West eighth-grader earns national volunteering honor

       West Middle School eighth-grader Kara Zehner has been named a Colorado “Spirit of Community” award-winner, with prizes including a $1,000 award and a trip to Washington, D.C.

Kara Zehner stands outside the West Middle School entrance.
Westside Pioneer photo

       A history buff, Zehner said she's looking forward to the trip in early May, which has an itinerary including visits to a number of historic places. The several-day visit will also combine the honorees on a community-service project. “I'm really excited about it,” she said.
       The honor is from the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, an annual nationwide program through the Prudential Financial company that recognizes young people for community service. Each of the 50 states (plus the District of Columbia) has one high school and one middle-school selectee.
       School counselor Stacy Piper had told Zehner last fall that because she volunteered so much she ought to apply for the award, so she did.
       Her selection was announced this week. It had been so long between application and award announcement that at first Zehner didn't remember what it was for. “I thought, 'What is this?'” she laughed. “But then I was surprised and happy.”
       As part of District 11's Service Learning program, the student assists special-needs children in a therapeutic horse-riding program at the Mark Reyner Stables and also leads a school fundraising campaign to send a specially trained detection dog to a country plagued by landmines for the Children Against Mines Program (CHAMPS). She spends four hours every Sunday with the horse-riding effort. The CHAMPS fundraising, started by West teacher Connie Graven about three years ago, includes after-school meetings and concession sales at events, with the time commitment averaging seven hours a month, Zehner said.
       Her parents, Dale and Julie Zehner, had introduced her to horses when she was 2 years old, so when she heard about the special-needs program about four years ago she volunteered. “I love horses and meeting new people,” she said.
       The student signed up to help with CHAMPS in sixth grade after hearing a presentation from the seventh-graders about the detection dogs.
       Speaking to the title of the award, Zehner said she likes volunteering because it can have a “big impact on everyone” by “helping raise their spirits.”

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