Character Counts online


Typically, any students wishing to try out for the annual Youth Character Awards had to sit down and write an essay. But this year, there was a more visual option.

“For the first time, it was open to essays or YouTube videos,” said Pam Bunte, youth engagement coordinator for UnityPoint Health.

Around 183 students from fourth through 12th grade were honored Sunday night in the annual Character Counts event, Bunte said.

Students from grades five through 12 could write an essay, or create a 2-minute video, about how they or a group of their friends show character.

The videos allowed kids to be creative in a variety of ways, whether or not they are good with words, Bunte said. It also made it so that students could work together.

Younger children weren’t left out, either. The fourth graders at St. Edmond Catholic School also created a video together as a class, which won them the “Classroom of Character” award and $200.

Fifth graders Jasmine Jackson, Syanne Holman and Jebreauna Clark said making a video was more fun than an essay.

“You get to act it out,” Holman said.

“And you can explain it more,” said Jackson.

Ashton Acree, eighth grade, has entered an essay in two previous years. This year he made a video about Rachel’s Challenge, the safe school movement based on Columbine victim Rachel Scott.

“I loved doing the video,” Acree said. “Last year I had to sit down and it took a while to critique the ideas, rather than just sitting down and making a two-minute video.”

Winners were announced in four age categories. Video winners received a $150 prize, while essay winners got $100.

Scott Raecker, executive director of Character Counts in Iowa, was the opening speaker. In April Raecker also became chief executive officer of the nationwide Josephson Institute of Ethics, home of the Character Counts program.

Raecker said he has given talks in other states showcasing Iowa’s Character Counts program, and Fort Dodge in general. “Iowa has become a national leader in these issues, from early childhood to the corporate environment,” he said. “I talk specifically in Fort Dodge, and what’s been happening here for over a decade.”

When Raecker spoke to the California state senators in Sacramento, he said three of the 40 senators were not in attendance because they were either indicted or convicted within the last six months.

“You would think an elected state representative would know the difference between right and wrong,” he said. “I look out at these young people tonight…You will be the young people that lead our state and our country.”

That’s why, he said, they need to “learn today and now to do the right thing for the right reason.”

The keynote speaker was Iowa State University Coach Paul Rhoads, who shared how good character leads to success in his football team.

“There’s a quote I once saw attributed to Shaquille O’Neal,” Rhoads said. “The quote had come many many years before, from a gentleman by the name of Aristotle. … ‘We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.'”

He said making smart choices, being accountable to others and learning to trust can help build up those habits.

“The most destructive habit,” he said, “is worry.”