After she earns a degree in social work from Ball State University, Althoff senior Brittany Willis plans to pursue a law degree. She’s focused on one life’s goal:
“I want to give children the opportunity for a loving family,” she said.
Brittany is one of 43 area students who will be honored on Sunday afternoon by Racial Harmony, a group whose mission includes student development and recognition. The Youth Empowering Youth program starts at 3 p.m. Sunday at Grace Church in Fairview Heights.
The event is free and open to the public, but they do ask for donations for the food pantry.
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Racial Harmony board member Rose Wilson said the children being honored are an inspiration.
“If we’ve got this to look forward to with another generation, we’re going to be OK,” she said.
The children being honored on Sunday range from kindergartners to seniors. Most are from Belleville schools, but Cahokia, Centreville, Dupo, East St. Louis, O’Fallon, Scott Air Force Base, Shiloh, Smithton, Swansea and Washington Park are also represented. Wilson said Racial Harmony sends a letter to every school in December, asking them to name a Racial Harmony Award winner. It is those winners who will be honored on Sunday with an assembly of dignitaries bearing certificates of recognition and gifts.
Their teachers and school counselors nominated students who they saw doing everything from cleaning up lunch tables to volunteering at food disbursement centers.
Volunteering on the soup bus is one of the things that Althoff recognized about Brittany’s work and spirit.
Three times a month, Althoff students help prepare foods like chicken nuggets and corn, mixed fruit and vending machine snacks. For the last soup bus in East St. Louis, Brittany said about 20 kids enjoyed a meal on the bus.
“I chose the soup bus because I come from East St. Louis, so I know the experience of struggling to get food sometimes. Doing the soup bus was the best way for me (give back),” Brittany said.
Helping others is a family trait, and another reason Brittany wants to be a social worker. Her mother took in foster children until Brittany’s brothers, Jaden, 6, and Jacob, 3, came along. Brittany remembers some of the horrors those foster children had lived through.
She remembers boys with bruises on their chests and backs from where their mother had hit them with high-heeled shoes. She remembers Darnell, a boy who was bounced from one foster home to another so often that he first greeted her with a big hug, saying “you’re my new sister!” He was moved to another home a month later.
“Growing up with kids and those situations, it broke me,” she said. “I was so young, and I couldn’t do anything about it.”
Brittany knows social work will be a difficult career path and hopes also attending law school will help her better stand up for children. She has the support of her family, she says, and her faith.
“From the smallest child on, it’s amazing what insight and talents they have in order to get along with other people. A lot of grownups could learn from that, really,” Wilson said.
If you go
- What: Racial Harmony Gathering
- When: 3 p.m. Sunday
- Where: Grace Church, Fairview Heights
- Why: 43 students from around the metro-east will be recognized by Racial Harmony, a group based in Belleville dedicated to racial and ethnic understanding
Racial Harmony Award Winners
These 43 students will be honored at 3 p.m. Sunday.
- Alexandria Appelbaum, Union School
- Nick Baum, Douglas Elementary
- Koi Birch-Barnard, Henry Raab Elementary
- Keanan Burton, Belleville West Junior High
- De/Vana Crutcher, Belleville East High School
- Harrison Delashmit, Westhaven School
- Jada Yvette Mshai Dorsey, Central Junior High School
- Rylee Eapen, Ellis Elementary
- Hayley Engelke, Franklin Elementary
- Nick Foster, Belleville West High School
- Victoria Herndon, Abraham Lincoln School
- Variya Miller, Roosevelt School
- Isabel Pisarski, Belle Valley School
- Alexandra Rafada, Governor French Academy
- Samuel Rick, Emge Junior High
- Madison Stroede, Harmony Intermediate Center
- Kevin Nguyen Truong, Jefferson Elementary
- Ryan Wilhelm, Signal Hill School
- Brittany Willis, Althoff Catholic High School
- Jeremiah Branson, Estelle Sauget School of Choice
- Kalia Davis, Wirth Middle School
- Davionia Douglas, Maplewood Elementary School
- Mari-Anna Eads-Carter, Elizabeth Morris Elementary School
- Jaliah Perkins, Penniman Elementary School
- Hailey Tucker, Huffman Elementary School
- Jamie Spiller, Lalumier Elementary
- Lawrence Almefleh, Bluffview Elementary
East St. Louis
- LayDarby Beckwith, Lincoln Middle School
- Dallas Edwards, Miles Davis Kindergarten Center
- Cortney Wallace, Dr. Katie Wright Elementary
- Trinity Choice, Amelia V. Carriel Junior High
- Angie Garenne Descollines, O’Fallon Township High School
- Rehema Tuju LaVerna, Evans Elementary
- Armon Vinson, Central Elementary
- Kevon Williams, Joseph Arthur Middle School
Scott Air Force Base
- Acey Faulkner, Scott Elementary
- Collin Becker, Shiloh Middle School
- Liam Caraway, Shiloh Elementary
- Anna Miller, Smithton Elementary
- Joshua Griffin, Wolf Branch Middle School
- Jaylon Muchison, High Mount School
- Josiah Partelow, Wolf Branch Elementary
- Jordyn Montrice, Powell James Avant Elementary