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Three Westwood students win RAY Awards

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By James Kinneen
Hometown Weekly Reporter

On Tuesday night, May 21, the Westwood Rotary Club and Westwood Youth and Family Services recognized their three RAY (Recognize a Youth) award winners inside the Westwood Library. This year, the award, given to a young person in the community that has demonstrated a commitment to community service, went to Philip Bligh, Elizabeth Bunker and Kayla Dolley.

First to receive his award was Philip Bligh, a senior at Westwood High School who will be attending Montreal’s McGill University (often referred to as the Harvard of Canada - though McGill graduates will tell you Harvard is the McGill of the United States) in the fall. Nominated by Emily Stimson Stugg, Bligh is a youth leader at St. John’s, where he is involved in the church’s outreach program; he serves the homeless at Oasis Coalition and Ecclesia Ministries in Boston. He also took part in a service trip to Honduras with Urban Promise Honduras, all while being a member of the varsity cross country and track teams, Model UN, chess team, and legislative council, and serving as vice president of the National Honor Society.

When asked about the highlight of his service, Bligh related the story of a homeless man he met in Boston who always carried a pen to draw a smiley face on his hand. Bligh noted that the man taught him to focus on the positive, even in the most trying of times.

Next was Westwood High junior Elizabeth Bunker. Nominated by Saint Margaret Mary religious education director Karlene Duffy, Bunker teaches a religious education class and assists with the church’s vacation Bible camp. A member of the church’s high school youth group, Elizabeth finds time to volunteer with the homeless in Boston, participate in the Komen More Than Pink Walk and Relay For Life, all while participating in Westwood’s track and field teams, wind ensemble, band, and junior symphony.

With her question being centered around why community service was so important to her, Bunker spoke of how her mother had breast cancer when she was fourteen; the community came together to giver her rides and bring her meals while her mother struggled with her health.

The award winners listen to a crowd member’s “happy dollar” story. Photos by James Kinneen

The award winners listen to a crowd member’s “happy dollar” story. Photos by James Kinneen

“Looking back now, I’m in awe of the kindness and generosity of our community,” she declared, noting how much Westwood citizens helped her get through this trying time.

The final award went to Kayla Dolley, a senior and future nurse who was nominated by Rev. Dr. Stephanie A. Salinas of the First Baptist Church. A member of the church’s diaconate, band, and youth group, Dolley also developed and maintains an Instagram account with 90,000 followers dedicated to offering support to people with MS. She is also a varsity soccer player, student council member, student ambassador, track team member, and first-chair flutist in the honors wind ensemble.

When asked about the most memorable moment of her service, Dolley spoke of helping a woman at Rosie’s Place who was close to her age. It meant the world to Dolley when that woman thanked her for all the help.

After the awards were given out, the Rotary Club facilitated a “happy dollars” event, wherein crowd members were asked to hold up a dollar for donation and tell the audience something for which they were happy. Most people said they were happy to have such great kids, like these three, in their community, while Kayla’s mother said she was happy her daughter chose to study nursing in college.

Kayla’s dad held up a dollar immediately after, and said he was happy she was moving out.

One of the most interesting parts of the night came when one Rotarian spoke of how many great nominees the group had to turn down for the award, showing that Westwood is filled to the brim with great kids looking to help the community. They may not be doing as much as Philip Bligh, Elizabeth Bunker and Kayla Dolley - but that’s a pretty tough group to match.

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