By Cindy Kranz
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Sandwiched between rigorous honors classes, soccer games and piano lessons, a cadre of teens seamlessly steps out of their world to fight AIDS, help needy kids learn gymnastics and perform myriad activities for others.
It's second nature to the 55 finalists in the Cincinnati Youth Collaborative's Golden Galaxy Awards competition. The awards, co-sponsored by the Enquirer, WKRC-TV (Channel 12) and Ashland Co., honor high school students for serving others by using their special talents and knowledge.
Awards will be presented Wed-nesday night at the Schiff Family Conference Center at Xavier University's Cintas Center.
Eleven students will be awarded $1,000 scholarships, one in each of 11 academic categories. A first runner-up in each category will receive $500; three second runners-up each receive $250.
"I am really excited to represent my school," said Eliza Kelley-Swift, a 17-year-old Walnut Hills High School senior who is one of five finalists in the general scholarship category.
Whether she's tackling a full load of advanced placement classes or training 25 hours a week in classical ballet, the North Avondale teen is always on the move.
She trains at the Otto M. Budig Academy at the Cincinnati Ballet. This year will be her seventh in the cast of The Nutcracker.
Eliza shares her penchant for dance through the academy's Venture Dancers, a group that performs at libraries and fund-raisers, such as the American Heart Association and March of Dimes. She's also part of a Suzuki flute group that performs at nursing homes and other venues.
"I love sharing my love of dance with other people and exposing them to the arts," Eliza said. "I think a lot of art transcends all the barriers that there are in the world - age, race, all different backgrounds. People can all respond to art."
The National Merit Semifinalist would like to dance a couple of years after high school to test the waters of the professional world. After that, she plans to attend college and eventually medical school for a career in medical research.
Educating the public
Eclectic best describes John Mains, an 18-year-old Simon Kenton High School senior and a finalist in the social science category.
The National Merit Semifinalist recently was Kentucky's representative to the National 4-H Congress in Washington, D.C. The Independence youth raises and shows sheep, pigs, rabbits and vegetables at the county fair.
He's especially passionate, though, about educating young people about the dangers of tobacco use and AIDS.
"I really feel I have to get the word about the dangers of tobacco," John said. "I think a lot of people my age don't know the truth about AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases. That's my motivation."
John co-chairs a statewide tobacco prevention program for teens, Project START (Students Taking Action Regarding Tobacco). As a part-time employee of the Northern Kentucky Health Department, he's in charge of a youth prevention program called COMBAT (Coalition of Minors Battling Against Tobacco).
He's been the driving force behind the Simon Kenton AIDS Memorial Quilt and is coordinating a series of AIDS awareness and prevention programs at his high school, which will host the national traveling AIDS memorial quilt the second week in January.
John hopes to attend Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. He plans to major in international business to prepare for a career in politics.
Claire Jones, a 17-year-old Finneytown High School senior, distinguishes herself by excelling in computer, graphic arts and photography classes. A finalist in the vocational/technical category, she used her skills in her Advanced Computer Applications class to design an original Power Point project for the school's mentally and physically challenged students.
She traveled to Mexico twice with her church, Springdale Church of the Nazarene, to help at local orphanages. Among their activities was painting the exterior of a building, moving dirt, planting grass and flowers, and playing soccer and baseball with the children.
It was an eye-opener to see the children share clothes. All they owned fit in a one-square-foot box. She was impressed by how happy they were despite their hardships, and the experience made her realize how fortunate she is.
"It really put it in perspective how I can pretty much go out and get anything I want," she said.
Claire competes in diving and gymnastics, which earned her fifth place in her age division in the Junior Olympics when she was in eighth grade. She also is a gymnastics judge for area competitions and helps coach groups of young children at Brent Elementary in Finneytown and Dater Montessori in Westwood.
She's applied to the University of Kentucky, Ohio State University and Wittenberg University, which all have diving programs. She wants to major in early childhood education and become a kindergarten teacher.
Danny Mou, a 17-year-old senior at Seven Hills School, can speak five languages. He puts his knowledge to work tutoring and teaching English as a Second Language classes to Hispanic immigrants at Su Casa Hispanic Ministry Center in Carthage.
The Westwood youth, a finalist in the foreign language category, said it's rewarding to work at Su Casa job fairs for new immigrants with little or no English skills.
"Every time you finish with one application, you've done something that's tangibly significant," he said.
Danny began taking piano lessons at the University of Cincinnati's College-Conservatory of Music when he was 7. He was a bronze medalist in the World Piano Competition in 2002and has performed at Carnegie Hall and the United Nations.
One of his most rewarding endeavors is tutoring a third-grade math prodigy at Seven Hills. They meet weekly to work on advanced concepts, including Algebra II. It can be a little intimidating, even for Danny, a National Merit Semifinalist.
"I showed him what pi is," Danny said. "He memorized it to 12 digits, just by looking at it once."
Danny has applied to Harvard University and plans a career in math and sciences.
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