Summers Beyond the Pool

Summers Beyond the Swimming PoolThree kids put a spin on ‘How I Spent My Summer Vacation’ with service, showmanship and survival skills By Zandra Wolfgram

What do an activist, a performer and a leader have in common? All three are impressive kids who live along the Emerald Coast. Here is how they’re spending their summer vacations.

Ally Woodard, 10, Miramar Beach — Heart and Sole
The White House Project’s mantra is “When you add women, you change everything.” This year, the national, nonpartisan organization added Ally Woodward of Miramar Beach to its list of honorees for the prestigious EPIC Award given to a select few female “culture changers” across the nation. The 10-year-old travelled to New York City recently for the honor, which has previously been presented to the likes of actresses Geena Davis and Kristin Chenoweth and musician Melissa Etheridge.

The award is well-earned. When she was 8 years old, Ally gave a speech at Butler Elementary about her school’s participation in the Art Miles Mural Project. The project’s founder, Joanne Tawfilis, was so impressed, she asked the young activist to become an ambassador for the Art Miles Mural Program. Not long after that, Ally saw “Invisible Children,” a documentary about Ugandan children in need. The young activist was so moved, she decided to step up her involvement. She began by painting canvas tennis shoes, tucking inspirational notes into them and shipping them to children in Africa.

Today, Ally is the official Shoes of Hope Ambassador for the United States and has been instrumental in delivering thousands of shoes to children around the world. She organizes shoe-painting events at local schools, senior centers and art events. This summer, she was boxing up painted Crocs and traveling to Haiti to personally deliver shoes as part of an educational and mental health outreach to 15,000 children.

What has this experience meant to the girl who aspires to one day serve as U.S. secretary of state?

“It has given me the opportunity to learn about children around the world that are less fortunate — children of different cultures; children that live in countries with wars; children that are not allowed to go to school,” she said. “There are so many children that do not have the advantages we have in America. We should not take things for granted.”

Chase Peek, 11 , Destin — Tumbling Ever After
Producers of Le Grand Cirque flipped over fifth-grader Chase Peek’s essay and selected the Destin Elementary student to perform in the acrobat-infused staged production at Grand Boulevard this summer. After a few days of rehearsals and costume fittings, Chase calmed the butterflies in his stomach and wowed a Sunday matinee audience in June with gymnastic moves and plenty of shtick as the sidekick to Ricky the Clown, the lead character.

Backstage, Chase, who is currently learning several Asian languages, impressed the international cast by speaking a few words with the Chinese cast members.

“I’m so sad it’s over, I want to do it again,” the gymnast said. His smile springs back when he considers his next chance to bound forward — at Camp Woodward, a week-long gymnastics camp in California, where he plans to do nothing but “have fun and get even better.”

Kaitlyn Mayor, 15, Navarre — Taking the Lead
Kaitlyn Mayor’s father is in Louisiana. He visits when he can; she’s stopped counting the days he’s been gone and doesn’t know exactly when he’s coming back home. She is like many kids along the Emerald Coast whose military parents are deployed to serve their country. Operation Purple Leadership is a program based out of Hurlburt Field designed expressly for teenage military dependents to help them develop confidence and leadership skills. Kids venture on a 10-day outdoor expedition with adult staff and junior counselors to camp out, hike, participate in group activities and challenge themselves with feats such as rock climbing, rappelling and whitewater rafting.

In 2009 while on an excursion to South Carolina, the Navarre High School sophomore had to work with other teens to figure out how to build a tent in less than an hour without instructions.

“It helped because it brought me out of my shell,” Kaitlyn said. “We needed a leader because we had too many ideas, and one person had to step up and settle everyone down.

“I was that person,” she said with pride.

This summer, the avid writer, who journals as often as she can, trekked on her fourth Operation Purple Leadership session and hopes to one day be a mentor that other kids can look up to.

“I’d like to tell them about my past experiences and little things I’ve learned,” she said.