Ten local kids, making a difference.

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Volume One + Kristo Orthodontics + Smiles in Motion Pediatric Dentistry

Nominate Now - July 30, 2022 »

Each year we ask readers to nominate local kids aged 10 years or younger for this very special feature. Our goal is not to find “the best” kids in the area, but to discover outstanding examples of what Chippewa Valley youth can accomplish – even during a global pandemic.

We look for kids with passion and creativity. Kids with big ideas. Kids who dive in. Kids who care about their families and their communities.

We ask you to submit diverse nominees in terms of age, ability, interests, and culture. And each year we are overwhelmed by your response.

Selecting the 10 kids you see under each year is no easy feat. It’s a moving experience to read through these applications, and we’re so proud to live amongst so many phenomenal young citizens.

The 10 individuals to featured here aren’t the “winners.” They‘re simply a band of kids who demonstrate some of what’s great about growing up in the Chippewa Valley. We believe their stories are inspiring – for kids and grown-ups alike.

The 2020 Honorees

Arden Gustafson

Age: 6 • Town: Eau Claire
Her Calling: Rescuing stray animals

Arden Gustafson is an animal lover. In school, she enjoys learning about cheetahs, lions, puppies, and kitties. She also is interested in learning about bugs and spiders. But her love for animals doesn’t stop at her two cats and her dog.

During pandemic times, Arden has spent time rescuing stray animals and bringing them to her local shelter. “We be really quiet, or we hide,” Arden says, “and we keep some puppy and kitty food out, or I put some in my hand, and the animals will come out, and then I’ll pick them up… I care about animals a lot. I help them a lot. I take great care of them. Sometimes I bring them to shelters and give them homes.”

She feels happy when animals can find their forever homes and works hard to keep our furry friends off the streets. She also works hard to remember animals that have passed away. “Can I tell you something?” Arden says. “I found a dead baby bird on the sidewalk the other day, and we helped it. We buried it in the garden.” Someday, Arden hopes to be an animal rescuer.

Until then, she’s happy making “snake cakes” — or Rice Krispy Treats that are molded to look like a snake — and continue her mission of rescuing as many animals as she can at the ripe age of six years old.

Connor Foslid

Age: 8 • Town: Eau Claire
His good deed: Volunteers at Helping Hands For Our Children

Connor Foslid knows what it’s like to go through a tough time. For the past two years, his family has been homeless because they lost their home to foreclosure. So, the family has worked hard to live in a motel paying $800 a week to live someplace safe and warm until they can find their forever home.

Five days a week, Connor helps out at Helping Hands For Our Children in the Chippewa Valley, sweeping, cleaning, emptying garbages, carrying boxes, and playing with babies while their mommas shop! “It’s where kids can get stuff for free and clothes for free,” Connor says, “also toys. I got to help them with shelves they couldn’t reach…

There’s some people who are really poor and can’t afford anything.” It’s an organization that Connor’s mom says helps everyone. Connor is also helpful at home too, always helping his mom and dad clean the house. He surrounds himself with friends at school who have kind hearts, and he wishes others knew how kind he is.

When he’s not helping out and donating his time, Connor loves going fishing — especially if he manages to snag a big catch!

Katie Toutant

Age: 6 • Town: Eau Claire
Her Easter wish: That every kid can get an Easter basket

How does Faith Yang make other people happy? “Help them,” she says. And so she does. Earlier in the spring when the pandemic first hit, Faith helped her mom organize more than 40 Easter baskets for kiddos in the community who might not have gotten one. Filled with goodies like coloring books, notebooks, pens, crayons, bubbles, chalk, candy, water bottles, and more, these Easter baskets were sponsored by the Yangs’ church congregation to support their community.

But that’s not Faith’s first time helping out her community. Faith often helps out at her church’s food pantry with her mom, helping give out goods to those in need — which often ends up being around 20-30 families a week. Before the pandemic hit, Faith also volunteered at the Sojourner House — so she’s a friendly, well-known face around the community.

A first-grader, Faith was excited to meet her new baby sister, Naomi, who was born on Aug. 27, She is excited to hold, play with, read to, and share her toys with Naomi. In her free time, Faith loves to cook and bake — especially M&M cookies!

Julie Chojnacki

Age: 9 • Town: Bloomer
Her craft: Making cards for her local nursing home

Julie Chojnacki loves to learn, particularly social studies, math, science, and English. But, her favorite subject to learn about is religion because when she grows up, Julie wants to be a nun. “I want to help people out too,” she says. Inspired by her teachers, her great aunt (who is a nun, like Julie wants to be), her parents, and her doctor, Julie gets through tough times by telling herself, “God is with me.

