By Erin Pittman
Prince William Living recognizes greatness within our community and the individuals giving back each day. This issue is one of our favorites, as we get to recognize both of these through 10 youth leaders in our area. These high school students are well on their way to becoming extraordinary adults and are already making their marks on the world around them. Their activities and passions vary, but the common string of making Prince William a better place to be ties them all together. Here are our 2021 Extraordinary Teens.
When Hylton High School senior Hamna Ashfaq moved to the United States, she knew very little English. Now she speaks more than three languages and uses her skills to connect people and break through language barriers in her role as a volunteer at her local library and at Sentara.
Ashfaq is a participant in the Center for International Studies and Languages program at Hylton. Her experiences in this program have introduced her to cultures all around the world. She is also a member of the Arabic club and an ESOL Ambassador for newly enrolled students entering the U.S. school system for the first time. Ashfaq acts as a liaison for these students as they transition to Hylton.
When asked about her positive impact, Hamna mentioned that her goal in life and reason for pursuing education is to one day start a nonprofit that will empower women and girls in countries where there is no quality infrastructure for education. She wants to create opportunities for these students to attain a high level of education. Hamna strives to be a public speaker to advocate for those who do not have a voice.
Ashfaq has been recognized at Hylton for her kind spirit with the “Stay Positive Award” and has received many awards for academic excellence.
“Hamna is an incredibly multitalented young woman. I can always count on her to help new students feel welcomed, and she has been a leader amongst her peers in a gentle way,” said Hylton school counselor Michaella Beatty. “She has worked diligently, taken advanced classes, and continuously asked for ways to improve and challenge herself. Hamna is not only an exceptional student, she also has a heart of gold.”
According to Coach Shanel Evans, Potomac High School senior Brianna Bryson is wise beyond her years and balances her strong academic performance with a wide variety of community activities. Bryson has served as the Potomac High School Youth Salute Leader and Student Council Advisor and is a member of the Girl Scouts; the school’s cross country, indoor and outdoor track teams; Dale City Lightning Track Club, Inc.; and First Mt. Zion Baptist Church’s Photography and Deaf Ministry.
Throughout the pandemic, Bryson led group fitness classes through the track club for kids ages 4 to 6 years. This kept attending children active and fit and spread energy and positivity during a time when so many needed it.
“I nominated Brianna as an Extraordinary Teen because I admire her responsibility, maturity and ability to engage her peers. She is an excellent role model for her peers, teammates and she displays leadership in every role I’ve led her in. Brianna is also well liked within our youth fitness community by helping young kids stay active and fit, in a fun, engaging way,” said Evans.
Evans noted that Bryson has done an excellent job maintaining her community presence, activities, athletics, as well as academics during the pandemic.
“Brianna is a leader within her peer group but is also wise behind her years, knowing how to navigate situations in a business setting,” said Evans.
Jennifer Molina Chavez
Jennifer Molina Chavez’s leadership skills shine in C. D. Hylton High School’s Air Force JROTC program and throughout the community.
“Jennifer is highly involved in AFJROTC. She was selected to obtain her private pilot license in the Air Force JROTC Flight Academy in 2019, which is a national scholarship. She was selected as one of the top five commanders of her JROTC unit. Jennifer is an outstanding cadet and has led her competition team to victory, winning first place,” said counselor Michaella Beatty.
Chavez consistently lands on the honor roll and has logged more than 85 hours of community service to date by volunteering in elementary schools, staffing events, fundraising and even cleaning headstones at Quantico. She is also a member of the National Honor Society.
“Jennifer is a natural leader, and humbly accepts leadership positions. She enjoys the act of helping others, and seeks out opportunities where she can be of service,” said Beatty.
Chavez’s first language is Spanish. She has worked diligently in her academics in order to take more challenging coursework, including AP classes. She has had a part time job since she was a freshman and, according to Beatty, has balanced her academics, job and community involvement with grace.
“As a child of immigrants, she has learned that her hard work will help her achieve her goals. She says ‘Nothing is impossible when you put a lot of effort into it,’” Beatty said. “As Jennifer’s school counselor, she is consistently leaving me impressed. Jennifer has blossomed while in the AFJROTC program, and her capacity for leadership is one that I have not seen in other students. She applies herself fully to any project she undertakes, and leaves me beyond proud to work with her.”
Brentsville District High School senior Grace James’ life goal, regardless of the cliché, is to make the world a better place. According to her mom, Kate James, she believes the meaning of life is to impact those around us and to do the best with what you are given. Since 2017, Grace has coached service dogs in training for local nonprofit Semper K9, an organization working “to enhance the quality of life for wounded, critically ill and injured members of the U.S. Armed Forces and their families by providing them assistance dogs.”
“As a teenager handling a service dog, Grace gets questioned frequently as to why she has a dog and what purpose the dog serves. Grace handles these interactions with a lot of poise and goes about explaining that not all wounds are visible and what role service dogs play in helping the veteran community,” said Kate.
