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Appleton East’s Sydney Olmsted top youth volunteer

Community First-sponsored award includes $1,500 scholarship, $1,000 to recipient’s chosen charity – Pillars

May 24, 2019

Kathy Marx, a communications arts teacher at Appleton East High School, says spending 15 minutes with Sydney Olmsted would tell you all you need to know about the 18-year-old senior.

“You would not need to read her outstanding letters of recommendation, take note of her 4.0 GPA, check her rigorous course schedule or add the countless ways she makes a difference in the classroom, on the athletic field and in the community,” says Marx. “You would be immediately enamored by her eagerness, infectious attitude, attention to detail and overall ability to bring light to every situation she finds herself in.”

On May 1, Olmsted was in the spotlight when she received the Youth Scholarship Award sponsored by Community First Credit Unionat the Celebrating Volunteers Community Gala. The $1,500 scholarship also includes $1,000 from Community First to be awarded to the charity or nonprofit of her choosing.

Community First has sponsored the Youth Scholarship Award from the beginning 22 years ago when The Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region developed the celebration of volunteerism.

High praise
Gifted. Motivated. Diligent. Leader. Well-rounded. Strong convictions. Mature. Self-confident. Compassionate. Empathetic. Motivator. Three-sport athlete. Team player. Respected. Positive attitude. Strong work ethic. Selfless.

Those are the adjective and positive attributes often used when describing Olmsted, who will attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the fall planning to become a speech pathologist.

Marx says Olmsted’s volunteerism is “at the center of her heart.” She recounts a story where Olmsted, as a freshman, embraced a senior who struggled with autism and extreme social anxiety. Before long, the once shunned older student was accepted by the rest of the homeroom students. Marx says the image of Sydney and her new-found friend singing their own rendition of ‘Let It Go’ “is a vision that brings tears to my eyes to this day.”

Cathie Tierney, Community First President/CEO, introduced Sydney, describing her as an exceptional young woman. “You inspire us. You’ve brought rays of hope and light to lives of so many and now some of that light is reflecting back on you,” Cathie said.

“You give us hope for the future, Sydney,” Cathie said. “We hope you come back and continue that spirit of volunteerism and continue that love in your heart with all that you do.”

Upon receiving the Youth Scholarship Award, Sydney said she was humbled, proud and honored to be singled out. “Recognition of the importance of community involvement has taught me that with every contribution – big or small – I’m helping to make a positive impact in the world,” she said.

Along her volunteer journey Sydney said she has met “so many wonderful, selfless and kind people” who have been a joy to work alongside. And, she expressed gratitude to Community First for the $1,000 she will donate to Pillars. “I will continue to volunteer my time to help make the world a better place a little bit at a time and encourage you all to continue doing so as well,” Sydney said.

Scott Peeples, senior director of community engagement at Pillars, shared a story to illustrate Sydney’s devotion to helping others. On a Monday after spring break ended, Sydney arrived at the shelter at 5:30 a.m. and soon was “greeting men and women with a wide smile and a plate of hot pancakes prepared by her team of volunteers.”

Sydney’s actions along with her “upbeat spirit and words of encouragement” cast a shining light for others. “She brings hope to the people she serves and sets a great example for her peers, many of whom don’t have any idea that there are people living in homeless shelters in our community,” Peeples said.

Her $1,000 donation to Pillars will help provide shelter, food, shower and laundry facilities to over 1,000 people a year who stay at one of two Pillars homeless shelters. “The funding helps provide hope for people to regain their footing and get back on the path to independence,” Peeples said.

To learn more about Olmsted, watch the NBC26 Cares story or the Community Foundation For the Fox Valley Region feature.