This was difficult. A few months ago, we asked Chippewa Valley Family readers to nominate local kids aged 10 years or younger for a special feature. Our goal was not to find “the best” kids in the area, but to discover outstanding examples of what Chippewa Valley youth can accomplish.
We were looking for kids with passion and creativity. Kids with big ideas. Kids who dive in. Kids who care about their families and their communities.
We asked you to submit diverse nominees in terms of age, ability, interests, and culture. And we were overwhelmed by your response.
Selecting the 10 kids you see here was no easy feat. It was a moving experience to read through your applications, and we’re so proud to live amongst so many phenomenal young citizens.
The 10 individuals to featured here aren’t the “winners.”. They’re simply a band of kids who demonstrate some of what’s great about growing up in the Chippewa Valley. We believe their stories are inspiring — for kids and grown-ups alike.
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Age: 9 • Town: Boyceville
Her Big Idea: A cookbook for people with reading challenges
Jaylin Hessler lights up when you mention the calf she’s showing for 4-H or her upcoming softball game, but her strongest passion may be for the kitchen. Jaylin says one of her best memories was, “When I learned how to cook with my grandma, mom, and dad.” Her mom Larinda remembers a toddler-aged Jaylin snooping around the cupboards, getting into the pots and dishes.
At three years old, Jaylin got into cooking with a batch of humble Rice Krispie treats. Now she cooks full meals every week. Her cooking is all the more impressive because a learning disorder makes it hard for Jaylin to read the recipes.
This difficulty led her to a tasty idea. She says, “I want to make a cookbook that kids like me can read.” She’s just getting started on it, but Jaylin’s cookbook will use lots of pictures and color-coded recipe ingredients will correspond to matching measuring cups and spoons.
As if that weren’t enough, her desire to help others extends beyond the human beings in her life. Jaylin also finds inspiration in her family’s five dogs. She says, “They love eating my food. I make them homemade dog treats, and I want to start making horse treats, too.”
Age: 5 • Town: Eau Claire
His Mission: Keeping the Earth clean
Whenever Callaway Olson visits a new place with his family, he’s got to check out the garbage and recycling companies that operate there.
At only 5 years old, Callaway has an inextinguishable passion for keeping the Earth safe and healthy. Not only does he stay on top of his own family’s recycling habits, but like a sustainability superhero, he wants the whole community — and the world on top of that — to make sure they’re responsible about it too.
The way Callaway puts it: “We need to keep the Earth clean and not hurt the plants. We don’t want to hurt the plants because they’re part of the Earth.”
Callaway has had the chance to tour recycling facilities, he dumped some waste on his local garbage truck, and he talks to everyone he meets about the need to be responsible about recycling. Every garbage day — his favorite day of the week — he sits on a chair with an orange vest and gloves waiting for the waste collectors to arrive. A clean Earth is Callaway’s dream, and one day when he’s in charge of a bunch of recycling companies, it’ll have a better chance than ever.
Age: 5 1/2 • Town: Eau Claire
His Passion: Being a real-life “Karate Kid”
Jett Huff has been practicing karate for almost two-thirds of his life, and he’s already got a roomful of trophies to prove it. He started learning martial arts with his dad, Curtis (owner of Land Shark Martial Arts) when he was only 2 years old.
Jett excels in self-defense and sparring as well as in using the bowstaff and sai (a three-pronged hand weapon). Jett has been taking part in karate competitions every few months since the age of 4.
“He’s very specific and exact,” his dad says. “He’s showing skill levels of 9- and 10-year-olds with body movement and memory skills.” Jett will even help demonstrate skills to his classmates! And while he says karate is fun and he’s excited to win trophies — some of which are literally as tall as he is — Jett is a well-rounded kid.
He loves art classes at Meadowview Elementary (where he just finished kindergarten), enjoys making jokes and writing silly stories, and likes jumping on the trampoline, swimming in the pool, and playing with his family’s seven pets. And if you didn’t pick up on it from his picture, he likes sharks, too. “They have really sharp teeth,” he explains. “And sometimes they can be blue in cartoons.”
Age: 6 1/2 • Town: Elk Mound
Her Goal: Doing the best she can in all her endeavors
One of Adeline Nehring’s favorite possessions is a baseball signed by her father and all the other head coaches of her T-ball team. She keeps it in a plastic bag to keep the ink from smearing.
Along with playing T-ball, Adeline likes to figure skate, visit her grandma, and make art. Last summer she went to an art camp where she learned how to make paper, weave, do embroidery stitches, and needle felt. She is proud of what she learned there, but her favorite kinds of art are drawing and coloring.
She has two bins of art projects she made with her mother — drawings and collages of all kinds. One used to be a snowman made of marshmallows … but she ate them off the page, she admits with a sheepish grin.
She likes her figure skating coaches — she thinks they’re very nice — and is thankful to them for helping her learn how to do tricks like the waltz jump. Adeline wants to do things perfectly and be the best, but sometimes that can be hard. When things don’t pan out the first time, she tries again “one or two times,” she says, until she gets it right.
Age: 6 • Town: Chippewa Falls
Her Love: Playing the piano
An appendectomy last December could barely keep Grace Hessel away from the piano. Though she had to skip a recital, she kept on practicing and wanted to know all about the performance she’d missed.
