The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

April 27, 2014

Spreading joy: Girls organize event for special needs kids

Frank Sojak
fsojak@tribdem.com

JOHNSTOWN — Last year’s winners of the Cambria-Somerset Outstanding Young Woman Scholarship Program found a way to share the joy of winning.

Alixandra Collins, the winner from Somerset County, and Karlene Koh, the Cambria County winner, organized a Special Outstanding Young Woman “Believe in Yourself” event April 5 at Bishop McCort Catholic High School.

A total of 11 special needs young women from Cambria and Somerset counties participated in the event.

Alixandra said the young women, ages 15 to 21, competed in the same manner that she and Karlene did during last year’s scholarship program.

Some of the young women played musical instruments during the talent portion of the event, while others sang or read poems. The young women also got to show off their interview skills.

One difference was that instead of having one winner from each county, each of the young women was a winner, said Alixandra, the daughter of Bryan and Angie Collins of Somerset. Each received a tiara, sash, flowers and a plaque for her efforts, she said.

During a workshop before the event, Alixandra said she and Karlene and others did the hair, makeup and nails of the young women. The young women also wore dresses donated by the Cinderella Project, she said.

“They looked like they were going to the prom,” said Alixandra, a senior at Somerset Area High School.

“Not many special needs students get the chance to attend the prom. They felt like princesses.”

Alixandra, secretary of the senior class, said she and Karlene choose the event because they wanted to target a group of students who normally do not get the opportunity to participate in such activities, she said.

“They were so happy,” Alixandra said about the participants. “They all became good friends. They loved being in front of the crowd.”

She said donors from the community supported the event.

Karlene, senior class president at Bishop McCort, said the event was a success with a large crowd coming to the see the program.

“They were so grateful,” she said about the young women.

“They had a wonderful time. It was one of the girl’s birthday, and she said it was the best birthday gift that she could have.

“They did a good job with the program. They captured the audience’s attention.

“It opened my eyes to something totally different.”

Karlene, the daughter of Drs. Enrique and Jeanmarie Koh, Johnstown, said the young women were grateful for everything that they have and showed her what true happiness was.

“It made me want to be more like them in that they truly enjoy life.”

Both Alixandra and Karlene said they hope the winners of this year’s Cambria-Somerset Outstanding Young Woman program will continue the program next year.

For their efforts, Alixandra and Karlene are the Persons of the Week.

Sarah Reese of Colver, whose daughter Kendra Reese was one of the young women who competed, said her daughter and the others enjoyed the event.

“You could see the thrill on their faces,” Reese said.

“Everybody made a big fuss over them. They liked the extra attention that they received. They deserve it.”

Reese said it was nice of Alixandra and Karlene to put on the event.

“If you are a parent of a child with special needs, events like this mean a thousand times more than what anybody realizes.”



 Frank Sojak is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/FrankNews10. Tribune-Democrat editors select a Person of the Week from nominations made by readers. To nominate someone, call 532-5058, 24 hours a day.