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Meet the State Honorees: Supporting People with Differences and Disabilities

Friday, March 1, 2019

Meet some 2019 State Honorees who are providing advocacy and resources for people with physical, intellectual and learning challenges.

Sydney Borchardt was diagnosed with scoliosis when she was 10 years old. During her treatment, which included a back brace, special exercises and eventually spinal surgery, her mom discovered an international scoliosis support network called Curvy Girls. Unfortunately, the chapter in their home state of Oklahoma had no active members and needed a leader. “I told my mom that I wanted to become the leader and find new members,” said Sydney. “It’s important for myself and other girls to be able to discuss our feelings in a safe environment where we are understood.”

The mother-daughter team got to work distributing Curvy Girls fliers to doctor’s offices, and was featured in a local magazine. Before long, the Oklahoma chapter had grown to 17 members. Sydney now organizes and leads monthly meetings in both Oklahoma City and Tulsa, and stays in touch with members between meetings on social media. Sydney’s meetings offer young members the opportunity to talk about scoliosis and other things in their lives, and to work on projects that benefit others with scoliosis. “Curvy Girls is more than just a group, we are a family now,” said Sydney, an eighth-grader at Southridge Junior High School in Oklahoma City.

Sydney is making a difference in the lives of people with a physical challenge – and she’s in good company:

  • Kate Walker, a sophomore at Cedar Creek School in Louisiana, raises money to find a cure for Friedrich’s ataxia, a rare neuro-muscular disease that makes it difficult for her to walk, and uses different kinds of media to spread awareness and educate the public about disabilities in general.
  • Kobey Chew, a senior at Juanita High School in Washington, produced two videos and a slide show for a free online medical library to help people – especially those in developing countries – understand that people with disabilities are often much more capable than is frequently assumed.
  • Taci Humphries, a sixth-grader at Highland Middle School in Arkansas, has spent many hours tutoring a visually impaired student in her class; she learned to read and write in Braille and developed personalized learning techniques for the student, and helped him improve his grades dramatically.
  • Justin Hu, a junior at Madison High in Virginia, teaches kung fu to children with disabilities and other challenges, and raises money to address medical and health-related needs in Africa and Asia, through “ABLE Kung Fu,” the nonprofit organization he founded in 2016.
  • Joseph Voynik, a senior at Jackson Preparatory School in Mississippi, worked for four years and raised a great deal of money to construct a fully-accessible baseball field, so that children with disabilities could experience the joy of playing America’s national pastime.
  • Alexander Knoll, a homeschooled eighth-grader in Idaho, is developing a free mobile app that can help people with disabilities around the world navigate public spaces, find safe and reliable services, and identify employment opportunities.
  • Caragan Olles, a junior at Notre Dame Academy in Wisconsin, co-founded a nonprofit that has raised money to provide special tutoring for students with dyslexia, create dyslexia resource centers in three public library systems, and educate teachers and parents about this learning disability. 
  • Shae Smith, a freshman at Bolivar High School in Missouri, created a campaign called “Catching The Curve” to raise awareness of scoliosis, prevent spinal deformities through early screening, and boost the confidence of people living with this condition.
  • Emily Raimondi, a fifth-grader at Garvin Memorial School in Rhode Island, collects gifts for kids from low-income families and for homeless pets in an animal shelter, in addition to her work raising money over the past four years for people with spinal cord injuries.
  • Harrison Barnes, a senior at Woodbridge High School in Delaware, founded a nonprofit organization called “GearUp” that promotes biking as a way for young people to overcome personal challenges, through efforts ranging from refurbished bike giveaways to mentoring young cyclists with disabilities.
  • Sarah Picker, a senior at Boise Senior High School in Idaho, has raised and trained four puppies over the past seven years to be service dogs for the Boise chapter of Guide Dogs for the Blind; she trains each puppy for 14 months, teaching them skills from house manners to remaining calm in all situations.

We’ll be profiling this year’s State Honorees now through the #PruSpirit2019 national recognition events in Washington, D.C. You can find the stories of all this year’s state-level honorees at