At six years old, after only a year of playing, Grace has already competed in numerous regional and state music recitals and competitions. Most recently, she participated in the National Federation of Music Clubs competition in Milwaukee, where she got to ride an elevator for the first time.
Grace is pretty proud to show off a collection of tags hanging from her music bag, each one awarded for reaching a goal — reminders of how hard she’s worked on her piano skills. Grace says one of her favorite musical memories is from her first recital, when she played I’ve Got the Joy, Joy, Joy. The crowd was “about one or two hundred or something,” she said casually.
She says she sometimes gets nervous when playing for large crowds, but for her, the biggest challenges are on the keys. She says, “Sometimes when you have to play it fast and then slow and then louder and then softer, it’s kinda hard.”
What’s next for Grace? She said she’s thinking about the cello, and added, “I would like to write my own music.”
Age: 6 1/2 • Town: Eau Claire
Her Gift: Spreading kindness through art
If you pass by Avery Leiknes’ home in Eau Claire, you may see her with a table and an easel in her yard, peddling her art. But when it comes to payment, Avery asks for something more important than money.
“I say, ‘What do you want for me to draw for you today?’ And they say something, and I draw it. And then at the end I say, ‘Please be kind to someone and give them the picture.’ ”
Avery was inspired to “sell” her art by her father, Jed, who died last December. Jed was an artist, explains her mother, Amanda Mondlock, and creating art has become a way for Avery to keep a part of him alive and to express her own feelings.
Drawing customers’ requests, Avery says, is a fun challenge that makes people happy. In addition to her front yard, Avery has brought her “Art for Kindness” project to Forage in Banbury Place, and it has been featured on WQOW News 18.
Avery loves reading, going to the park and beach, her pet bearded dragon, and — naturally — making art for herself and other people: “I want to keep doing it because I really want to draw a lot more for people and spread more kindness out in the world.”
Age: 10 • Town: Stanley
Her Good Deed: A lemonade stand to help a friend
Allison’s hair, which falls to her shoulders, hasn’t grown back to its old length since she donated it to make wigs for children with cancer last year. She said it used to be most of the way down her back. She gestured at her chin to demonstrate how short it was after the cut. It was weird at first, she said, but she thinks it was worth it.
Donating her hair is just one of the things Allison did to help her friend Sophia, who was diagnosed with cancer last year. When Allison found out that Sophia’s treatment would take place in Minnesota and cost a lot of money, she set up a lemonade stand with her friend Mallory to raise money for the girl. Together they raised more than $700.
Allison knows it’s important to help others. It feels good and improves people’s lives — and, if you are kind to others, they will be kind to you when you need it. This year, Allison will spend her time doing some of her favorite things: She’s going swimming, reading, and doing math. And of course, if someone needs help, she’ll be right there to lend a hand.
Age: 10 • Town: Chippewa Falls
His Philanthropy: A weekly bake sale to benefit Ronald McDonald House
From cakes to cookies, Sam Kasper is always challenging himself to create new, tasty confections. Macaroons are his favorite thing to make, but they’re challenging; if you use the wrong food coloring or mix the batter wrong, they won’t have the right consistency. Sam sees every recipe through, even if it seems like it won’t work out, so he can learn from his mistakes and try new solutions next time.
His persistence pays off. He sells his baked goods from a stand in his driveway every week.
Sam was born with a heart problem called Tetralogy of Fallot, which is the combination of four different defects. He had to have surgery when he was three months old, during which his parents stayed at the Ronald McDonald House. When his bake sale yielded success, he knew just what to do with his profits.
Sam has donated more than $100 to the Ronald McDonald house from his bake sale. He says it feels good to help other people, and he plans to keep setting up his bake stand; next up is double fudge brownies!
Age: 9 • Town: Strum
His Pastime: Visiting veterans at the group home
Max Bertrang likes to play baseball, but he likes it even more when one of the veterans at the group home near his house comes to see him play. He spends nearly every night visiting with the men at the home, listening to their stories and learning about what life was like decades ago. He helps them write out crossword puzzles, and watches Wheel of Fortune with them. Sometimes he joins them on group outings such as bowling, apple picking, and sometimes attending flag retirement ceremonies.
This summer he went with them to see the Blue Angels during the Chippewa Valley Air Show. Max knows it’s important to spend time with elders because of the wealth of knowledge they possess.
But they also enjoy hearing Max’s stories about playing outside in the summer and snowmobiling in the winter. When Max shot his first turkey this year, he was so excited he could hardly wait to get back to the home and tell “the guys.”
Age: 9 • Town: Fall Creek
Her Big Project: Helping build her family’s house
At 9 years old, Autumn Steinke already has more building experience than many adults. As her family laid out plans to build a home in Fall Creek, Autumn and her three older brothers were right there to help out.
Throughout the project, Autumn pounded nails, helped shingle the roof, carried building materials, learned about different tools, drilled screws in the subflooring, and used a caulk gun that was almost as big as she was.
“I wanted to know how, so then I can make a house when I get older,” she said. When it was time to move in, she painted her room — coral and turquoise (her favorite colors) — all by herself.
Now, when she’s outside playing with her dogs and hanging out at home, she can feel all the pride of getting her hands dirty, learning a ton, and helping build the place where she’ll make tons of memories with her family and friends.