Friday, January 27, 2012

Lego team prepares for national award

As a preview to Tuesday's Young Achievers feature, I thought I would go ahead and introduce you to a unique group of home school students who call themselves the Flaming Robo Duckies.

Decked out in red and yellow tie-die shirts, the Duckies, spend hours on end preparing to compete in the First LEGO League (FLL) robotics competition. They took first place in their regional competition and earned a teamwork award at the state level. Now, they are preparing for the FLL Global Innovation Award, but they need your help.

The FLL Global Innovation Award supports youth innovation by offering 200,000 FLL participants the chance to compete and win support for their research projects. One winning team and two runner-up winners will be announced on June 19 at the United States Patent & Trademark Office in Alexandria, Va.

In addition, the award's sponsor, Charlotte-based Edison Nation, has offered to bring the winning idea through the same product development process showcased in their Emmy award-winning PBS television show "Everyday Edisons." This is a prize valued at up to $250,000.

Now the Duckies, ages 9-14, are asking members of the community to vote for their FLL research so they can advance.

Continue to read the Young Achievers section for a complete story on the Flaming Robo Duckies on Tuesday.

In the meantime:
Do you have someone in mind who fits the Young Achievers mold? Email me at, or call 704-358-6043.

Photo: Will Silander, left and Drew Rumble put their Lego robot to the test on Jan.19. The Flaming Robo Duckies Lego team won their regional Lego robotics competition and earned a spot in the state finals in Greensboro. Photo by Todd Sumlin -

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Designer conveys political messages through T-shirts

Today, we are seeking advice from Tyler Grosso, a senior at Hopewell High, who is conveying political messages through his T-shirt designs. Tyler created his own business called Botch Designs and has been designing T-shirts for local bands in the area since his freshman year. Some of his political messages have included the first amendment and the behavior of police.

Q: How did you come up with the name of your business?
“Botch means failure, and failure is something I never want to be. It sort of reminds me everyday that I will become something.”

Q: What does the upside down triangle logo mean?
“The upside down triangle, in a sense, means be yourself. Don't be the same as everyone else, you have to stand out among everyone.”

Q: What materials do you use to design?
“For designing, I use Adobe Photoshop CS5. I use to hand screen print my own shirts, but the costs began getting high when I started getting a pretty good demand, so now I just order them online.”

Q: Can you tell us about your typical day?
“A typical day for me consists of waking up, going to school until 12:45, working on the clothes for a few hours and then going to my other job, being a cashier at Earth Fare.”

Q: What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned from designing?
“I've learned a lot and gained a lot. Freedom of expression, how to network with others and how to just have fun are probably the most important ones.”

Q: To be considered wise, what must you know?
“You have to know what you're working with and how to use it.”

Q: What has been the greatest obstacle you have had to overcome?
“Two things: brainstorming ideas and making them original.”

Q: How do you keep going?
“I think about the loyal fans and family who continuously support me. I have no idea where I'd be without them!”

Q: What is a motto you tend to live by?
“Work hard, stay humble.”

Q: What are three things everyone should always have with them?
“A pen, a notebook and their imagination.”

Q: Can you tell us a fun fact about yourself?
“Aside from graphic design, film is my favorite hobby. This year I plan on majoring in film and eventually becoming a producer.”

Q: Do you have any advice for young designers?
“You can do anything you set your mind to. If you want something then go get it. That’s how this whole thing started for me and I love every second of it.”

Friday, January 20, 2012

Waxhaw resident is YoungArts finalist

For a one-week period, some of the nation's most talented youth gathered in Miami to further their disciplines in visual, literary and performing arts at the 2012 YoungArts Week.

Selected from a pool of more than 5,000 applicants, Kristin Ramirez, a student at Marvin Ridge High, was one of the elite few chosen for the program that incorporates courses taught by world-renowned artists and performers.

The program, which is a part of the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts, will also distribute further monetary awards during the week to students who display excellence in their craft.

Finalists at YoungArts Week, will also be determined for the 2012 U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts award, which is presented at the White House and allows the recipient to perform at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C.

To view YoungArts Week performances, visit YoungArts.

