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Olmsted County youth honored for overcoming challenges

April 20, 2018 GMT

Five stories of courage and overcoming odds were shared Tuesday as the Rochester-Olmsted Youth Commission honored a group of young people during the 23nd annual Outstanding Youth Awards.

In opening the awards presentation during the Olmsted County Board of Commissioners meeting, youth commission member Yohan Alexander said some of the honorees have faced challenges that others may not have overcome.

“Their courage is matched only by the dedication and acceptance of the adults who supported them on this journey,” he said.

One by one, youth commission members shared the stories of fellow youth who overcame challenges in their paths.

This year’s honorees are:

Petra Algadi

Age: 16

Algadi’s family underwent five significant moves in a year that spanned portions of her time in sixth and seventh grades, which left the teen feeling she didn’t fit in with her peers.

Years later, she’s flourishing in Stewartville, where she has been ranked No. 1 in her class since ninth grade.

Today, Algadi volunteers for a nonprofit anti-bullying organization and reads to children at the elementary school. On top of that she takes honors and advanced placement classes that will earn her years of college credits by the time she graduates high school in 2019.

In response to the recent Florida school shooting, Algadi worked to create a unity/friendship week at Stewartville High School to help bring students together. Drawing on her experiences with transfering between multiple schools, Algadi said she doesn’t want others to feel like outsiders.

•••

Ian Fleming

Age: 18

Fleming grew up facing the chaotic realities of addiction in his family. He vividly remembers finding needles under his couch as a 12-year-old and having to grab the steering wheel from a parent who had dozed off while driving.

It left him homeless for up to four months at a time, not feeling safe and learning to not trust adults. The constant chaos made social and academic success in elementary school nearly impossible, even though school was the only place he felt safe.

In 2016, Fleming started classes the Rochester Alternative Learning Center where he said he finally felt at home, becoming a leader who goes out of his way to help others students.

As a result, he is planning his future, recognizing his strengths and his gifts. Fleming plans to join the plumbers’ union and has used his experience at the Alternative Learning Center to lay the groundwork to make his dream a reality.

•••

Ismael Garza

Age: 17

Growing up in a house filled with people coming and going, Garza dreaded school and responded with extremely erratic behaviors and failing grades.

That changed when he became a freshman at the Rochester Alternative Learning Center, where he found peace. He has grown into a positive role model for other students, with both peers and staff members being drawn to his outgoing personality.

Garza has been a leader in the ALC’s Green Thumb Initiative class and been involved in a variety of community promotions, including the Green Thumb Iron Chef program and working with the Diversity Council to create a music video written by Green Thumb students.

As Garza prepares to graduate, he is dealing with the stress of knowing he will be on his own when he turns 18 in June, but the youth commission noted the community is better because of his positive attitude.

•••

DJ Lloyd

Age: 18

Between the death of a parent and overcoming a hearing disability, Lloyd has faced numerous challenges.

At home, he often had to figure things out alone and has been living on his own since 10th grade, which had left him thinking graduating high school was a goal beyond his reach.

He failed most of his classes as a sophomore, but began turning things around a year later, now earning A’s and B’s as a senior.

He also began working at Subway to support himself, eventually earning the No. 1 slot on his employer’s call list due to his reputation as a trustworthy and reliable employee.

His efforts have led him to being chosen for a construction internship, but they also have shown him that he can advocate for himself and trust others.

•••

Maylene Payne

Age: 18

Payne is a natural community builder. Rather maintaining a static circle of friends, she cultivates relationships on a personal mission to help others make connections. She said she knows what it feels like to be the new kid and tries to lessen that burden for others.

At the same time, she sets a high bar for herself.

Payne recently worked on a docent speech for the Minnesota Marine Art Museum, where she suggested a Gaugin painting portrays a message of positive female body image. She also candidly shares her insights as a woman of color growing up in rural Minnesota.

At home, she assumes tremendous responsibility, helping care for a highly autistic sibling, assuming adult roles and continuing to bring a positive attitude.

Her family has struggled with poverty and abuse, yet Payne keeps looking ahead, hoping to become a first-generation college student after graduation this spring. Her career goal is to become a psychologist and continue to give back to others.