Choffin instructor earns LifeChanger nomination

YOUNGSTOWN — Six area educators, including one from the Choffin Career and Technical Center in Youngstown, have been nominated for the 2021-22 National LifeChanger of the Year award, making them each eligible to receive one of 17 cash prizes up to $10,000 to share with their schools or the district.

There are 56 nominees from Ohio.

Sponsored by the National Life Group Foundation, LifeChanger of the Year recognizes and rewards the very best K-12 educators and school district employees across the United States who are making a difference in the lives of students by exemplifying excellence, positive influence and leadership.

Winners are chosen by a selection committee comprised of former winners and education professionals, and will be announced in early 2022. Nominees must be K-12 teachers or school district employees.

Courtney Kelly, public safety fire instructor at Choffin, was nominated by colleague Kristy Olinik.

Looking for an instructor to bring hope to low-income students and get their respect was not easy, Olinik said. When kids see no future, it’s hard to get them to believe there is a present.

“The beginning of the program was challenging. The instructors weren’t bad, but they did not bring the fire that I needed to the students,” Olinik said. “Courtney came in the third year, and I knew she would make the best choice. I just needed to get her on board with it. It was the quickest conversation ever, and since then, I would have no other instructor next to me.

“She is stubborn, and she’s so driven that you are almost afraid to let her down. She treats these kids like they are her own, and that takes a special kind of person. In two years, her effortless positivity and selflessness brought our program to all students passing state certification for national registry.”

Kelly has helped numerous students get into post-secondary education training and into hands-on careers in the surrounding fire departments. She has employed students who have left her class and goes above and beyond to make sure they succeed outside of school.

She uses her connections in the city to place students in volunteer fire departments with pay and EMT classes. She also assists students with getting into colleges and jobs that may not be related to her class, according to Olinik.

Other local nominees are:

• Lindsey Ison, a cafeteria supervisor at Fairhaven School in Niles, was nominated by her principal, Sandra Kernen. Ison also was selected as a 2020-21 LifeChanger of the Year Grand Prize Finalist and received a $5,000 cash prize to share with her school. Since then, she has used the funds to expand the school backpack program, begin a farm-to-table program, and start a student-driven composting program. She’s now looking to obtain funds for a school greenhouse to begin a student-led program. She also is on this year’s selection committee.

• Barb Meyer, pre-nursing phlebotomy instructor at Trumbull Career and Technical Center, was nominated by an anonymous former student.

• Stacey Biery, library aide at Bascom Elementary School in Leavittsburg, was nominated by Courtney Cowhick, a parent of a student.

• Christine Meeks, a third-grade teacher at LaBrae Intermediate School, was nominated by an anonymous member of the community.

• Elisabeth Paster, a science teacher at LaBrae High School, was nominated by one of her former students, Timothy Perry.



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