Do you have someone in mind who fits the Young Achievers mold?
Email me at, or call 704-358-6043.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Teens use theater, video talents to convey social change

Singing, acting, dancing - it's not often you get a small-scale production with your political messages.

But to capture an audience's attention regarding the voting of N.C. Amendment One in the N.C. primary in May, that's exactly what a group of young adults did - put on a show.

Rachel Kaplan, a UNC Chapel Hill student, used her basic knowledge of theater and integrated a bit of technology to portray an idea. She enlisted the help of about 23 friends to produce a musical, film the performance and air it on YouTube as a way to get their message across.

The message she wanted to portray: Vote against N.C. Amendment One.

N.C. Amendment One has been a hot-topic discussion since the state Senate voted in September to place the issue on the upcoming ballot. So in May, North Carolina voters will be able to cast their vote on whether to amend the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage.

Rachel got the idea to produce a short film on a political topic after seeing Prop 8: The Musical. From there, it took her about a week to write the lyrics and recruit participants. The group met twice during their winter break and filmed at the Levine Jewish Community Center.

"I'm Jewish, so I wondered how people have been persecuted throughout history," Rachel said. "I look at it as an issue of discrimination."

Rachel said this was the first video she has helped produce, but she is excited by the buzz she sees around it on Facebook and small blogs.

To view the musical the crew created, click on the video.

Have you ever created a video to convey a message you want others to hear?
Share it with me at, and you may see it here on the blog!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Taking pride in new cultures

Looking back on his high school career, Donavon Dicks can cross off dabbling in a foreign language, traveling to China and teaching basic English to children in the Mentougou mountains.

Because of his 2010 international works in China, Donavon will be recognized Jan. 14 at the 2011 Pride Awards, receiving the global youth award.

The purpose of the Pride Awards, is to recognize outstanding accomplishments in the African-American community, said Dee Dixon, publisher and CEO of Pride Magazine.

This year’s Pride Awards theme is Global Fusion: Celebrating International Charlotte, so recipients were placed in the categories of global outreach, global impact and global youth. All proceeds generated from the event will benefit the Charlotte International Cabinet.

In school, Donavon is a member of the Japanese National Honor Society and is treasurer of West Mecklenburg's Japanese club. In the summer of 2010, he began his international travels by competing in the Bardoli Global Scholars program, in which he earned a student spot to travel to China for three weeks.

While overseas, Donavon taught basic English to children living in Mentougou, near Beijing, and also performed manual labor alongside farmers in crop fields.

"It was hard work, but I enjoyed it because it was a good bonding experience," Donavon said.

He said he enjoyed the third week of his trip because he and another student stayed with a host family in Beijing - a grandmother, to be exact.

"She thought it was funny to speak in a Russian accent," Donavon said laughing. "And we taught her grand kids to speak some English."

It is Donavon's hope to continue his global experiences by studying in South Korea this summer. Following high school, he said he plans to attend college and become a foreign service officer, diplomat or international lawyer.

Searching for Young Achievers:
Do you have someone in mind who fits the Young Achievers mold? Email me at, or call 704-358-6043.

Photo courtesy of Nepherterra Estrada.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Reader sends anonymous donation to aid homeless

It's always encouraging to hear about readers being inspired by our Young Achievers to take action.

Recently, I had the opportunity to write a story on sisters Kelli and Micah Fagala. The girls were on a mission to provide aid to the homeless at the Union County Community Shelter. It is still their hope to raise $125,000 to build a separate housing facility for the shelter. Right now, they have exceeded their yearly goal of $25,000 with the help of readers.

Following their story, John Fagala, their father, informed me that an anonymous donation was made to the shelter for $2,500 in the girls' honor. "No idea who the people are, just that they are from Charlotte," John said.

As a reporter, I want to thank those who sent the anonymous donation to the Union County Shelter and I also want to encourage each of you to get involved in the community. You don't have to chip in a dime if you don't have it, just find a volunteer outlet and lend a helping hand to someone in need.

Join the sisters on their next endeavor:
What: Move for Hunger
Date: Feb. 4
Time: 8 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Location: Union Square Harris Teeter, 1817 Dickerson Blvd., Monroe.
Benefiting organizations: Union County Community Shelter, Benton Heights Presbyterian Pantry, Lee Park Baptist Pantry and Hopewell Baptist Pantry.

