OKC's Absolutely Incredible Kids - MetroFamily Magazine
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OKC's Absolutely Incredible Kids

by Lindsay Cuomo & Hannah Schmitt

Reading Time: 8 minutes 

Absolutely Incredible Kid Day (March 15) was established in 1998 by Camp Fire, a national non-profit that runs a variety of programs to help young people succeed and shape the world. The day was designed to honor our nation's youth by encouraging adults to write, post, tweet and tag notes of encouragement and inspiration to the incredible kids they know. We're celebrating the incredible kids in Oklahoma City by honoring a few of them in this month's issue. 

We're asking you, our readers, to honor the incredible kids you know by writing them a letter or creating a social media post bragging about what makes them incredible. So after you read about the incredible kids here, make sure to tell us about the incredible kids you know on social media using the hashtag #AIKD. We believe taking a small, meaningful step to let kids know they're appreciated can be life-changing! 

Absolutely Incredible Home-schooler Changing Lives

Reading a "Critter Club" book one day about a group of girls who volunteered their time to help critters in need, 10-year-old Edmond home-schooler Brinley Gray had an idea. She wanted to create a club with her friends to help people in need.

"She's always just had a really big heart," said Erryn Gray, Brinley's mom. "She's very compassionate and always looking for how to help others."

Still too young for many volunteer opportunities, Brinley was determined to find a way to give back. It was helping her mom drop off donations at All Things Baby (405 W. 2nd St., Edmond), a non-profit that collects donations of maternity, baby and child items and makes them available for local underprivileged women to have at no cost, that sparked a passion in Brinley.

She noticed the donations were thin and many of the tables available for women to shop were completely empty. With her mom's help, she created a video and posted it on Facebook calling on neighbors and friends to donate items.

Sure enough, the community responded. With her mom’s help, Brinley was rounding up donations and dropping off full car-loads to All Things Baby within the week. 

Dawn Johnson is the director of All Things Baby. Her daughter, an Edmond police officer, started the non-profit nine years ago.

"She worked the night shift and saw so many women in need," Johnson said of her daughter. "She wanted to meet that need."

There's no paid staff at All Things Baby, Johnson said, and the organization relies strictly on donations from the public. They're only open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Tuesdays but were able to serve 2,800 people last year alone.

"Women come in from the beginning of their pregnancy for maternity clothes all the way up to their child being 8 years old," Johnson said. "We give toys, books, shoes, formula, everything."

All Things Baby is a Christian organization and in addition to distributing necessities, volunteers pray with everyone who comes in. Johnson said Brinley's efforts to encourage more donations has made a tremendous impact on the women in need.

"You can just tell it delighted her heart to be serving others," Johnson said of watching Brinley bring in donations and sort toys for the non-profit. "I think she's a very precious and caring young woman and she'll be a real world shaker someday. She's very humble, sweet and kind-hearted."

Now, Brinley is proud to report the tables at All Things Baby are full. She hopes what she's doing inspires other local kids to give back, too. It's obviously working because Brinley was nominated as our Incredible Kid this month by an Edmond mom who's seen Brinley's passion spread to others.

"My own daughter, who is 5, really looks up to Brinley," said Heidi Wright, who wrote to MetroFamily about Brinley's volunteer efforts. "I am really impressed by her example to her peers, the younger children she knows and us adults!"

If you're interested in donating to All Things Baby, the organization has a donation box on-site  at 405 W. 2nd St. in Edmond where donations can be dropped any time.

On the next page: Absolutely Incredible Kids at Edmond Memorial High School

 

Absolutely Incredible Kids at Edmond Memorial High School

It all started with a kiss. Thirty years ago, a group of students at Edmond Memorial High School decided to raise money for a friend in need. The students challenged their classmates to raise $3,000. To sweeten the deal even more, the students went as far as convincing their principal to kiss a pig if they reached their goal. In short, the students reached their goal and yes, the principal did kiss that pig.

With that single kiss a legacy was born, a legacy that would grow into $5 million dollars donated to worthy causes. Last year alone, more than $700,000 in funds were raised. In the beginning, the funds benefited fellow students, Edmond Memorial alumni or even community members in need. Now, the money extends further to local non-profit agencies like Angels Foster Family Network and Calm Waters Center for Children and Families. 

Calm Waters is an organization dedicated to helping people of all ages in their journey of grief caused by death, divorce or other significant loss. The organization’s mission came full circle for the students of Edmond Memorial, when one of their classmates was killed tragically in a car accident in December. Calm Waters came to help the students cope with the loss and now the student body is returning the favor. Armed with countless events, the students have higher hopes than ever for what they will accomplish. 

“The student council decided to not set a goal this year, but instead focus on simply doing their best for a really great cause,” shared Elanna Killackey, student council sponsor and English teacher at Edmond Memorial. “The kids want to host fun events that build special memories and help the community as well.

In addition to giving back, Killackey said, the students are learning about budgeting, organization and creative solutions along
the way. 

The students have organized events like alumni parties, restaurant nights, golf tournaments and a daddy-daughter dance throughout February and March. 

