Extraordinary Teens: Born to Make History

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By Dawn Klavon

Prince William is home to some extraordinary students. They have managed to infuse their high school careers with lofty activities like community service, youth empowerment, and global social justice. Prince William Living recognizes these future world changers for their efforts, achievements, and potential to
make a true difference in the world.

Aroush Baig, Osbourn Park High School

Aroush Baig

Aroush Baig is a valued member of the Junior Volunteer Program at Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center in Prince William, composed of young people ages 14-17. For two years, she has been an outstanding Junior Volunteer serving as an ambassador, liaison to patients and families, and educator to the public. She also volunteers to provide leadership and support to other young volunteers, tracks volunteer participation, assists with administrative tasks, and offers guidance to other teens in the Junior Volunteer Program.

“She excels at patient and family interaction here at SNVMC, which requires critical thinking and decision-making, along with a deep sense of compassion and empathy,” says Beverly Brevard, SNVMC team  coordinator for volunteer services. “She has an innate understanding of the patient’s experience and can relate to the journey that patients and families are on when they are here in our hospital — which can be a
frightening place to some people.”

Baig also serves within the local Muslim community. She is particularly dedicated to assisting with fundraisers and other awareness events that help increase understanding of the Muslim community within Prince William. As she often says, “If someone needs help, I’m there.”

“To Baig, these gifts come quite naturally, and she helps foster them in other volunteers helping them be the best they can be,” Brevard says. “Through her service — not only as a hospital volunteer but as an active member of the Muslim community and a dedicated student — she makes Prince William County a more humane, accepting, and caring community.”

Tony Bright, Governor’s School at Innovation Park

Tony Bright

Tony Bright is a promising student with incredible potential.

“Tony is an avid researcher and environmental health advocate,” said Tara Lateef, a mentor. “He serves as the only student on the school division’s Advisory Council on Sustainability. He is also on the leadership team of an amazing student-led organization called HEAL.”

HEAL (Healthy Environments Advance Life) is an organization made up of students working to transform the societal view on environmental health and its impact on our communities, locally and globally. Bright served as the Vice President of Technology for the group, in which he helped develop and launch their website.

But his commitment to service doesn’t stop there. Bright also serves as an advisor for the Prince William County Schools Superintendent’s Advisory Council on Sustainability and a volunteer for Melodies for the Mind, a group that uses music to nurture the mind, inspire humanity, and create opportunities for
community service and social engagement. Back in 2020, he was lead programmer for the Charles J. Colgan High School Robotics Team, winning the Virginia State Championship.

Bright was part of a small team that invented an app-based biomedical device that comprehensively diagnoses and treats traumatic brain injury in the field. Called a CRYO CAP, it has a patent pending. The project won the grand prize award at the Virginia State Science and Engineering Fair.

“He is a model for his peers and fully deserving of the Prince William Living Extraordinary Teen recognition!” Lateef said.

Lena Gooden, Osbourn Park High School

Lena Gooden

Lena Gooden is a role model for youth in Prince William.

“As Lena’s coach, I have the privilege of watching her evolution as a student athlete, balancing academics, community leadership and athleticism,” says Coach Shanel Evans. “Lena is a leader among her peers, as well as a Virginia Gatorade Girl Track Athlete of the Year — she motivates both her school and club teammates to push towards their individual success in track and in their personal lives.”

Gooden is not just an exceptional athlete; she takes an active role with team volunteer efforts, participating during community partnership events and at youth fitness programs. She has dedicated herself to excel in both track and field and academics.

Gooden also co-authored a book earning first place in the Children’s Literature K-3 category for a story about acceptance. She will be competing this summer at the Educators Rising National Conference in Orlando.

Her interests and activities include serving as President of the Black Student Union and Jack and Jill of America Teen Group, and a member of the Principal’s Advisory Council, National Honor Society of America, and Art Honor Society of America. This is all on top of being a four-year member of the Osbourn Park High School track team (and three-year track captain), as well as an athlete with the Dale City Track Club, Girl Scout for 13 years, and junior usher at First Mount Zion Baptist Church.

Hamza Lateef, Colgan High School

Hamza Lateef

Hamza Lateef founded an organization called Healthy Environments Advance Life (HEAL), which aims to improve environmental health through education, health advocacy, and improved sustainability.