Grace has served as class president for all four years at Brentsville and has been a member of Beta Club, National Honor Society, the theater program, robotics club and the Library Council. Additionally she’s attended leadership programs, served as a freshman mentor executive, planned the junior/senior prom in 2020 and organized a number of senior activities. Grace accomplished all of the above while dealing with the after effects of a concussion she suffered in April of her freshman year.
“Grace suffers from post-concussion syndrome. In Grace’s case, her symptoms include brain fog, memory issues, balance problems, postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), vision changes, severe migraines, muscle pain, depression and anxiety. The concussion and the after effects also forced Grace to stop playing high school lacrosse and swim, activities she loved,” said Kate.
Despite this, Grace has maintained a high GPA while taking mostly advanced classes and missing a significant amount of school either due to health issues or doctor appointments.
“I am amazed that she has been able to shoulder her academic course load, her leadership commitments and her volunteer activities, and her part time job while keeping her trademark smile. Grace has been battling these health issues by trying to focus on how she can help others around her, either in the community or within her school, and not dwell on the negative impact it has had on her own life,” said Kate.
Since becoming a Girl Scout in first grade, Woodbridge Senior High School senior Anna Krajak has been giving back to her community. Through the years, she has given out supply bags to the homeless, painted inspiring murals and built a garden at Fannie W. Fitzgerald Elementary and more.
“Anna has been volunteering with A Cat and Dog’s Friend Rescue since her freshman year. Once she was able to drive and take on more responsibility, she began to volunteer every single day when we were short on volunteers. She has placed countless cats in safe and happy homes over the last year,” said A Cat and Dog’s Friend Rescue Executive Director Melissa Davis.
Krajak saw how much the rescue was struggling during the pandemic and stepped up.
“She came into Petco every day for the whole summer to take care of cats who were looking for love and a forever home. When school began again, Anna organized field hockey conditioning, moved her grandmother from Pennsylvania into her family’s house, applied to colleges, passed all seven of her classes (including four AP classes), and was still able to volunteer at least three times a week,” said Davis. “She spends her free time transporting cats and dogs from the vet to fosters, to adopters, to wherever else they need to be and helping me in any way she can. Anna constantly puts the needs of her community before her own, all for the betterment of Prince William County.”
Krajak is also a member of the National Honor Society, English Honor Society and her church youth group. She plays lacrosse and field hockey and serves as field hockey team captain.
“Anna is one of the most reliable volunteers I have ever had. She will do anything she can to help this rescue all without jeopardizing her academics, athletics, or life in general. She truly cares about the people (and animals) in her community,” said Davis.
Shan Lateef, senior at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, takes his interests and turns them into acts of service. He cofounded the nonprofit One World, which aims to unite people through STEAM, and created Melodies for the Mind, a community organization that recruits young student musicians, mostly pianists, to perform for seniors who reside in long term care facilities. Melodies for the Mind has over 100 student volunteers registered and has served more than 500 senior citizens.
“My daughter was thrilled to become co-director of [Melodies for the Mind]. I was so impressed by this talented young man who took his passion for neuroscience and music and created a means to serve the community. The organization was recognized for their community service and they received the Agnes Colgan Award last year from the Prince William Chamber of Commerce,” said Mona Moussa.
As a co-founder and co-president of One World, Lateef organized a week-long STEAM summer camp in Prince William for students at a Title 1 school.
“He provided complementary materials and mini projects, from science day, where students studied basic physics concepts, to engineering day, where students designed amusement park ride prototypes. Shan arranged transportation for students to attend class sessions. He negotiated and secured sponsorships, mainly from medical practices, to purchase One World merchandise, such as drawstring book-bags, and two free amusement park tickets. In addition, he created sponsorship contacts for future iterations of STEAM camps,” said teacher Kristin Rojas.
Lateef has received numerous science, engineering and medicine awards. He is a recipient of the Healthy Communities Healthy Youth Council’s Local Hero Award 2020 for being an inspiration to the local community’s youth. He even delivered baked goods to the staff at Sentara hospital twice a week last
“Shan Lateef has demonstrated a phenomenal curiosity for science, a selfless dedication to serve society and the remarkable ability to combine both. At a young age he has accomplished wonders with his scientific research, creative leadership, and commitment to serve others. I am most impressed by Shan’s commitment to serve as a role model to younger students and encourage them to become better students and leaders,” said Rojas.
(Lateef received six nominations.)
Colgan High School Senior Sara Magid has been a devoted volunteer with Semper K9 Assistance Dogs for the past five and a half years. This veteran service organization trains dogs for wounded, ill and injured veterans free of charge to enhance their quality of life. Magid has trained five service dogs from puppyhood to graduation for Semper K9. These dogs lived with her throughout their training and attended a wide variety of events and community activities with her and her family until they were placed with their veteran.
“Sara has also spent countless hours educating the community on service dogs, service dog etiquette and answering questions from the community as a whole, as often times a stranger would approach asking about the dog,” said her mother Stacy Magid.
The community is not always aware of the rules for service dogs in regard to the Americans with Disabilities Act and Public Access. It has been Sara’s passion to educate so the negative situations that she may encounter are not experienced by the veteran once they have the service dog.
