Community Academy students honored with volunteer award

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Community Academy students Alexis Dickerson, Ehiamen Okoruwa and Aunum Akhter were honored at the United Way of the Midlands luncheon recently as the 2008 Outstanding Youth Volunteers in the group category. The students were nominated by Lisa Jewell, director of the UNMC Youth Learning Center.
UNMC Community Academy students recently received the 2008 Outstanding Youth Volunteer award in the group category through the United Way of the Midlands.

Aunum Akhter, Ehiamen Okoruwa and Alexis Dickerson were nominated by Lisa Jewell, director of the UNMC Youth Learning Center, for their ability to "inspire by example."

"Each one of them lead through their actions," Jewell wrote in her nomination letter. "They demonstrate strong leadership skills for their fellow academy participants by being good listeners, motivating and encouraging others to do their best and coming to each session eager to participate and share their perspectives on what is being discussed.

"And every time I need somebody to help me out, they always volunteer."

Akhter, Okoruwa and Dickerson served as members of the student advisory group within the community academy, a student-driven program for teenagers in 7th-12th grade to learn about health science careers, now in its ninth year.

"We volunteered with numerous organizations including Project Hope and Compassion in Action for at-risk youths whose parents are incarcerated," said Akhter, co-president of the academy, along with Okoruwa. "We're like big sisters and brothers to them."

The students also organize activities and help plan program sessions, which are held the third Saturday of each month, for their fellow Academy members.

"This year, the group started out very reserved and distant from each other," Jewell said, "but Aunum, Alexis and Ehiamen became the glue that brought this group closer together. They helped the other students to recognize that each member has something unique to offer the group."

Okoruwa admits she got teary-eyed when Jewell informed her and the others about the award. The 17-year-old has been participating in the academy since junior high.

"In everything we do, we're not looking for awards. We just love Lisa and love helping, so it's really quite an honor," Okoruwa said. "And it's been wonderful being in the program -- I've learned a lot from it.

"Giving back to the community is one of the greatest rewards a person can get."

Aunum Akhter

A senior at Marian High School, Okoruwa plans to study biology at Washington University in St. Louis this fall. She is interested in a career in pediatrics.

Akhter, a 17-year-old senior at Millard North High School, also will major in biology. She plans to attend Creighton University and is interested in a career in pediatrics, dermatology or research.

While she is grateful to have received the award for volunteer of the year, she has gained much more from the academy over the years.

"Giving back to the community is one of the greatest rewards a person can get," she said. "I would encourage others to volunteer. Not only do you grow as a person, but you're doing something amazing for the people around you."

Said Jewell, "Aunum, Alexis and Ehiamen are the best of the best and are students that just stand out naturally. Each of them is a shining star."