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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.