FD youths make themselves heard

Fort Dodge teens and youths have spoken.

What’s more, their voices will be heard during the Kids’ Choice Awards April 13 at Fort Frenzy, 3232 First Ave. S, when educators, mentors and people who have made an impact on local youth are recognized by It Gets Better Fort Dodge & Beyond.

“It’s really the most honest observation of who is making a difference for kids,” said Tucker Van Wey, a Youth Ambassador with IGBFD. “By letting the kids vote you’re going to find out who really affects them. If parents and adults were to vote, it would a different perspective.”

While the senior from Fort Dodge Senior High was not part of the judging panel, Van Wey said he did make nominations and expects the awards event to be interesting since it will be such a unique exchange between the community and its youth.

“It’s a pretty awesome thing,” he said.

The Kids’ Choice Awards begin at 6:30 p.m. and includes a walk past paparazzi, a meal and a presentation of a plaque to the selected groups and individuals. The evening is open to the public with an admission of $5 to cover the cost of the food. The winners and their families attend for free.

“We expect it will be a really neat event,” said Jenny Johnson, director of IGBFD. “The kids have really worked hard planning it and we have been overwhelmed by the generosity of Fort Frenzy. They have been amazing and have treated us and the kids like royalty.”

In addition to providing for the banquet, the family entertainment complex also served as the site for the box where nominations could be dropped. Nominations were also accepted via Facebook and email. Nearly 80 nominations were submitted, Johnson said, and a panel of nine teens read through them all in order to make their decisions.

“The ambassadors decided which nominations had the best story,” she said. “It wasn’t the number of times the mentors were nominated. It was the quality of the story that they felt needed to be recognized.”

The nomination process opened in November and closed on March 15. Winners were announced on March 25.

Among those honored is the Fort Dodge Middle School cross country track team. Coached by Dave Newman and Joel Greathouse, the team was named as the recipient for the Ohana Award, a designation stemming from the Disney move “Lilo and Stitch” in which it is explained that Ohana is Hawaiian for family and family means no one gets left behind.

“The award truly does define the way the team works together,” Newman said. “They all encourage each other to do the very best they can. It is an everyday occurrence in practices to see the fastest runners run their routes and go back to help and encourage the slower ones to finish strong. The award means family and that is always how I have felt about my cross country teams. They are very deserving, make me proud and represent our school and community well.”

IGBFD is a nonprofit, independent advocacy and youth empowering organization advised by teens and adolescents referred to as youth ambassadors.

“These are great kids,” Johnson said. “We rely on them for the direction and progress of the organization. This is completely outside of school, so they sacrifice their time, talent and weekends to be a part of this and that is truly the beautiful part.”

In fact, the youth were the ones who developed the idea for the awards.

“They came to us and wanted an event or a means that would allow them to recognize the teachers and mentors who have really gone above and beyond for them,” Johnson said.

IGBFD was organized in October 2011 with an ultimate goal of assisting youth to become productive, self-sufficient adults capable of establishing healthy relationships with family and peers.

“It makes me feel like someone is listening,” Van Wey said. “It’s very kid centered and that’s great because when you’re in my age group between 14 and 18 it can be a rough time with a lot of pressure, and plenty of people will tell you what to do but there aren’t necessarily a lot of people hearing what you have to say.”

Kids’ Choice Award winners include teachers Jessica Allard, Tina Gerdes, Bev Totten, Lexi Lara, Chris Vinson and Shanna Black.

Community members recognized are Joan Portz from Northwoods Living products; Mike Zahm, a retired counselor; Charles Clayton, director of Athletics for Educations and Success; Jan Rees, mentor; Michael Anderson from Iowa Central Community College; Melissa Lawler, youth minister leader; Janae Kennedy, Dodger Senate advisor; Randy Buenting, driver of the IGBFD anti-bulling truck; Laura Stover, spiritual youth leader; and Linda Cline, 4-H leader.

Special recognitions include the Courage Award, which will be presented to American Concrete; the Community Caring Award, which will go to Fort Frenzy; and the Ohana Award, which will be given to the 2013 Fort Dodge Middle School Cross Country Track Team.