How to donate:
Union County Community Shelter
311 E. Jefferson St.
Monroe, N.C., 28112
Contact Kathy Bragg at, or call the shelter.

Photo by Robert Lahser -

Friday, January 6, 2012

Indian Trail team needs votes to advance in math challenge

Four homeschool Indian Trail friends are putting their brains together to collectively compete in the first annual Reel Math Challenge, a video contest centered around solving math problems while integrating technology.

The competition is sponsored by MATHCOUNTS, a nation-wide program for middle school students that promotes mathematics achievement. In the challenge, teams of four will chose one problem in their MATHCOUNTS School Handbook and will teach that problem in a video they create.

The videos are then uploaded onto the challenge website where the public can cast their vote for best submission by "liking" the video.

Currently clenching the first place spot are Luke Muma, Strider Frank, Josh Forster and Parker Garrison - members of the Peers Harnessing Ideas (P.H.I.) team. The acronym is also a play on the mathematics term for the golden ratio, Parker points out.

Judges will then review the top 20 videos and select four teams to advance to the 2012 MATHCOUNTS National Competition in Orlando.

The P.H.I. team is now asking for help from the community to advance in the competition. To vote for the P.H.I. team, "like" their video.

In the future:
Continue to read Young Achievers for full-length article on the P.H.I team.

And in the meantime, do you have someone in mind who fits the Young Achievers mold? Email me at, or call 704-358-6043.

Photo: Luke Muma (front left), Strider Frank, Parker Garrison (back left) and Josh Forster hold up doorstops they created for their math video submission. Photo by Brittany Penland.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Young Achievers - A year in review

For the past few months, you all have opened your lives and shared your stories with me. When I first started at the Charlotte Observer as the Young Achievers reporter, I never imagined I would meet such an inspiring group of youth that wanted to take on the world, one obstacle at a time. As 2011 comes to an end, I want to thank those of you who allowed me to share your stories with others and I look forward to the new inspirations I will meet in 2012. But for now, let's take a look at the past and some of our Young Achievers of 2011:

In August, we met: Echo ambassadors determined to help others 'be somebody.' For 11 high school students, summer wasn't about going to the beach or hanging out with friends - it was about being a peer educator to children in need. Take a look at their story: Echo ambassadors.

In September, we met: Elizabeth Anne Smith, who did everything she could to help her mother who had been diagnosed with breast cancer in April. Elizabeth Anne took it upon herself to create a Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure team - without telling her mom. She also created a board of adults to help her host a silent auction that attracted 130 guests and raised $9,700. Take a look at her story: Elizabeth Anne.

In October, we met: Mike Dong, who battles kidney disease. Since his first dialysis at age 15, he's also undergone a kidney transplant and found out he has diabetes, secured his own medical insurance and U.S. citizenship, and dug up internships in two cities - all while learning English and struggling to excel academically. Read Mike's story: Mike Dong.

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Representing Young Achievers in the Carolina Living section, we met: Elexus White, a Garinger student determined to make it out of mediocrity. Elexus is the classic hard worker. She is an employee, an athlete, a student, a charitable giver and a journalist. I watched as she worked her three part-time jobs, juggled school work and was crowned homecoming queen.Read her story: Elexus White.

In November, we met: Austin Whitehead and Steven Pitts, two childhood friends who hiked the entire Appalachian Trail in a continuous five-month-long journey. Steven and Austin took a gap year from school to spend their days trekking 15 to 30 miles on one of the longest continuously marked footpaths in the world. They encountered bears, trail magic and solitude. Take a look at their story: Austin and Steven.

In December, we met: Honoree' Brewton, a student at CATO Middle College High who wants to be a primatologist. Honoree' took her first college course at age 13 and began studying Chinese at age 14. Today, you can find her spending time in the Grand Asian Market in Matthews, brushing up on her Chinese skills. Read about her accomplishments: Honoree' Brewton.

So keep doing what you're doing Young Achievers and thank you for sharing your story with others!

Have someone in mind who fits the Young Achievers mold? Email me, or call 704-358-6043.