FHN Andrew Tollefson Announced Winner of 2017 Youth Leadership Award

Posted on 03/29/2018
FHN Andrew Tollefson Announced Winner of 2017 Youth Leadership Award

Andrew Tollefson, a junior at FHN, has been awarded the 2017 Youth Leadership Award. Organized by the Governor’s Council on Disability, the Youth Leadership Award recognizes young adults with disabilities who demonstrate their leadership abilities by going above and beyond in their community. Andrew was chosen for the award based on his involvement in a wide variety activities that improve the quality of life of people within the state of Missouri who live with disabilities.

“As a student with motor and communication differences, Andrew knows first hand the challenges that a label can present, but he has made it his life’s mission to help people see beyond their first impression,” said Cathy Fortney, Therapy Services Coordinator for FHSD. And what an impression he leaves. He is always smiling, zipping through the hallways, has a great sense of humor, and is very social. “He always has a warm smile and a contagious laugh. He’s truly a delight to be around!” said Fortney.

Every day, Andrew strives to help people better understand the ability behind disability. Not only is he a force to be reckoned with academically (perfect attendance since sixth grade, a near 4.0 GPA, and a repeat Honor Roll member), Andrew is extremely active in extracurricular activities. He’s a member of the Knights of Excellence, and We Are All Knights Club. He mentors students not only during freshman orientation, but year-round. Andrew serves as a tutor at Henderson Elementary, listening to students read and assisting the classroom teacher in a multitude of ways.

During elementary school, Andrew attended DisABILTIES Awareness Week with other students in his grade. Being inspired by the event, he began sharing his story with students in fourth grade. Putting himself right in front of an auditorium of almost 100 elementary-aged students, he wants to share a powerful message. “I hope that they can see during my presentations that I can do almost everything that they can do with the help of technology and paraprofessional support,” said Andrew. “By sharing my personal story and answering their questions, I think people are more aware and accepting of those with special needs.”

The younger students are given an opportunity to ask questions about Andrew’s life experiences and see pictures of him from when he was a child. “Andrew and him mom talk about the equipment he uses throughout his day and what the equipment is used for,” says Michelle Jolly, Occupational Therapist with FHSD who helps coordinate the event. “The students really enjoy meeting Andrew and learning about his day and how he is able to do things that everyone else gets to do, but in a way that may look a little different.”

Outside of school, Andrew has found other ways to advocate. He’s been a guest reporter on Fox 2 News to help fundraise for Variety the Children’s Charity. He’s also advocated for people with disabilities on The Thread, a local television show dedicated to building and serving the St. Louis community.

“I think it’s important for everyone to see that students with disabilities are kids just like they are and we want to be included too,” said Andrew. “I want them to see that they do not need to be afraid and that it is OK to ask us questions.” Andrew enjoys being visible at school and after-school events.

As a big sports fan, Andrew hopes to work in the sports field after attending college. Playing on a variety of teams throughout the years (St. Louis Challenger Baseball League, Disabled Athletes Sports Association’s power wheelchair soccer team), he also pushed his own personal limits at Variety Children’s Summer Adventure Camp and Teen Camps the past few years. He has helped to support community baseball teams by keeping track of statistics for the coaches.

Looking at his accomplishments, it’s easy to see why Andrew was awarded the Youth Leadership Award. Constantly pushing forward and advocating for those with different abilities, he has positively influenced the lives of so many individuals.

Congratulations, Andrew!

Photo courtesy of Alex Rowe.

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