The series of posts over the next several days will feature essays on National Be Your Best Self Week 2012. These posts were the winning entries for the three Be Your Best Self Satellite Awards and Distinguished Outreach Award presented at the 55th Distinguished Young Women National Finals in June. National Be Your Best Self Week is a week-long outreach effort presented by Distinguished Young Women each spring. Participants at all levels of the program (local, state and national) engage in community outreach to share the positive message of the Be Your Best Self program. For more information, visit http://www.distinguishedyw.org/be_your_best_self/.
By Lauren Hoppa
Distinguished Young Woman of Colorado for 2012
Upon opening my Distinguished Young Women National Finals book and reading of the Be Your Best Self presentation that I was to give, my initial thought was that this was a fabulous and unique way to impact the young people of my community. What I did not realize at the time, was not only how much of an impact I could potentially have on the kids, but more surprisingly, what impact they could have on me. I never could have pictured how much I would learn about giving, teaching and about myself through this program.
I made my presentation to a group of 24 kindergarten through fifth grade boys and girls at Crossroads Community Church in Parker, Colorado. I was eager to jump into this experience and share the Be Your Best Self message with so many anxious and outgoing kids.
While the kids were beginning to be dropped off at the room, I went around to each table to get to know their name and talk with them. I was also offered the pleasant surprise to work with three special needs kids in my group. As I was getting to know more of the kids as they came in, I noticed a girl in a purple, flowery dress sitting quietly amongst the others just coloring on a coloring sheet. I went over to her, introduced myself, and asked what her name was. She stopped coloring, kept looking down, remained silent, then continued coloring. I could see through her wispy brown hair that her name tag read Shylah. Only moments later, I was told that Shylah was a special needs child. I was determined to get to know her better throughout my presentation and I hoped that she would open up to me.
I began my presentation by asking the kids if they knew what the Olympics were. I was overwhelmed by the response as they were eager to participate in the discussion. They were thrilled when they heard that we were going to be building the Olympic rings together. I began with the first ring, the color blue, and my first element, being healthy. On one side of the ring, I had the element. I began an interactive session of the kids sharing what being healthy meant to them along with how they can be healthy. On the back side of the ring, I had the Distinguished Young Woman’s definition of being healthy along with my own. I proceeded through this format for each of the five elements until we had formed the Olympic rings on the board. Many of the kids were jumping out of their seat and wanting to participate or guess what elements such as studious or ambitious meant. To my surprise, even Shylah quietly raised her hand to speak. Even if I didn’t call on her for a specific element, she still raised her hand for the next. In a wee, quiet voice, she responded to my question I had asked to the whole group. I was so thankful that she was breaking out of her shell and opening up to me.
Following our discussion, we had our own “Mini Olympic Games.” We had an opening ceremony where we all stood together, hand in hand, and passed a squeeze along the circle. I explained to the kids that just like the Olympic athletes, we are all united and are here to support one another. Although it was a simple gesture, I could tell that the kids really understood what we were doing. Following our opening ceremony, we did an egg race – where each team had to carry an egg on a spoon across a short distance without dropping, place their egg on a plate and race back to their team to hand off the spoon to their teammate (of course these eggs were hard boiled as to prevent any serious messes from being formed on the floor). No doubt for me, this was so exciting to watch and participate in. I watched as once quite little Shylah walked slowly, balancing her egg on the spoon, while her teammates were constantly cheering her on. A huge smile swept across her face and I couldn’t feel anything but joy. The kids were so ambitious with the game and showed powerful determination even when their egg fell to the ground and they had to start over.
Following our Olympic games, each participant was awarded a gold medal which I placed around their neck. Their faces lit up and I could see how proud they were. After taking a big “team” picture, I distributed goody bags to each of the kids which included a drink, snacks, and a mini notebook which had the five elements listed on the cover.
After thinking my experience for my Be Your Best Self presentation was complete, I was given something that has no physical value, purely emotional. Shylah, the special needs child who wouldn’t even look at me only an hour before and was so quiet too speak, wrapped her arms tightly around my waist and whispered “thank you so much Miss Lauren.” I was truly blessed to have a girl like her in my group and to watch her open up to me through the discussions and activities. It was then that I realized what being a Distinguished Young Woman is about and what impact we can have on others. It’s not about being the best dancer, most popular or greatest at every little thing we do. To me, being a Distinguished Young Woman means having the ability to connect with others and share a little part of myself while setting a good role model for younger generations to look up to. It means that I want to better my community and make positive choices to not only be the best that I can be, but also help others to be the best self that they can be as well. I am so thankful for this wonderful opportunity to work with these kids and to encourage them to live a life they can be proud of.
Originally from Parker, Colorado, Lauren Hoppa was a participant in the Distinguished Young Women program and was selected as the Distinguished Young Woman of Colorado for 2012. She was the recipient of the Be Your Best Self Satellite Award at the 55th Distinguished Young Women National Finals held June 2012 in Mobile, Alabama. Learn more about Lauren here!