2013 Youth Achievement Awards

Smart Kids with Learning Disabilities is delighted to announce the winners of the 2013 Fred J. Epstein Youth Achievement Awards, celebrating the outstanding accomplishments of students 19 or younger with learning disabilities and/or ADHD.

The 2013 awards will be presented at the organization’s annual benefit on the evening of Friday, April 26, 2013 at the Hyatt Regency in Old Greenwich, Connecticut.

2013 Fred J. Epstein Youth Achievement Award

Mackinzie Hamilton of Providence, UT is the winner of the 2013 Fred J. Epstein Youth Achievement Award. At 19, Kinzie is a student at Utah State University majoring in journalism and communications, as well as Assistant News Director of Utah Public Radio, an NPR station where she is a reporter, producer, and host of a popular news program. Her fierce drive and strong work ethic have helped her deal with the challenges posed by her ADHD. Kinzie has found her niche in broadcast journalism, where, as she notes, “the deadlines are concrete and unforgiving. At 12:30 you’ll be on live so you better be ready, because there’s no re-record button.”

Kinzie will accept the award via live feed from India, where she will be on special assignment with a photojournalist for National Geographic.

Special Recognition Award

The summer after 4th grade, Alexandra (Alex) Sandlin of Vienna, VA, still unable to read a book after two years of intensive tutoring, found a new world open up to her through listening to books on tape. Not only did she succeed in repairing her self-esteem; she learned to embrace her dyslexia and also her creativity, developing a passion for photography. Two of her photographs have been exhibited at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, and she has won several national and international photography awards, including a scholarship that sent her on a weeklong photo shoot on the Rio Grande.

Through overcoming the obstacle of her dyslexia, Alex, now 17, has learned to believe in herself. “Dyslexia is part of who I am and will always be with me,” she says, “but now, it is my friend—not a disability.”

Junior Achievement Award

Sky Burke discovered very early the importance of advocating for herself.

Struggling with dyslexia and dysgraphia, she created and presented a PowerPoint at her 3rd-grade IEP meeting, and has never looked back–advocating successfully to use an iPad (the first in her school district), and presenting for several Long Island organizations, including a keynote address before an audience of 450 people at a regional self-advocacy conference. For four years, she received the Principal’s Award at her elementary school for her hard work and dedication to her education, and now, at 11, is a 6th-grader at the Sequoya Middle School in Holtsville, NY.

Honorable Mention Awards

Nicholas Eastman

Seventeen-year-old Nicholas “Nico” Eastman of Montgomery Village, MD has found his home 1,500 feet above the ground, where the joy he finds in flying airplanes has been critical to his academic and personal success. Diagnosed early with dyslexia, he began building battery-powered model airplanes and after one ride in a Cessna, he was hooked. He passed the Federal Aviation Administration’s Airman Knowledge test, a key step in obtaining a private pilot’s license, and reports that the self-confidence and strong sense of personal responsibility necessary for piloting a plane have helped him deal with the challenges he has faced in his personal and academic life. “I was able to find joy and fulfillment in flying an airplane,” he reports, “and this joy has permeated all aspects of my life.”

Casey Johnson

“Illiterate. It was a label given to me at six years old by the Gretna Elementary School psychologist,” Casey Johnson of Battle Creek, NE says. His story is a lesson in believing. With the help of his family, dedicated teachers and understanding friends—and inspiration from the Smart Kids with LD website and its Honorary Chairman, Henry Winkler—Casey shrugged off the labels given to him to become a successful athlete, role model, and academic leader. Now 18, he is a four-year, three-sport winner in wrestling, football, and track and field at Battle Creek High School. Elected to his school’s Trailblazers, who serve as role models to younger students, he is also a member of the National Honor Society. He never allowed himself to be labeled by others, and the labels he has chosen for himself were earned.

Andrew Katz

Andrew Katz of Weston, CT says it wasn’t until he reached high school that he began to see his learning disorder as a source of motivation, rather than a barrier. Developing a keen awareness of his disability, he learned to do what was needed to overcome it and most important, to advocate for himself. Once he tasted success, he was addicted. Now 18 and a senior at Weston High School, he is a straight-A student currently taking three AP classes, secretary of his high school class, and a member of the National Honor Society. He founded Katz Productions, a videography company, and was chosen as an intern for U.S. Congressman Jim Himes. He has taken on additional leadership roles as president of his school’s television network and co-president of the Weston Television Network, a local cable channel.

Raquel Shortt

With the help of her family, her doctor, teachers and counselors, Raquel Shortt of Bowie, MD took an eclectic approach to dealing with her ADHD, finding strategies that did not include medication. Raquel studied yoga to improve her self- discipline and concentration. She took clarinet lessons and sang in the choir to increase her attention span and focus, as well as her memory and self-esteem. She learned to play chess to improve her analytical skills and strategic thinking. A fine athlete who served as co-captain of her school’s undefeated volleyball team, she believes that sports have helped improve her self-discipline and leadership skills. Successfully harnessing her ADHD has also allowed Raquel, 17, to participate in a demanding science and technology magnet program, where she has won several science fair awards.

Tommy Thelen

Learning disorders.I was blessed with threeLet the fun begin.   – Tommy Thelen

Struggling through grade school and middle school with ADHD, dysgraphia, and dyslexia was not easy. There was the continual stress of reading out loud, stammering through each twisted word. But in high school, Tommy Thelen of Sioux City, Iowa decided to take charge. He was voted into leadership positions in the National Council of Youth Leadership, Student Council, the Mayor’s Youth Commission, Mission Club, Junior Mentor Club, and as captain of his cross-country track team. He became an anti-bullying advocate, due to his own earlier experiences, and was chosen to attend the Iowa Governor’s Bullying Prevention Summit.

Performing well academically in high school with the support of his family and teachers, Tommy, now 17, will enter Briar Cliff University in the fall, the first member of his family to attend college. He plans to study nursing to care for others with the compassion with which members of his family have been treated.

Connor Wright

Connor Wright of New Hope, PA has struggled with ADHD throughout his life, making it difficult to pay attention in class, complete assignments, read books, and engage in conversation. Despite struggling both emotionally and mentally, he graduated from high school magna cum laude with a 4.0 GPA, received a National Merit Commendation, and was a member of the National Honor Society. Now 19, Connor is a freshman at New York University.

His proudest achievement, however, was accomplished on the stage. It was through his acting that Connor overcame his disability and learned to use it to his advantage, channeling his hyperactivity and impulsiveness into spontaneity and energy on the stage.   The director of his high school theatre program recalls his “brilliance on the stage, his calm and understanding demeanor with others, and his confidence in the spotlight.” Current students in the theatre program, she says, “still talk about Connor, the legend.”