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Sandy Journal

Two Sandy students honored as Utah’s top youth volunteers

Mar 07, 2018 05:07PM ● By Julie Slama

Tabitha Bell, a senior at Waterford School, was selected as Utah’s top high school volunteer as part of the 2018 Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. (Waterford School)

Two Sandy students recently were selected as Utah’s top youth volunteers of the 2018 Prudential Spirit of Community Awards.

Seventeen-year-old Tabitha Bell, a senior at Waterford School, and 12-year-old Abigail Slama-Catron, a seventh-grader at Midvale Middle School, were selected by the program that honors youth for their outstanding volunteer work. 

As state honorees, the two will each receive silver medallions, $1,000 and an all-expense-paid trip in late April to Washington, D.C., where they will join the top two honorees from other states and the District of Columbia for four days of nationally recognized events.

Bell was selected for working with her classmates to raise more than $75,000 through her nonprofit organization, “Pawsitive Pawsibilities,” which has provided six service dogs to people who can’t afford one. 

During a conversation with her doctor, Bell learned that many of his doctor’s patients needed a service dog, but couldn’t afford one. So with a friend, she incorporated her own nonprofit business, created a website and launched a class competition to raise money. She also has sold bracelets, developed a coloring book about service animals, organized a 5K race and benefit concert and has promoted her mission by speaking at schools, camps and civic group gatherings.

Bell, who was born severely premature in Siberia, was adopted as a baby and later diagnosed with muscular dystrophy. She relies on her German shepherd, Sunny, to give her mobility and balance.

She was nominated for the award by her school.

Abigail, who was nominated by Salt Lake County 4H, was selected for her work in environmental education. 

Last year, she helped to invent the “bionic scarecrow” designed to keep birds away from airplanes as they take off and land at the airports. The device is currently used at Salt Lake City International Airport and has piqued the interest of other airports across the nation.

It began as a First Lego League robotics team project to help improve animal-human interactions. Having learned about the U.S. Airways jet that landed in the Hudson River after bird strikes took out its engine, Abigail’s team researched to find out if Salt Lake as well as other airports had similar problems. They learned the Utah airport had 216 bird strikes in 2015, so they met with the airport’s wildlife staff to learn about the problems of birds on the airport property.

After several prototypes, the team created an environmentally friendly device, which was proven effective. Abigail and her teammates have demonstrated their patent-pending invention to scientists, wildlife officials and government and education leaders as well as to students wanting to learn to be inventors or to create their own businesses.

Abigail created a film, “Strike Out,” based on the invention, which won Canyons School District’s 2017 Middle School Best Documentary and was slated to be shown at the Colorado Environmental Film Festival in late February. She also was honored by 4H with the Outstanding Youth award in environmental education and earth sciences.

Keerthana Ramalingam, 17, was one of the four distinguished finalists who will receive a bronze medallion. The senior at American Preparatory Academy and Sandy resident is committed to supporting students with learning disorders and developed an app with customizable text functions to improve the web browsing experience for people with dyslexia. She is a volunteer at the Leonard Museum peer support group for youth with disabilities.

Tiana Smart, 17, is a Skyline High School senior who has led several initiatives to fight hunger, including serving on the Souper Bowl of Caring National Youth Advisory Board. She also organized a food drive that brought in 49,550 pounds of turkeys to the Utah Food Bank. In addition, she has served more than 450 volunteer hours with Salt Lake City’s National Charity League chapter and works with student refugees.

The other finalists include 17-year-old Liggera Edmonds-Allen of Pleasant View and 14-year-old Kylee Wunder of Cedar Hills.