HOP award

Left to right: HOP Award winners Erik Fontanella, Caleb Persanis, Sophia Shulzhenko, Margot Wies, Kirsten Agbenyega and Pelham Together Executive Director Laura Caruso

Pelham Together announces that PMHS sophomores Caleb Persanis, Sophia Shulzhenko and Margot Wies are the recipients of the June 2019 Heart of Pelham (HOP) Award. Pelham Middle School 8th-grader, Kirsten Agbenyega, and 7th-grader Erik Fontanella are recipients of HOP Jr. Awards.

The La Gravinese Family and La Gravinese Jewelers and  MWSK HVAC Equipment and the Marrero Family generously sponsoerd the awards.

Caleb Persanis was celebrated for being the kind of leader who gets others to do their best despite difficult circumstances, an ideal role model for his peers. As the Senior Patrol Leader of Troop 1 in Pelham, Caleb leads a troop of 60 boys who respect, admire, and look up to him as their leader. He runs the day-to-day activities for the whole group including mobilizing community service, designing and implementing a curriculum for weekly meetings, and finding tangible ways to promote the attributes of the Scout Oath and Law for his peers. His nominator pointed out that despite multiple experiences with harsh weather, Caleb continued to lead activities for his troop with a smile, a laugh and good humor. This sort of leadership style make Caleb an excellent role model for his peers. His nominator described it best, “I have been involved in scouting for nearly 40 years, and I can say without hesitation that I have never seen a scout who has had a bigger impact on his fellow scouts as Caleb.”

Sophia and Margot received their HOP Awards as a pair for their tireless and impressive work as enthusiastic leaders driven by compassion for a cause. This is the first time we’ve had a winning pair of students, but their nominators clearly articulated what these two young women achieved together. Margot and Sophia organized an incredible effort around raising awareness and funds for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. They raised over $76,000 in just 7 weeks, and as a result won the LLS Hero Award which allows them to name a research grant for funds directed towards LLS research. Their achievements also led to their winning as runners-up in the NY & CT Students of the Year Campaign for LLS.

Leading with passion and enthusiasm, they energized a small army of advocates to become involved in this cause, hosting local fundraisers, recruiting business sponsors, giving presentations, coordinating a silent auction and raffle…all on top of their school work. One nominator said, that “parents and donors were truly impressed by these girls and how they stood out among their peers to help make a difference.”

The HOP Jr. Award winners Erik Fontanella and Kirsten Agbenyega were chosen by Pelham Middle School teachers, guidance staff and administration.

In describing Erik Fontanella, these words of author Roy T. Bennett were referenced: “Attitude is a choice. Happiness is a choice. Optimism is a choice. Kindness is a choice. Giving is a choice. Respect is a choice.”  Erik Fontanella chooses a positive attitude, happiness, optimism, kindness, giving and respect each day. One teacher describes Erik as having, “a spirit that sets an example for not only his peers but his teachers. He engenders all the personal traits than an individual needs to be a successful student and a good person.” Erik is a natural leader who never steps down from a challenge and never lets obstacles compromise his achievements. He is always up to learning something new, and fearlessly asks questions to broaden his understanding. Erik is kind, funny, positive and determined. He is always looking for opportunities to help others, from assisting a classmate with a project or assignment, to helping set up equipment in P.E. class. And Erik always and only has kind words to say about everyone. Every single teacher remarks that Erik enters the room with a smile, brightens the room when he is there, and always says thank you and have a nice day at the end of each class. His contagious positivity, kindness and determination make him a natural choice for the Heart of Pelham (HOP) Jr. Award.

Kirsten Agbenyega demonstrates her passion for learning every day in the classroom. Described as a model student and an elite thinker and writer by her teachers, she thrives in a challenging environment. Her determination and perseverance help her achieve the high standards and goals she sets for herself. Kirsten approaches every project and assignment with great enthusiasm, and whenever she is faced with a challenge, she will try multiple approaches to finding a solution and most often will resolve the issue on her own. When Kirsten is inspired, she especially shines. Her 8th Grade International Baccalaureate Community Project focused on poverty awareness. She has helped serve food at the Mount Vernon soup kitchen, she volunteers with youth at an after school program in New Rochelle, and she has been a counselor with Nature Connection, empowering youth through nature based education. And on a daily basis, she is always kind and encouraging to others, empathic, and listens to everyone’s point of view. Minor Myers, Jr., seventeenth President of Illinois Wesleyan University, encouraged his students to, “Go into the world and do well. But more importantly, go into the world and do good.” Kirsten will undoubtedly do well in this world, but more importantly, she will do good.

All the winners received gift cards and were celebrated at a small ceremony hosted at J Café on June 6, 2019.

Do you know a Pelham teen doing great things in the community and who demonstrates compassion, leadership, integrity or determination? Nominate him or her for the Heart of Pelham (HOP) Award. The next round of nominations is due by November 30, 2019. Visit pelhamtogether.org for information.

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