Helping others inspires Highlands valedictorian
As he looks forward to studying architecture at Penn State University, Andrew Ahr can't help but anticipate returning to help with his hometown Relay for Life event next year.
The Harrison teen, who just graduated from Highlands High School, has managed to make the event his own over the past 10 years.
Those efforts began with a family team, started in honor of his uncle, Joseph Chifulini, who was battling cancer.
After a few years, he focused on starting a team with his youth group from Natrona Heights Presbyterian Church. Plans are in place now to pass the torch for next year's team to fellow youth group leaders as Ahr heads to State College.
He and a friend, Eli Crisafio, helped to raise money for this year's Relay for Life effort in a new way. They organized a fundraiser at Highlands High School in memory of two teachers who died of cancer, Roselynn Stanzione and Jennifer Moser Chiusano.
The event in early April, included a dodge ball tournament and a competition with sumo wrestler suits. It brought in $1,400.
Having the opportunity to give back to Relay for Life and getting help from his classmates was rewarding, Ahr said.
“That was the first time we'd done anything that size,” he said. “Being able to have such youth involvement was a great rebirth for the whole organization.”
It's not the only way he has been involved.
The senior, who graduated as class valedictorian, has been active in groups including Highland's art club.
He also has helped with programs such as the Total Outreach Program for Soccer, a branch of the Highlands Area Soccer Club that serves children with disabilities.
“It's amazing he can be as busy as he is and still do as well as he does,” said Melissa McCurdy, one of the organizers for the soccer program.
Ahr has been involved with the program for about six years, since he and a friend visited a TOPS practice. He serves as a coach and a volunteer “buddy.”
“Andrew is very good with special needs kids; he's very patient and willing to make accommodations for them, whatever they need,” McCurdy said. “I've known him since I was 12, and I've watched him grow into a very responsible and well-liked young man.”
Lisa Ahr, Andrew's mother, said helping others inspires her son.
“He's driven and determined, and he has compassion for causes,” she said.
“I like how all the activities I've been a part of, I've been a major part of,” he said. “I feel like I've made a contribution.”
Ahr has already found a way to keep doing that in college. He has set his sights on starting his own team at Penn State for the university's popular dance marathon fundraiser known as Thon.
Julie E. Martin is a freelance writer.