Graduation’s support for our future leaders. Using the design thinking cycle, high school seniors created a project designed to improve their community. Work included a proposal, artifact/prototype, and final reflection. A $10,000 scholarship is awarded to the top five applicants toward their college tuition, with an additional $5,000 grant awarded to the top recipient to fund their project.

I will follow up with individual posts that dive into the details of the winning submissions soon, but without further ado, I am so excited to introduce you to the 2022 Design A Better Future Scholarship awardees:

  • Shoshana Folic: Wishing’ U Well (Shoshana is our top recipient and will receive an additional $5,000 grant to continue funding her project).
  • Mia Gregory: Pass It On Bags
  • Brooklyn Conrad: Feeding Growing Minds For A Healthy Future
  • Michael Wilson: Rim Country Chapter of the Arizona Old Time Fiddler’s Association
  • Christian Duckworth: Foldable Dome Homes

A hugely heartfelt thank you to all who took the time to apply for our scholarship and for the work you have done and will continue to do within your community. I truly enjoyed reading each submission and being shown ways I can help my own community. I hope we all will strive to build up those around us, even if it’s just smiling at the people you pass on the street.

“The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the greatest intention.”

Oscar Wilde

It’s Time to Kick Some Class! (of 2022)

Graduations across the globe are underway and thousands of students are about to enter a new chapter of their lives. Facing uncertainty can certainly be unnerving, and there are many new stressors that accompany the change. For high school students, they are figuring out which college to attend, what major they want to pursue, or if they even want to get a degree. College students are now faced with finding a lifelong career and hoping it is relevant to their degree and doesn’t turn into a dementor who sucks all the happiness from their life.

Fortunately there are plenty who have experienced graduation and lived to tell about it. Even more fortunate, I am blessed to know some pretty wise people who were willing to impart some of their wisdom with you. So for those graduating high school, college, trade school, or those who chose a different direction, these words are for you.

“Once you graduate, you quickly learn that there are two kinds of people: your friends and those who were friendly just because you had a class together that one time. And that’s okay. Treasure both friendships and learn from them.”

-Kassidy Baird (Yours Truly)

“Always expect more of yourself and take others with you on your way to the top.”

“Don’t be afraid to do something just because it seems interesting! There’s a lot of pressure to build a resume or look good for college applications or whatever, but taking time just for the things you think are cool or fun is so important in being well rounded and not getting stressed!”

“It’s okay to not have it all figured out right now, or even five years from now! Find what brings you joy, be yourself, and trust in your own personal journey.”

“Don’t rush into anything and just live in the moment. Be where you are and accept all of yourself and life will work itself out.”

“Find what you love and follow that passion. But don’t be afraid to try new things on the way. You may be surprised at what else lights your fire.”

-Twin 1

“Find something you love! So often we get caught up in ambition and what’s next, when in reality life goes so fast! Take some time for yourself to get to know what you like and what things excite you. There are so many more opportunities for your future than you could ever realize! The best part is that most people love talking about what they do and would be more than willing for you to come see their day-to-day. Explore, travel, and ask lots of questions. When what you do excites you, you will love life and make the world around you a better place.”

-Twin 2

(It isn’t super relevant that they are twins but I think it’s fun to see the similarities in their responses when they didn’t know what the other had said).

“Start applying now. And know you have more experience than you think.”

“It’s not about what you know. It’s about WHO you know. Network and be KIND.”

“Enjoy the day. Let your family take the pictures and celebrate the crap out of you. You deserve it.”

“Don’t get sucked into the rat race. After high school, for the first time, there’s all this flexibility and independence and it gets really easy to judge our own paths by the milestones we see other people hitting or not hitting (whether/when people are married, when people get degrees, if someone got a degree, other people who get right into working/careers). But life is flexible for a reason! You don’t have to have it all figured out, so don’t get caught up in measuring yourself against a measuring stick that doesn’t exist.

I hope you guys enjoyed these words of wisdom! I have plenty more nuggets of advice that I will share in a future post. What advice do you have for the graduating class of 2022? Share your advice in the comments! Who knows, you could even end up being quoted in my next post.

Scholar(ship)ly Advice: The Sequel

As the deadline for our scholarship draws near, I decided to reach out to winners from previous years to check in with them and see what advice they had to offer for this year’s applicants. For more information on our scholarship and how to apply, head here.

Ben Kim (2021)

Check out our 2021 post on the Design A Better Future project where Ben, Swetha, and Johnathan successfully developed a functioning keyboard for people diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease and other neurodegenerative diseases.

Q: If you could give one piece of advice to this year’s applicants, what would it be?

A: I’d advise this year’s applicants that they should not be trying to force a project into their hands–rather, they should find genuine interest and purpose to lead them forward.

Q: What has been the best thing to come from your scholarship project?

A: The best thing to come from my project has been acquiring new engineering skills and knowledge and, perhaps just as importantly, spending time with my group and making memories together.

Q: A quick update on you! What are you up to? Are you still actively involved in your project?

A: I’m currently studying engineering at Princeton University, and I am not still actively involved in the project–however, it will always be special to me.

Find genuine interest and purpose to lead (you) forward.

Did you know you can apply for our scholarship as a group? Ben, Swetha, and Johnathan submitted their application together and they won together! They had close family members with Parkinson’s and they were able to use their experiences to come up with a project that they had genuine interest in, and they knew first-hand the difference their keyboard will make. For more information on exactly what we look for in a scholarship submission, I highly recommend this post.