“Several veterans have approached Sara after she has transferred the dog to them and have commented how much of a difference the service dog has made in their life and their ability to experience the world again,” said Stacy.
In 2019, Sara was named the Youth Advisor for Semper K9 and has been responsible for recruiting additional youth volunteers and leading fundraising events and activities in support of the organization since. Through these activities she has encouraged other youth/teens within the community to get involved with Semper K9.
Sara is also a member of Key Club, National Honor Society, Math Honor Society, History Honor Society, Quill and Scroll International Honor Society, the varsity tennis team and has managed both the varsity girls’ basketball and field hockey teams. Additionally, she has served as Editor in Chief of the Colgan yearbook, Online Editor of the school newspaper, and is an active member in her leadership class and Leadership Council.
Colgan High School senior Sofia Quint has shared her leadership skills both inside and outside of Colgan’s walls. While maintaining academic excellence, Quint participated in a variety of clubs and activities throughout her high school career including Colgan’s Model UN Club, Crew team, Math Honor Society and served as vice-president of the Spanish Club.
Outside of school, she has volunteered with seniors, playing games and sharing her time with them, and has served as an intern at HOGAR Immigrant Services in both the legal and education departments and the Legal Services Office for Immigrants and Refugees run by Catholic Charities (NGO).
Quint is fluent in both English and Spanish and aided in communication with clients.
Additionally, Quint and friends founded a nonprofit, One World, with the goal of uniting and empowering people through the use of Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Math (S.T.E.A.M.) on a global basis. The group works to provide resources to underprivileged communities and to spark the realization in these students that they have the potential “to become creative innovators, problem solvers, and researchers who can make an impact on the world.” Quint serves as Marketing and Communications Director for One World.
“Sofia is a selfless, dedicated young lady who is committed to helping others. Whether it’s elementary schoolers in a title one school or immigrants looking for legal services, she is always ready to lend a hand. Her bright and capable mind has influenced so many young lives around her,” said nominator Tara Lateef.
Antoinette Stewart of Woodbridge Senior High School believes in bringing people together and spreading positivity throughout our community.
Last fall she hosted the first “Trunk or Treat” at her school to allow kids in the area to get a traditional Halloween experience despite the ongoing pandemic, and she put on a Multicultural Week this school year to celebrate various cultures and unite people within the community. She serves as the Woodbridge Student Activities Leadership Council Production Hospitality Captain and Student Council Captain of Board and Media and is a member of National Honor Society, Mu Alpha Theta, National English Honor Society, AP Scholars Program, National History Honor Society and Science National Honor Society.
“Antoinette is a sincere, hardworking student, driven by her desire for success. She is one of the most competitive and ambitious academics I have met in my 20 years at Woodbridge,” said teacher Andrew McCarthy.
Stewart spends her free time tutoring students at her school in various subjects (while also maintaining her own outstanding academic record) and as a PWC food rescue hero, delivering/transporting food to those in need around the county, and a Be My Eyes assistant, helping the blind and visually impaired navigate daily life. She also works part-time to save money for college.
“As a minority, both Black and Asian, successfully pursuing these activities and roles has been extremely tough considering the recent Asian hate crimes/COVID-19 blame along with BLM protests and racism, however with constant perseverance it was all made possible. These activities have completely changed my view on life, even at such a young age, in how I’ve learned so many life lessons and skills — but most importantly that happiness is contagious and something as small as a smile can brighten anyone’s day, any day,” said Stewart.
Michael Van Horn
Forest Park High School senior Michael Van Horn is committed to service, community and academic excellence. As an Eagle Scout, Van Horn has earned 23 merit badges and has served his troop in a variety of leadership roles. He also completed a major community service project, the construction of a path at Wide Water State Park in Stafford.
“Through scouting, Michael participated in four Boy Scout High Adventures: Philmont, Sea Base, Northern Tier and Kapvik. He loved them all!” said mother Dorian Van Horn.
In addition to scouting, Michael maintains an excellent academic record and was inducted into the National Honor Society. He was the only student in his high school to complete the NASA Virginia Aerospace and Technology program.
“The VAST program is an interactive online science, technology, engineering and mathematics learning experience. After he successfully completed the program, he was selected to participate in the six-day summer academy, NASA Langley, on their Mission to Mars. He was assigned as the Contamination Specialist to the Science and Surface Operations Team. This was such a positive experience, Michael applied for and was accepted into the NASA Virginia Earth System Science Scholars (VESSS) program, offered by the Virginia Space Grant Consortium (VSGC). The Virginia Earth System Science Scholars program engages students in NASA’s latest challenge-satellite missions designed to improve understanding of our own planet’s complex systems through the power of remote sensing,” said Dorian.
In addition to scouting and school, Michael has been involved in Forest Park’s Future Business Leaders of America club, where he now serves as the club’s historian.
“Michael makes everyone he meets happy. He is a giver who cares about others. Tom and I are proud of him and know the world is better because he is in it. We are excited for his future,” said Dorian.
Erin Pittman is Editor in Chief of Prince William Living. She loves to devour books, savor the sunshine and snuggle up with her children and pups. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.