By Carissa Marine
Photography by Caroline Maxcy Fox

Highlands County honored seven servant-hearted students at the 3rd Annual Champion for Children Awards. Presented by the School Board and Champion for Children Foundation of Highlands County, the purpose of the Youth Awards is to highlight and celebrate local youth who have taken action to help address needs around them.

A total of 23 students were nominated this year from across Highlands County, with a screening committee of community members narrowing nominees down to the seven Finalists. Miguel Arceo, Robbie Celaya, Meghan Cochlin, Madison Cornell, Baxley Hines, Heather Stewart, and Katherine Summers were all recognized on stage at the Champion for Children Circle Theatre in downtown Sebring.

John Varady, Coordinator of Communications and Special Projects with the School Board of Highlands County explains, “Each year we have had nominees share that they are motivated from within to serve others, and that they don’t seek the recognition. However, they have added that it was rewarding to know that adults in the community have noticed their dedication. This is a significant point, because not only are the eyes of adults on them, but so too are the eyes of younger children. They are exemplary models for the next generation, and in lifting them up we are hoping that the annual Youth Awards has an even longer lasting positive impact on our community.”

John Varady

Dr. Brenda Longshore & Kevin Roberts

Carissa Marine

It is our desire to demonstrate the community’s gratitude and encourage local youth to keep on serving and leading from their hearts through the Annual Champion for Children Youth Awards.

-Carissa Marine, CEO of the Champion for Children Foundation.

The Circle Theatre was elegantly decorated with bright floral arrangements by Hobby Hill Florist, and a fancy buffet dinner was provided by Pink Pineapple Catering. Honored guests included county leaders, school principals, Youth Award Finalists and their families. The evening began with the invocation led by Highlands County Commissioner and Founder of the Champion for Children Foundation, Kevin Roberts. The Avon Park School Air Force JROTC presented the colors, Cadet Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Mojica of Lake Placid High School Army JROTC led the Pledge of Allegiance, and Avon Park High School Chorus students sang the National Anthem. Circle Theatre Manager, Harry Havery, also performed a special song dedicated to the Finalists.

The 3rd Annual Champion for Children Youth Awards were sponsored by AdventHealth, Alan Jay Automotive Network, Duke Energy, Duncan Family Foundation, the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office, the Highlands News-Sun, MidFlorida Credit Union, Nucor Steel Florida, John and Jan Shoop, and Souther Signs.

The 2020 Champion for Children Youth Award Recipient, Arieli Montalvo, was present in the audience along with the 2021 Champion for Children Youth Award Recipient, Jamesa Blackstock, who shared her gratitude and words of encouragement to fellow students. The 2021 Judge Clifton M. Kelly Champion for Children Award Recipient, Lisa Lovett, announced this year’s Champion for Children Youth Award Recipient—Miguel Arceo. Miguel was honored for his active encouragement to peers at school, including starting a scholarship program, and positive service throughout the community at large. The awards ceremony ended with inspirational remarks from Dr. Brenda Longshore, Highlands County Superintendent of Schools, and a closing song by the Sebring High School Chorus student ensemble.

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