Metro-East News

'Biggest Loser' finalist hopes to inspire Belleville students honored for achievement

Althoff's Emma Murphy invents water-purification system

Althoff Catholic High School student Emma Murphy is working to turn contaminated water into clean drinking water with a portable, algae-based filter. Her research gained the attention of the National Catholic Education Association.
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Althoff Catholic High School student Emma Murphy is working to turn contaminated water into clean drinking water with a portable, algae-based filter. Her research gained the attention of the National Catholic Education Association.

Sonya Jones, a former contestant on the NBC television show "The Biggest Loser," thinks achievement is "just a mile marker that you pass through" on your way to greater things. She believes it is a piece in the foundation of an extraordinary life.

Jones, who is currently an outreach representative for the Hospital Sisters Health System Medical Group, will be the keynote speaker at the 2018 Young Women of Achievement Awards in Belleville.

The event honors young women attending Belleville high schools who have excelled in the fields of community service, academics, athletics and the arts.

At the event, Jones plans to encourage the award winners to continue down the paths of excellence for their entire lives.

Jones said, "It’s wonderful to set goals and to see those as achievements. But what I love more than that is to set a goal, crush it, go hard after it and to set a new one. There's no finish line."

She also plans to speak about the importance of "not just leading, but making an impact."

Jones said, "If you’re a leader and no one is following, you’re just out on a walk."

Her reality program experience was unique as she was one of only 20 contestants chosen out of around 88,000 applicants for Season 16 of "The Biggest Loser."

Jones honors the life-changing experience by sharing the knowledge she gained. "Not everyone has the opportunity to go on 'The Biggest Loser,'" she said. "I just like to pay forward the things I have learned.

"Health and wellness is incredibly important to be able to achieve the things you want to achieve," Jones said. "You have to be able to put yourself first and make sure you are being healthy, so that you can accomplish the things you want to accomplish."

Jones added, "I also find, with women, we are so good of taking care of others, sometimes we forget to take care of ourselves."

She is a 1996 graduate from Greenville College, which is now known as Greenville University. The college's website states in its educational mission that "Faith and community are pillars of the learning process."

Like her alma mater, Jones believes faith is integral to achievement. "To be completely honest, my faith is absolutely everything," Jones said. "I believe the best plan and purpose for my life is not the one I have laid out for me, but the one He has. I try to follow that to the best of my ability."

The Young Women of Achievement Awards, presented by the Rotary Club of Belleville in association with the Belleville News-Democrat, will take place at 7 p.m. Monday, April 16, at Bellecourt Manor in Belleville.

The award winners to be honored at the event are as follows:


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Emily Breunig Provided

Emily Breunig, Althoff Catholic High School — Breunig is a valedictorian of her class, executive member of the Belleville Achieves Strength in Character Youth Board and Althoff's Rotary Interact Club. She is also a member of the National Honor Society, Saturday Scholars and St. Vincent de Paul. She plans to attend Missouri State University and study nursing. Her parents are Robert and Denise Breunig.

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Claire Zimmerman Provided

Claire Zimmerman, Belleville East High School — Zimmerman is a member of the National Honor Society, Science, Math, and English Honor Societies. Zimmerman has been the head drum major of the Marching Lancers for the past two years. She plans to attend the University of Illinois and study chemistry. Claire Zimmerman is the daughter of Michael and Ellen Zimmerman, of O'Fallon, and Michael and Cathy Lippert, of Swansea.

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Kylie Burke Provided

Kylie Burke, Belleville West High School — Burke is the treasurer of the National Honor Society, a member of the German National Honor Society and Delta Epsilon Phi. She is the executive corresponding secretary of the student council and her class vice president. Burke volunteers for Art on the Square, Belleville Area Humane Society and the Greater Belleville Area National Youth Salute. She plans to attend Webster University and major in biology. Her parents are Aaron and Jennifer Burke, of Belleville.


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Alexandria Heyd Provided

Alexandria Heyd, Althoff Catholic High School — Heyd, a vocalist, has participated in almost every Althoff production for the past 10 years. She is a member of Show Choir, Speech, Liturgical Choir, Model United Nations and a few of the bands at Althoff. In addition to singing, Heyd is a skilled musician on both the flute and trumpet. She plans to attend The American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York and major in musical theater. She is the daughter of Julie Heyd and Carl Warren, of Belleville.

