Never too young to be a hero: National Liberty Museum honors kids with a cause

Dito Sakhokia, 18, from George Washington High School in Philadelphia receives the TD Bank Young Heroes Award at the National Liberty Museum. A recent immigrant and student of English, Sakhokia won multiple awards for public speaking. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Dito Sakhokia, 18, from George Washington High School in Philadelphia receives the TD Bank Young Heroes Award at the National Liberty Museum. A recent immigrant and student of English, Sakhokia won multiple awards for public speaking. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

When Dito Sakhokia immigrated with his family to Northeast Philadelphia from his native Georgia, near Russia, he couldn’t speak a word of English. Nevertheless, he entered George Washington High School as a freshman.

Determined to be able to communicate in America, he signed up for a public-speaking competition before he was even comfortable with conversational English.

“Oh, no. Of course not. I was not comfortable,” he said. “I was thinking in Georgian, and I had to translate. I challenged myself to just practice, practice, read, watch movies.”

Sakhokia would ultimately win prizes for public speaking at the Toastmasters. In the fall, he will begin studying business administration at Penn State.

Dito Sakhokia, 18, from George Washington High School in Philadelphia receives the TD Bank Young Heroes Award at the National Liberty Museum. A recent immigrant and student of English, Sakhokia won multiple awards for public speaking. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

And on Thursday, he was among the young people from around the region and around the country honored in Philadelphia for their good deeds. The National Liberty Museum, in the Old City neighborhood, recognized the children and teenagers at its annual Hero Awards.

Students from all over the country were awarded the TD Bank Young Heroes Award at the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia Thursday. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Among the honorees were an entire fourth-grade class from Wallingford, Delaware County, that collectively petitioned local businesses and the governor to eliminate plastic straws. As a result, June 1 was declared Skip The Straw Day by an official state resolution.

Mrs. Knight’s fourth grade class from Wallingford Elementary School in Wallingford, Pa., was awarded the TD Bank Young Heroes Award at the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia. The students wrote letters to local business asking them to make plastic straws by request only. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Margaret Boyd, 17, of Wilmington, started an effort to collect leftover flower arrangements from catering events and rearrange them for elder-care facilities.

Another teenager given the Young Hero award was Izzy Jolinger. She suffers from dyslexia, but was initially misdiagnosed at her public elementary school.

“They started to realize I had a problem in first grade,” she said. “I got testing done, and they didn’t think anything was wrong. They thought it was a speech impediment. Which was wrong. I didn’t have anything wrong with my speech.”

Izzy Jollinger, 17, from AIM Academy in Lower Gwenydd, Pa., receives the TD Bank Young Heroes Award ate the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia. Jollinger mentors learning-disabled Middle school children. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

It took a few frustrating years of failing in school before she was ultimately diagnosed with dyslexia. Jolinger transferred to AIM Academy, a private school specializing in kids with learning disabilities.

As a high school student, she joined, and eventually headed, a local chapter of Eye To Eye, a mentorship program for students with learning disabilities. Once a week for three years, Jolinger traveled to a middle school to teach younger kids how to cope with their learning disabilities.

“But they taught us just as much,” she said. “How they got through their struggles taught us how to get through ours.”

Jolinger is now 18 and will be attending Syracuse University in the fall to study engineering.

Manasi Soman, 17, from Hillsborough High School in N.J., received the President’s Scholarship and the TD Bank Young Heroes Award at the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia. She started a non-profit that encourages girls to explore STEM fields. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

For 19 years, the Liberty Museum has honored young people with its Hero Awards.

“It’s so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day,” CEO Gwen Borowsky told the honorees. “But when you stand up against injustice, you send a message to others that you are committed to protecting the cornerstone of democracy: liberty and freedom. That’s something a lot of people take for granted.

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