I don’t have to have a tough time.” During pandemic times, she shared her positivity with others by creating about 30 handmade cards for her local nursing home. “I wanted to help nursing homes out because, you know, everybody was at the nursing home and they didn’t have anybody to visit since it was COVID, and I just wanted to make them cards so they can feel better,” she says. “After I was done, we went to the nursing home, and I just gave them all the cards.”

When people are feeling sad, she says, “I come up to them and say, ‘Can we be friends?’ Like, if I’m not their friend. If they’re my friend, I say, ‘Can I hug you?’ but since it’s COVID right now, I give them a little finger hug, and I say, ‘Don’t worry, be happy.’” If she notices her friends are having a tough day, she’ll sometimes make cards for her friends that she gifts them at the end of the day.

When Julie isn’t spreading joy, she enjoys drawing, relaxing in the pool, and working out by doing gymnastics — including handstands, cartwheels, and backbends. She also enjoys gardening and growing vegetables. “We had big watermelons growing in the backyard, and we just ate it.”

Kennedy Nichols

Age: 8 • Town: Altoona
Her biggest achievement: Spreading joy with artwork

Kennedy Nichols’ motto for staying positive throughout quarantine has been “stay busy.” And it’s something she has taken to heart. A math genius, Kennedy participated in a STEM camp through Zoom, performed a dance routine for the Eau Claire Area School District virtually, and has stayed cheerful no matter what. Kennedy is a Girl Scout in Troop 3261 and enjoys earning patches and hanging out with friends.

To earn one of her patches, Kennedy sang carols to a local nursing home around the holidays. Fast forward to quarantine times, and she realized she had the perfect way to stay busy and spread some joy. “We were thinking about, well these people are really lonely,” Kennedy says. “They just kind of sit in their nursing homes and stuff. So we decided to paint and draw stuff for them so they can be a little happier.”

Using My Little Pony, Star Wars, and other themed coloring books, Kennedy went to work drawing things for complete strangers. She also stayed busy writing letters to friends and neighbors, writing at least one every day. Kennedy has simple advice for those who are looking to stay positive. “You should go on walks, hikes. Maybe go on a long hike, or maybe if you have a dog take him for a walk or play with your cat, read books, color,” she says. “Stay busy?” her stepmom, Sandy Ringle, questions. “Yeah,” Kennedy says.

Kinsley Kessler

Age: 4 • Town: Eau Claire
Her talent: Baked cookies for essential employees

If you ask Kinsley Kessler what keeps her busy, her answer is: Everything. While isolating at home due to the pandemic, Kinsley did a science experiment to grow rock candy, made homemade slime, learned about chemical reactions by creating volcanoes, created chalk art, grew flowers, walked her neighbor’s dog, raised monarch butterflies, learned to ride a bike without training wheels, and learned to swim without floaties. But, Kinsley also has a heart for others.

After noticing garbage strewn all over a park by her house, she went to work. “We picked up garbage,” Kinsley says, “picked up garbage from our park.” She also worked with her mom to bake cookies and friendship bread for local nurses working hard during the pandemic. An amateur chef, Kinsley has her own baking set — complete with baking supplies, an apron, and a hat. How do you help other people, according to Kinsley? “Being nice,” she says, “doing nice things.”

At only four years old, Kinsley believes you have to fill other peoples buckets up to share kindness. And it’s something she hopes to continue with her curiosity, joy, and awe.

Signe Gibson

Age: 10 • Town: Boyceville
Her hobbies: Caring for orphaned bunnies

Someday, Siggy hopes to adopt a golden retriever. An animal lover, Siggy has a heart for all kinds of animals, especially elephants, and someday hopes to be a veterinarian. She’s well on her way, as during pandemic times, she helped folks at the Chippewa Valley Wildlife Rehabilitation Center take care of orphaned baby bunnies.

“My bunnies, I have to hold them against my chest,” Siggy says, “but these bunnies, they fit in the size of my palm.” She loves spending time with animals. One of her friends recently lost her dog, and Siggy drew a heartfelt card for her friend to make her feel better. She could empathize because she really loves dogs — in fact, Siggy frequently walked dogs over the summer for someone who works long hours at their construction job to help them out.