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Kaitlyn Baum Provided

Kaitlyn Baum, Belleville East High School — Baum participates in the National Art Honor Society, Renaissance and the National Honor Society. She helped repaint the Christmas sculptures around the Belleville Veteran's Memorial Fountain for the Exchange Club. Her art has been exhibited at the Edwardsville Art Center and Art on the Square. Her parents are Jeffery and Michelle Baum, of Belleville.

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Grace Higgerson Provided

Grace Higgerson, Belleville West High School — Higgerson is a musician and section leader in the West Marching Band, Symphonic Band and Jazz Band. She was selected for the Illinois All-State Honors Orchestra in 2017. Higgerson is a member of the St. Louis Brass Collective and the Webster University Young People's Orchestra. Her parents are John Higgerson of Millstadt and Cynthia Higgerson, of Belleville.

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Cynthia Flores Provided

Cynthia Flores, Governor French Academy — Flores has managed props and costumes for three different productions at the Governor French Academy. She is completing an independent study of screenwriting and hopes to collaborate with her class to produce the script she is working on. She has lived in England and Germany, participated in cross country and ROTC. Cynthia Flores is the daughter of Daniel and Andrea Farrell, of Scott Air Force Base.


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Addison Burris Provided

Addison Burris, Althoff Catholic High School — Burris has participated in three varsity sports, three state track tournaments and two state volleyball tournaments during her high school career. She was the captain of a South Seven Conference Championship winning varsity basketball team and state championship winning volleyball team. Burris is president of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, editor of the yearbook and co-president of Rotary Interact Club. Her parents are John and Debra Burris, of Swansea.

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Grace Brauer Provided

Grace Brauer, Belleville East High School — In addition to being a leader and talented player on the soccer field, Brauer is a member of the National Honor Society, Math and Spanish Honor societies. She was awarded the Lancer Medallion Award, Youth Salute Award and Top 10 AP chemistry student. Brauer received a soccer scholarship to attend Xavier University. She is the daughter of Keith and Cari Brauer, of Belleville.

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Addison Hanusek Provided

Addison Hanusek, Belleville West High School — Hanusek is captain of the Belleville West soccer team and has been recognized as a Scholar Athlete for four years. She is the executive council vice-president of the Student Council, a member of the German Club, National Honor Society, and German National Honor Society. She has received a scholarship to play soccer at Columbus State University. Her parents are Stephanie and Chris Hanusek, of Millstadt.

Community Service

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Emma Murphy Provided

Emma Murphy, Althoff Catholic High School — Murphy has donated more than 350 volunteer service hours to the Student Council, Rotary Interact Club and the National Honor Society. She created the service club, Crusaders Take Action, which completes small service projects for the community. Her work in the development and research of an algae water purification platform has received national attention. Emma Murphy is the daughter of Patrick and Jennifer Murphy, of Belleville.

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Shiza Jamil Provided

Shiza Jamil, Belleville East High School — Jamil has given more than 200 hours of service as a patient transporter at Memorial Hospital. She created the Action Civics Club, which serves the Belleville East campus and community. Jamil is a member of the Student Council, National Honor Society, Math, English and Science Honor Societies. Her parents are Khan and Sulaima Jamil, of Belleville.

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Sarah Hayden Provided

Sarah Hayden, Belleville West High School — Hayden volunteers at the Millstadt Senior Center and Belleville Soup Kitchen. Through her membership in the Belleville Achieves Strength in Character Initiative, she raised more than $10,000 for local agencies. She is a volunteer at Art on the Square, Belleville Marathon and Millstadt Meals on Wheels program. In college, Hayden plans to study biomedical engineering. She is the daughter of Matthew and Courtney Hayden, of Millstadt.

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Sydney Dye Provided

Sydney Dye, Governor French Academy — Dye was an intern for State Rep. Latoya Greenwood in 2017 and volunteered at the Humane Society, UNICEF and the Family Living Center of East St. Louis. She also organized food donations at the Belleville Interfaith Community Food Pantry and Operation Food Search in St. Louis. Dye was awarded the Distinguished Junior and Senior Key Club awards and the Girl Scout Bronze award. She is the daughter of Lena Dye, of Centreville.