Showing that character counts is much more than an effort for local schools, it takes an entire community.
That was the message delivered by Scott Raecker, executive director of Character Counts! In Iowa during the annual Youth Character Awards recognition program Sunday evening at First Presbyterian Church.
Raecker addressed the 112 award recipients in fifth through 12th grades, along with their parents, grandparents, teachers and mentors, on what it means to be a person and a community of good character.
-Messenger photo by Emilie Nelson-Jenson
Scott Raecker, executive director of Character Counts! In Iowa, speaks at the 2013 Youth Character Awards program at First Presbyterian Church Sunday evening. More than 100 fifth- through 12th-grade students were recognized for their good deeds of character.
"This is a special community," Raecker said of Fort Dodge. "It has been focusing on enhancing the lives of youth for more than a decade. It is so much more than a school effort; this is a community of character and you should all be proud of that."
Raecker said developing lives of character can begin with the parents and family before a child even begins school.
"It is said that we build the culture and the culture builds the character," Raecker said. "Character is built first and foremost in the home."
Randy Kuhlman, Fort Dodge Community Foundation and United Way chief executive officer, said many of the honorees had to stand up for what is right, rather than what may have seemed popular, to show their character.
"It takes character to look your friends in the eye and say 'that's not right, don't do that,'" said Kuhlman.
Pam Bunte, youth engagement coordinator for Unity Point Health, said students were nominated by their teachers. Each nominee received a letter inviting them to submit an essay on what character means to them and how they live the six pillars of character: trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship. They also had to name a charity that was important to them to which they would like to pay it forward.
"You are all winners just by being here this evening," said Bunte.
Three overall winners were selected and received $100 to "pay it forward" to their charity of choice.
Fifth-grader Dalton Summers was honored in the fifth- and sixth-grade category for his efforts to raise enough money in his Athletics For Education and Success fundraiser for himself and a teammate to be part of the AFES traveling basketball team for no cost.
"As part of the AFES family I try to tell others to stay out of trouble," Summers said in his essay.
Charlie Doyle, an eighth-grader, was recognized as the seventh- and eighth-grade winner for his willingness to support his classmates in the Special Olympics.
Doyle had T-shirts made for his class to wear to the local Special Olympics competition in support of their classmates.
Doyle also chose to pay it forward to AFES.
Casey McEvoy was recognized as the high school winner for his efforts to pay it forward at St. Edmond School. McEvoy gave "pay it forward" bracelets to students with a goal that they would each do a good deed and pass the bracelet on to the recipient who would then, in turn, also do a good deed.
"When I go to bed at night, I ask myself 'how did I make the world a better place today?'" McEvoy said in his essay.
McEvoy presented his pay it forward gift to the Holy Trinity Food Pantry.
The final award of the evening was the first-ever Classroom of Character award, presented to Susan Winter's kindergarten class at Feelhaver Elementary.
Award recipients will also have the opportunity to be recognized by at the Fort Dodge City Council meeting on May 6.
"None of us want anything less than great character for our kids," said Doug Van Zyl, superintendent of the Fort Dodge Community Schools.