Micah Schlittenhardt, 17, and Alexis Thompson, 12, of Bismarck were named North Dakota’s top two youth volunteers of 2020 on Tuesday by the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards.
The award is a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism. Schlittenhardt and Thompson will each received $1,000, an engraved silver medallion and an all-expense-paid trip in May to Washington, D.C., to join the top two honorees from all other states and the District of Columbia.
There, 10 students will be named America’s top youth volunteers of 2020.
High School State Honoree: Micah Schlittenhardt
Nominated by Legacy High School
Schlittenhardt, a junior at Legacy High School, spent more than 150 hours raising awareness across North Dakota about the benefits of dance for people with Parkinson’s disease, while also raising funds for dance lessons, support groups and research. When she was 12, her best friend’s father had to quit his job when his Parkinson’s symptoms progressed.
“The impact this disease had on her family left an impression on me that I will never forget,” said Schlittenhardt. She had been involved in fundraising to enable her ballet studio to offer free dance classes for people with Parkinson’s. The two experiences made it clear what her volunteer mission should be.
In addition to her own observations, she found studies that showed how dancing improves the cognition, motor skills, mood and confidence of people with Parkinson’s. Schlittenhardt began spreading the word, arranging demonstrations for people with the disease, speaking to Parkinson’s support groups and at state conferences, developing informational fliers for health care professionals and writing a magazine article on the subject, which led to several radio and television interviews.
In addition, she teamed up with a bakery to create a special donut resembling the Parkinson’s logo; $3,000 of the sales have been donated to train North Dakota’s first American Dance Therapy Association Certified Dance-for-Parkinson’s instructor to help fund Parkinson’s support groups and to advance research into the disease.
Middle-Level State Honoree: Alexis Thompson
Nominated by Horizon Middle School
Thompson, a sixth-grader at Horizon Middle School, started an annual toy drive that has provided gifts for more than 400 adolescent hospital patients, launched a campaign to increase scoliosis awareness and screening and organized a support group for girls with a curvature of the spine.
A couple of years ago, she was having a dress altered when her seamstress mentioned that her shoulders looked uneven. When she was evaluated at Shriners Healthcare of Minnesota, doctors found three curves in her spine. After all her tests, she was allowed to pick out a toy from a collection intended to distract patients from uncomfortable or scary procedures. But most of the toys, she noticed, were for younger kids. So she decided to organize a drive to provide toys for kids her age.
She sent out donation request letters to businesses and individuals and posted information on social media. After two drives, Thompson collected toys and more than $1,500 in cash from donors across North Dakota and even in other states; she delivers toys to the hospital every two months.
Realizing that many schools in her state no longer routinely screen children for scoliosis, she contacted media outlets and gave interviews explaining the importance of early detection, and then partnered with a local chiropractor to provide free screenings and information about scoliosis.
Thompson also started North Dakota’s first chapter of “Curvy Girls,” an international support group for girls with scoliosis.
“Many girls don’t talk about their condition because it causes anxiety or has hurt their confidence,” she explained. “I want girls to know they are not alone and they will get through this.”
In addition to a High School State Honoree and a Middle-Level State Honoree, the program judges also recognized two other North Dakota students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
Teagen Nicholes of Minot
Nicholes, 13, an eighth-grader at Erik Ramstad Middle School, established a food pantry at his middle school; along with contacting local businesses for financial support, he spread awareness about food insecurity and organized several school-wide activities to raise funds and donations. He also helped stock the pantry shelves and recorded an automated phone message that was delivered to families to let them know how to access the food pantry.
Amorelle Upton of Fargo
Upton, 18, a senior at Davies High School, has raised more than $1,200 to benefit the Rape and Abuse Crisis Center; over the course of a year, she secured donations from local businesses, hosted several fundraising events and sent more than 300 letters soliciting support from her local community. She also started a mental health club in her high school and shares her personal experience with dating abuse to spread awareness of the impact of toxic relationships.