“Lateef’s group acknowledges the gap between environmental sciences and public health, and is boldly trying to bridge the divide,” says Dr. Alidad Arabshahi, physician at Potomac ENT & Allergy. “Their health care projects have ranged from trying to supply clean drinking water in villages in Afghanistan to ensuring that the homeless in our community have warm winter clothing.”

Lateef truly thrives on scientific inquiry and technologic innovation. He led a team to invent an app-based biomedical device that comprehensively diagnoses and treats traumatic brain injury in the field. This device (CRYO CAP) currently has a patent pending. Lateef is presenting his work among real world scientists at organizations such as the American Epilepsy Society and the American Environmental Science Society. He has even established contact and collaboration with scientists at the National Institutes of Health, rather than just interning with them.

Lateef and his team also pioneered the first outdoor recycling program in Prince William by engaging local  stakeholders and collaborating with the school division’s leadership. Most remarkably, they created a blueprint for others schools locally and nationally to do the same and even created a project-based curriculum for educators to use in their classrooms.

“Hamza shows true leadership by involving and inspiring his peers and younger students in the community,” says Mona Moussa, a parent whose teen volunteers with Lateef.

Abigail Perkins, Colgan High School

Abigail Perkins cares about her community and the environment. She is an accomplished dancer and performer and was also chosen as a youth ambassador to represent her school in an environmental conference where she participated in cleanup efforts to better care for Prince William. Perkins also
learned and shared how items can be renewed, reused, and recycled to prevent serious pollution issues within the community.

Perkins is a member of the Prince William County Alumnae Chapter of Delta Academy and Delta Gems. Most of the organizations of which she is a member give her the opportunity to help others — by doing things like packaging food for the needy, participating in street cleanup efforts and sorting clothes for
Goodwill stores.

“Abigail was born with a disability (Sickle Cell Disease) which often spells failure, average, or mediocre,” said her mother, Kimberlyn Perkins. “People in her life have watched her rise above that stigma — from the day she stepped in kindergarten; she jumped on the success train.”

Perkins’ determination to succeed has inspired others to do their best. She tutors students in math and science, has earned a spot on the Principal Honor Roll every school year, and has been part of the Prince William Youth Orchestra, Praise Dance Team, Step Team, Colgan Dance Team, All That and Jazz Competitive
Dance Team, and earned a Girl Scout Bronze Award. Through her lengthy list of accomplishments and awards, Perkins uses her success and enthusiasm to motivate others.

Gabriel Ralston, Colgan High School

Gabriel Ralston

Gabriel Ralston knows how to get things done. In 2021, he participated in a team that won first place at the Virginia Junior Academy of Science and Prince William County Science Fair with a project testing the protective qualities of face masks against pollution. Amazingly, their project, titled The Impact of Inhaled
Pollution on Health Outcomes in Drosophila Melanogaster, was published in the Pre-Collegiate Health Review.

“No matter which project they undertook, Gabriel’s problem solving, his scientific acumen, and higher order reasoning skills were evident,” said Tarannum Lateef, a pediatric neurologist and epidemiologist who supports local efforts to pioneer STEM programs and mentors Ralston.

Most recently Ralston’s team went on to design an award-winning biomedical device/intervention for traumatic brain injury. He was the chief engineer on this project, which includes an app-controlled helmet fitted with a cooling system to deliver therapeutic hypothermia after brain injury. The helmet can also monitor medical parameters for days after the injury. Not only did Ralston’s team win local and national awards for this project, they have also submitted a patent to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which has been preliminarily approved.

“I am beyond impressed by Gabriel’s intellectual aptitude, innovative leadership, and above all, a desire to help humanity through his STEM skills,” said Lateef. “This is a remarkable achievement for any student, let alone one in high school.”

Evan Smith, Colgan High School

Evan Smith

Evan Smith volunteers frequently to enhance the lives of others. At Ebenezer Baptist Church in Woodbridge, he volunteers long hours leading clothing drives and food drive efforts — preparing the packages for distribution and loading groceries in recipients’ cars. He also serves at his church’s Fitness and Fellowship Day, which includes yoga/Zumba, health screenings, family fun, community fellowship, and mental health tips.

“Evan leads by example,” says nominator Rev. Randi Manderson, from Ebenezer Baptist Church. “Every time we ask our youth to volunteer to serve at one of our many community sponsored projects, Evan is always the first to volunteer.”

