The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards happens once every year. It’s a prestigious event where two honorees (one middle-school and one high-school student) get the honor to travel to Washington D.C., meet their state’s senators, and get presented a medal of appreciation for the work they’ve done in their communities. It is the largest youth recognition program based exclusively on volunteer community service in the United States, and in May of 2019, 13-year-old Owen Ponto was South Dakota’s recipient to receive this opportunity.
“It’s really cool that I’m the one person of my age group that won this,” said Owen after describing the intricate award he received. “I also was awarded the Presidential Volunteer Award for the hours of volunteer work I’ve done,” he said with excitement.
Climbing for a Cure
Owen’s idea to climb for a cure started with an idea he had while golfing with his grandpa – who has received his Parkinson’s disease diagnosis 25 years ago.
“We both love hiking and the outdoors,” explained Owen. “So I thought, what if we could do a fundraiser to help find a cure for Parkinson’s disease?”
Taking the idea to his family, the Pontos got started. On September 8, 2019 – Owen’s third annual Climb for a Cure event will happen at Founder’s Park in Rapid City.
“Basically, it’s my family who helps me,” said Owen – talking about the duties assigned to his older brother, mom, and even his younger sister. In addition to business sponsors, Owen has been able to raise over $17,000 for the 2019 event (with more donations happening continuously).
“I just want to help people with Parkinson’s and their families,” said Owen. “It may not be today, or help my own grandparents – but it will help other people’s parents and grandparents.”
Ready to Climb
Supporters meet at Founders Park the day of the event. Once everyone is ready, the group hikes together to the top of M Hill – where a photo is taken and families get to enjoy a Popsicle before heading back down the hill.
Once returning to the park, attendees can participate in one of many games, activities, raffles, and a silent auction.
Although Parkinson’s disease is not yet curable, there are strides being made in research to catch the formation of the nervous system disorder early. And with the help of Owen and volunteers like him, research facility such as Banner Sun Health Research Institute (where his grandpa goes), get closer and closer to helping those with a diagnosis.
To get involved with Owen’s project, visit his Facebook Page: Owen’s Climb for a Cure and plan to attend the fall fundraiser on September 8, 2019.
WORDS BY JENNA CARDA
PHOTOS BY JESSE BROWN NELSON