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Hooper: Athena's Young Women of Promise already making their mark

Academy of the Holy Names junior Elizabeth Dolan looked out from a stage at the 400-plus participants gathered for the Cross Out Cancer 5K fundraiser her new nonprofit organized last fall and saw so much more than a group that helped her raise nearly $50,000 for the families of cancer patients at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital.

As one of the Athena Society's 2016 Young Women of Promise, Elizabeth explained to a room full of Tampa's most prominent and successful business women on April 7 that she witnessed a gathering of caring people who would inspire her for years to come.

"I saw my academy sisters mixed with Berkeley (Prep) students, Robinson (High) kids, Plant (High) teenagers, cancer families from All Children's, a team of lawyers who helped me put together my nonprofit and all sorts of other people," Elizabeth said.

"In creating this 5K, I had created a community, a fellowship of teens, children and adults alike who came together to fight cancer and more importantly support these families who endure so much more than we will ever have to."

Elizabeth's remarks underscored an emerging theme among the 10 recipients: community. These dynamic teens, all high school juniors, have gone beyond simple service requirements to show true care for making our home a better place.

Plant High's Gillian Minnehan was part of the community Elizabeth described. She serves on the board for the nonprofit and draws personal inspiration to support cancer fighting cancers because she lost her father to leukemia.

Yet Gillian speaks with steely resolve, sharing how her failure to make the Florida All-State Band twice drove her to succeed on the third try.

Lennard High's Erin Hanson also helps raise money for cancer as a participant in multiple American Cancer Society Relay for Life events. She knows all too well the fear the disease can strike because doctors diagnose her with Stage 2 melanoma in 2014.

She can tell you the exact date if you want.

"I don't see my actions as heroic," Erin said. "I see them as an everyday part of who I am."

Hillsborough High's Meghana Bhimreddy created Student Scribes, a program that helps fourth- and fifth-graders at Mendenhall Elementary School produce a school newsletter.

She says she has learned as much from the students as they've learned from her.

Alexi Longo could revel in overcoming inattentive attention deficit disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder to become a top student at Sickles High, but she goes beyond self and devotes much of her time to helping other students overcome similar mental disorders.

She hopes to make it her career.

King High's Heta Patel couldn't sit still after learning about the community's hunger and nutritional problems, so she led an effort through her nonprofit, Drives for Smiles, to collect 2,062 pounds of food for Feeding Tampa Bay.

The charitable donations also inspired Heta, a singer/songwriter, to compose a symphony.

Mira Rajani of Berkeley Prep doesn't write symphonies — not yet anyway — but she does write grants for the Toymakers of East Lake, a nonprofit that delivers handmade wooden toys to needy children.

Her latest grant application landed the group $19,500, its largest gift ever. But who's helping who?

"This organization has done more for me than I could ever do for it," Mira said.

As a freshman, Steinbrenner High's Mary Deschler gained a sense of community from her involvement with student government. Now backed by her "family," she's headed to Girls State.

Newsome High's Marcella Benner actually fostered a sense of family as captain of the school's cross country team.

Wharton High's April Olson spoke of varied achievements, but noted parents, teachers, counselors — essentially community — connected them all.

Elizabeth may have best summed up the sense of community connecting this year's winners with a keen observation:

"Life is not about money or success or even the jobs we will pursue or the places we will go," she said. "It's about the community along the way. It's about inspiring, about starting our own movements that emblazon us. It's about loving and uplifting.

"That is what impacts the world. That is how we leave our mark."

These young women of promise have already left their mark.

That's all I'm saying.

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