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State Honoree

Owen Ponto

Rapid City, South Dakota

Owen Ponto, 12, of Rapid City, S.D., a seventh-grader at Saint Thomas More High School, initiated an annual hill-climbing event that has raised $17,000 so far to help find a cure for Parkinson’s disease. Owen has seen firsthand what it’s like to have this disease; two grandparents – one from each side of his family – are living with Parkinson’s. “It pains me to see that they both are not able to do the things they used to do,” said Owen. One day in early 2017, he was playing golf with his family when the idea of a fundraiser occurred to him. He and his parents started thinking about ways to raise money and Owen, who loves to hike, decided it would be fun to invite community members to hike up a well-known hill in Rapid City.

After he had settled on the location and date for his first “Climb for a Cure” event, Owen began writing letters seeking sponsorships and personally delivering them to local businesses. He also called and asked people to donate money, gift baskets and other items that could be auctioned off on the day of the climb. He arranged for family and friends to cook food and bake desserts for the fundraiser, worked with a local T-shirt company to design a shirt for participants to wear, and organized yard games such as corn hole, Frisbee, horseshoes and football for after the hike. On the day of the climb, Owen and his family set up tables, decorations, games and food. Owen led the climb, the auction and raffles. He has conducted his fundraiser for two years now, and plans to continue. “I want people with Parkinson’s to know that there are people in the world who are trying hard to help find a cure for their terrible disease,” said Owen.