At the center of their fundraising is Swine Week. Each year the principal still kisses a pig but not as extra motivation but now as a symbol the dedication of the student body has made for three decades.

“(Swine Week) transforms the school,” Killackey said. “Watching the students respond to the organization and what it does for the entire school, it’s huge. They give up their social life to do something huge. These kids love their school and want to impact their community in a big way.” 

To learn more about how to support these efforts, visit www.swineweek.org.

On the next page: Absolutely Incredible Kids at Adams Elementary Sharing Their Love of Science

 

Absolutely Incredible Kids at Adams Elementary Sharing Their Love of Science

Marci Vaughan believes students perform best when they take lessons out of textbooks and create experiences with them. So when her sixth grade science students got to the textbook section on biomes, Ms. Vaughan took to the web and a site called Teachers Pay Teachers to get some ideas to bring biomes to life for her students. What resulted was her group of students building several bio-domes to house ecosystems from around the world.

“This project ended up way bigger than I expected,” Vaughan said. 

With just a few dollars and some clever creativity, she crafted a room-sized bio-dome her students could climb inside and learn about different biomes. Working in groups, the sixth graders explore the seven biomes and the ecosystems of our world. They use multiple media to define and research all about the different climates that exist on earth, the plants and animals that live in each and, perhaps, the most important question of all, why all of it is important to them. 

“I want my students to always understand why they are learning something,” she said. 

They rotate through different stations where they have to “define it,” “research it,” “watch it,” “draw it” and more. Her students also have to go beyond simply learning about topics and, as she calls it, “own it.” Not only have they come up with real world jobs that would use the knowledge, they have also studied the human impact on our world’s biomes. One student and potential future video game designer explored the idea of how biomes impact videos games. Another student discovered why firefighters need the knowledge to fight forest fires. 

But, the learning didn’t stop there. What really makes these sixth graders Absolutely Incredible Kids is that they’re so excited about the learning environment Vaughan has made that they’re creating presentations and conducting tours of their bio-domes to teach younger grades about science. Now all students at Adams Elementary can explore tropical rainforests, tundras, deserts, grasslands and even an aquatic biome, without even having to leave their school. 

On the next page: Absolutely Incredible Girl Scout Shattering Records 

 

Absolutely Incredible Girl Scout Shattering Records

Katie Francis may only be in the eighth grade, but the Oklahoma City Girl Scout is already breaking records. She shattered the 30-year-old national record for most Girl Scout cookies sold in a single season in 2014, then turned around last year and beat her own record. As cookie selling season ramps up again this spring, she wants to continue her winning streak. 

She sold 21,477 boxes in 2014 then sold 22,200 in 2015.

“The cookie sale is my favorite part of being in Girl Scouts for many reasons,” Francis said. “My cookie selling box has a sign on it that says ‘there’s more to cookies than what’s in the box’ and this means a lot to me. The cookies are a sweet snack that so many people love. When people buy a box it allows me and my troop and Girl Scouts everywhere to use the money we raise to do great things and make a real difference in the world.”

Among other projects, the cookie sales allows her troop to host a day camp for a Girl Scout troop at an affiliated outreach school. Photo by Tiffany Millspaugh

“These girls had never had the opportunity to go to camp before and it was a very special experience for all of us to do this for them,” Francis said. “We planned arts and crafts including making jewelry, decorating hats and tie-dying camp shirts. We held a flag ceremony, sang songs, built a tent from the ground up, took a nature hike, gave a talk about preventing bullying and had a great camp lunch with hotdogs and s’mores complete with Girl Scout cookies cooked over a campfire.”

The other ways Francis and her troop help in the community certainly make them stand out as Absolutely Incredible Kids. Her troop’s cookie sales also help provide funds and resources to the Central Oklahoma Humane Society, Bella Foundation, Make a Wish Foundation and there are plans this year to help Autism Oklahoma.

The troop members volunteer at Wildcare Oklahoma and the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma, donate to breast cancer research through the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation and help at the YWCA Women’s Shelter. 

When she first decided to try to break the national record, Francis reached out to the Girl Scout who had held the record since the mid-1980s, Elizabeth Brinton. Brinton had broken the record by setting up outside grocery stores, something that hadn’t been done before. She encouraged Francis to put her own unique spin on cookie sales. 

“I like to sing and dance at my booth sales and I make up cookie songs to popular melodies,” Francis said. “For instance last year I sang songs to the movie music from ‘Frozen’ and this year will be ‘Star Wars.’  I also love to dance so you may catch me doing an Irish jig just for fun.”

Another unique spin she puts on the cookie sales is asking customers to donate cookies to the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma and to military members serving overseas. Last year her troop was able to donate almost 3,200 boxes.

Her goal is to sell 18,000 boxes this year to help her reach her ultimate goal of selling 100,000 boxes by 2017, which is the 100th anniversary of the Girl Scout cookie sale. 

“These goals are important to me, but most important is what the cookie sale enables Girl Scouts to accomplish,” she said. “We learn so much about becoming leaders, volunteering and giving back to our communities and it is an awesome experience!”

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