Siggy is someone who likes to think on the bright side. When she’s feeling a little overwhelmed, she meditates and thinks about how she gets to be outside more often. This year, she gets to be homeschooled, which means that she has more time to volunteer with animals! She has experience doing all sorts of volunteer things, including sorting money that was donated to 92.9 the X’s Paws for a Cause fundraiser. Siggy also got a chance to do “Paw-casso” finger painting with animals at the wildlife center, which was something she really looked forward to. Art and animals are two of her favorite things!

Tristan Oneel

Age: 9 • Town: Eau Claire
His claim to fame: Creating artwork for family and friends

If you ask Skyler if he’s a good artist, he’ll tell you the biggest joke of all time with his signature, radiant grin: “No, I’m not.” Skyler loves to tell jokes and play games with his family, as well as playing piano (including “Moonlight Sonata” by Beethoven!), writing stories, and doing math.

He’s an advanced student — meaning he takes extra hard classes in school. But, his friends and family know the truth about Skyler: He is an incredible artist. During pandemic times, Skyler spread joy by creating art pieces and selling them to friends and family, raking in extra money that he spent on a new game to play with his family. If you ask Skyler his favorite color, he’ll say, “That’s a tough one. I like rainbow just all together because it is like pride and a lot of stuff … All the colors together are really good.”

A confident, radiant transgender boy, Skyler already can tell you what tough terms like “identity” mean. “It means what someone’s personality is and things that they do,” he says. “That’s a tricky question, mostly just people’s personality and how they feel about themselves.” Being transgender, according to Skyler, means accepting your true self. “It’s more than just saying he/him, or she/her, they/them — whatever — it’s more than that … You’re being who you are,” he says.

“It’s not just about gender.” When Skyler grows up, he hopes to be like his favorite Peanuts character Schroeder and play piano by becoming a piano teacher. And, just maybe, telling a few more of his awesome jokes.

Lilah Schmitz

Age: 9 • Town: Eau Claire
Her claim to fame: Earning her Parvuli Dei Catholic Knot award in Cub Scouts

Lilah Schmitz was the first girl in her cub scouts troop — Pack 133 — but she didn’t let that slow her down. “I was thinking of joining Girl Scouts,” Lilah says, “but then I heard that my dad was in Cub Scouts and my dad told me that they were recruiting girls, so I decided to probably join to see what Boy Scouts do instead of Girl Scouts do.” She earned her recruiter badge by inviting another girl into the troop. She loves the sense of accomplishment that comes after working hard and earning badges, as well as hanging out with some cool people. During pandemic times, Lilah’s dad was deployed with the military to Ukraine, which made Lilah sad, but she focused on the positives and managed to earn her Parvuli Dei Catholic Knot award. “It takes like, a lot of time,” she says, “Your church presents it to you and Cub Scouts also presents it to you.” To receive the award, Lilah had to do a book of nice things. One of the nice things that she did was creating a card for her great grandma Lilah that said “We Love You.” In her free time, she loves spending time with her friends, taking care of her chickens, and baking cupcakes and cakes — or watching the epic baking fails on Netflix’s original show, Nailed It!

Nora Gladitsch

Age: 6 • Town: Eau Claire
Her good deed: Helping those affected by riots in Minneapolis

Nobody offers a helping hand quite like Nora Gladitsch, who recently spent time volunteering in Minneapolis to help those who were affected by looting and rioting. She loved organizing diapers, wipes, baby formula, and feminine products at a local church for nearly four hours. “Our goal was to just drop off donations and come back home, and as soon as we got there, she got out of the car and she goes, “Mom, can’t we help for a little while?’” says her mom, Greta Gladitsch. “I thought it would be fun without my sister,” Nora chimed in. “We usually don’t go, just me and Mommy.” Nora loves to be helpful — especially with chores around the house, often helping with the dishwasher, laundry, and cleaning the toilets. During pandemic times, Nora also found joy helping out a local waitress at Hangar 54. Nora asked friends and family for donations and saved money to give to a random lucky local. “If somebody needs help, and nobody has it, I think it’s nice to do what’s right,” Nora says. In addition to spreading joy, Nora also works hard. Now a Daisy Scout, Nora sold 800 boxes of Girl Scout cookies this year. As a prize, she won a trip a summer camp, which was unfortunately canceled due to COVID-19. “Here’s my great idea: If we don’t go to camp any summer, we can just like, clean this bed out, move it,” she says, “and camp in my room!”

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