Students’ community service reaps awards

Fresh off their win at Caring for the Kenai, two Nikiski Middle-High School seniors are still seeing the benefits of their project as they prepare to take the next step in their academic lives.

Cousins Evangeline and Marguerite Cox both got several awards at the Nikiski High School Awards Ceremony Thursday, some scholarships and other awards for their school work and community service. Much of that service is due to their Caring for the Kenai project, “Breath for Pets,” which took first at the competition this year earning them $1,600 in prize money

The girls fundraised through bake sales to put together kits for their project designed to help animals in emergency situations. Each kit held pet oxygen masks along with instructions on how to use them, and the two have gotten them into area fire departments including Nikiski Fire, Kenai Fire and Central Emergency Services.

“It was amazing to get the feedback that we did and to see our accomplishments go into other accomplishments, and it makes us further want to grow with our project,” Evangeline said.

Evangeline was honored Thursday with the Prudential Spirit of Community Award, youth recognition award based exclusively on volunteer community service, for which she was a designated finalist. Applicants from all middle and high schools in the U.S., along with all Girl Scout councils, county 4-H groups and other organizations were recommended last November. Prudential Financial, in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals, picks only two honorees and a number of distinguished finalists from each state based on their community service, according to the program website.

“I just applied and I ended up getting distinguished finalist, and I was very surprised,” Evangeline said. “I did not think I would get very far in the competition.”

Marguerite was honored with the Boys and Girls Club Youth of the Year and Hilcorp Future Leaders of America Scholarship Thursday, and both girls received the Nikiski Community Council Scholarship as well. Evangeline also received one of several U.S. Marine Corps Awards for music. Marguerite said being rewarded for all their work toward making Breath for Pets a reality has inspired them to keep it going.

“We worked really hard at (Caring for the Kenai) and applying for these scholarships, which took a long time,” she said. “It was worth it.”

Evangeline agreed that their work with animals and Breath for Pets won’t stop now that high school is over.

“Well, even though we’re going to college, when we come back – we’re still coming back to Alaska. Alaska’s our home, we’ll always come back to it — we want to expand our project,” she said. “We’re going to contact other fire stations all over Alaska, and hopefully get a kit in every fire station in Alaska.”

They girls plan to help departments that already have kits keep up with maintenance over the years, with replacements and spare parts, Marguerite said.

The cousins are headed to Asbury University in Kentucky in the fall, where Evangeline will study creative writing and journalism and Marguerite will make animals an even bigger part of her life by eventually getting a degree in veterinary social work, she said.

“It’s a relatively new program,” Marguerite said. “It focuses on the social worker’s connection with an animal owner, and they work with therapy dogs and hospitals and veterinarians.”

Though she plans to keep animals a big part of her life as well, Evangeline said she gravitated toward writing after her teachers suggested she pursue it.

“And so I ended up really liking writing after I knew that I was good at it,” she said. “And I just thought it was a really great career. And I get to travel and get to know stories of people, and I really love stories.”


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