Smith volunteers as a tutor at his church and is a member of the National Math Honor Society and National Honor Society at school. He also makes an impact as a member of the Black Student Union, as he advocates for his peers at Colgan High School.

Smith played freshman and varsity football, earning two varsity letters and will attend Monmouth University in West Long Branch, New Jersey this fall. He was accepted into a five-year program to earn a Bachelor of Science in business administration with a concentration in accounting and a master’s in business administration, was awarded an academic scholarship, and will play football as a defensive end for Monmouth’s team. Through his commitment to serving others and excellence in academics and athletics, Smith has proven himself an exemplary student.

Jaylen Waithe, Battlefield High School

Jaylen Waithe

Jaylen Waithe’s participation in multiple youth empowerment initiatives has set the standard for other teens in Prince William.

“Jaylen exemplified leadership skills that were recognized by not only me, but multiple prominent  organizations within Prince William County,” says Kimberly Sparkes, Human Rights Commission O&E Program Coordinator. “While maintaining an active role in the Human Rights Student Leadership Council
(HRSLC), Jaylen’s ambitious characteristics were noted by the town of Dumfries, where he sat on a student panel to contribute student perspectives on youth empowerment.”

Waithe’s diligence was recognized by the NAACP, where he was asked to provide multiple presentations to their organization and offered membership to their youth program. Also, as a member of Healthy Community Healthy Youth, Waithe participated in advancing mental health awareness and drew recognition to the county’s health resources. Additionally, Unity in the Community, a faith-based organization connecting over 25 community groups, requested his participation as a panelist to discuss Prince William’s educational strategic plan.

“As an Ambassador of HRSLC, Jaylen volunteered with community outreach events, while successfully  engaging with many community leaders and county officials,” Sparkes says. “Moreover, Prince William County Schools’ cabinet recognized Jaylen’s attributes and requested his participation in multiple events.”

Waithe is an extraordinary teen whose contributions exemplify youth excellence.

Naomi Woolfolk, C.D. Hylton High School

Naomi Woolfolk has had an impressive track and field career. As a varsity athlete in shot-put and discus, she has competed nationally in the shot-put and weight throw and holds two school records, six district titles, one regional title, and has finished in the top three at the state competition five times.

“Naomi’s style and technique is so admired that she is known to draw a crowd, and she is a role model to younger throws athletes in the track community,” says Coach Shanel Evans, who has known Woolfolk since she was 6 years old. “Naomi has put Prince William County on the map as a highly competitive throws athlete, making her a pioneer being one of few female athletes in the county to compete in all three events while in high school.”

Woolfolk is postured to compete in throws on the collegiate level and plans to attend college in the fall to study sports psychology.

Nominators tout her gentle spirit and heart for competition. “She is dedicated and persistent and does not  give up — I’ve watched her mental tenacity as she has overcome COVID’s impact on her athletic career, in addition to a recovery from a hip surgery,” Evans says. “She has been instrumental in the development of our throws program for our track organization.”

Woolfolk has displayed great character, integrity, and tenacity in her athletic endeavors and is very deserving of recognition.

Paige Woolfolk, C.D. Hylton High School

Paige Woolfolk inspires the best of her community. As a long-standing member of the Dale City Track Club, she has competed at the state and national levels.

Through the track club and her church, First Mount Zion Baptist Church, Woolfolk has volunteered extensively in the community. One of her favorite times serving was at an annual event for Feed My Starving Children. She also takes pride in planting flowers for her school and raising money for her Student Committee by participating in car washes and hosting activities during homecoming tailgate parties.

“She has been accepted to and will attend Temple University in the fall of 2023,” says her track coach,  Shanel Evans. “I’ve watched Paige and her twin sister Naomi grow up since the age of 6 — I love that while she has grown as an athlete through our Dale City Track Club, she has also had the courage to explore activities outside of track.”

Woolfolk’s activity list is long and varied — she pursued acting and productions, dance, and is getting a jumpstart on her future career by working as a physical therapy technician.

“Paige is very sincere, and kind, with a caring personality,” Evans says. “She is ambitious, and her little light fills up a room — she is the heart of our track organization.”

Dawn Klavon is a contributing writer for Prince William Living. Reach her at dklavon@princewilliamliving.com.

 

 

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