By Jo Mathis/AAPS District News Editor
Isabel Sutton has enjoyed helping animals as far back as she can remember.
Whether it’s kittens, turtles, or the Eberwhite owls nesting in the woods, she’s all in.
By selling handmade “justIzzy” notecards on her Instagram account, Izzy has raised $375 for the Bird Center of Washtenaw County and $250 so far for the Gumbo Limbo Nature Center, a turtle rescue in Florida. She also supports the Starry Skies Equine Rescue and Sanctuary in Ann Arbor and the Feral Kitty Trappers TNR in South Lyon, and encourages less plastic consumption.
And last summer she held a fundraiser for A2Neighbors that supported local restaurants to deliver meals to healthcare workers and helped collect two vanloads full of supplies for AAPS Strategic Partnership.
So it’s not surprising that the Slauson Middle School seventh grader has been named a Michigan top youth volunteer of 2021 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, America’s largest youth recognition program based exclusively on volunteer service.
“Being recognized in such a way for doing projects that I care deeply about is just very inspiring,” says Izzy, 12. “I now feel even more committed to finding ways to use less plastic, as well as support nonprofits and important needs in my community. ”
As one of the state of Michigan’s two honorees, she and Maansi Nema, 17, of Novi, will each receive a $2,500 scholarship, a silver medallion, and an invitation to the program’s virtual national recognition celebration in April, where 10 of the 102 State Honorees will be named America’s top youth volunteers of the year.
Izzy was interested in helping animals and people from an early age, says her mother, Caroline.
“She has a very caring heart, and we encourage her to use her voice in positive ways too,” said Sutton, who with her husband, Michael, also have three sons: Paul, a sophomore at Albion College; and Brendan and Graham, a senior and freshman at Pioneer.
In first grade at Eberwhite, Izzy raised $300 for Crafty Cat Rescue. In second grade, she took an interest in birding after participating in a science Olympiad session called Feathered Friends and helped monitor the Eberwhite owls’ nest, making signs for the woods to remind people to protect the owls by keeping dogs on leash.
A few years ago, the family became interested in the vernal pools around the city preserves and signed up to volunteer monitoring spring frog calls with the natural area preservation.
Izzy poses with some of the supplies she collected for AAPS Strategic partnership last summer. She paired with Pioneer High School student Kata Bajcz to fundraise for a month, and together they collected two van loads of supplies and more than $1200 for local AAPS families in need.
“That’s when Izzy became interested in our neighborhood aquatic population,” said Caroline Sutton. “Last year we found a turtle hit by a car and she sent an email to the city council asking them to check on traffic speeds in residential areas.”
One of Izzy’s favorite volunteering experiences has been monitoring nesting boxes for Washtenaw County.
“I’ve been interested in ornithology since elementary school and I go out birdwatching a lot, so this was a really great experience to record data while seeing several different species of birds nest and then lay eggs,” she said. “Seeing the chicks fledge was amazing. It was a lot of work. We had to hike every few days for several months of nesting season to get to the boxes. In spring it was very wet and occasionally the paths would be flooded and we would have to wade through deep water. In the summer the path would become overgrown and sometimes my mom and I would be covered in ticks by the end of our two-mile loop. It was an adventure!”
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, conducted annually by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), honors students in grades 5-12 for making meaningful contributions to their communities through volunteer service.
Izzy and her mother saw an attachment on a school newsletter about the award and figured they’d give it a go.
“We weren’t familiar with it but Izzy thought it sounded like an amazing experience and was worth applying so we worked on the application together,” Caroline Sutton recalls, adding that Slauson Principal Lisa Anglin was very supportive and happy to offer a reference for her application.
Izzy is now in the running for the national award. She will be participating with her fellow state honorees in a three-day virtual event at the end of April. This event provides activities, speakers, and ways for all of the state honorees to connect and share experiences. That will be when they tell us who has been selected for the National award.
The 10 national honorees will earn an additional $5,000 scholarship, a gold medallion, a crystal trophy for their nominating organization, and a $5,000 grant for a nonprofit charitable organization of their choice.
“There are a lot of deserving candidates for this and I am honored to be in that group for consideration,” says Izzy.
In addition to volunteering, Izzy has been a member of the Slauson Choir Club as well as sports clubs such as synchronized swimming, cross country, and swimming. She is also on the Slauson Science Olympiad team.
Asked how virtual learning has been going, she summed it up as “pretty OK.”
“One thing that I discovered early is that it is important to get my school work finished quickly and then find things to do outside of the screen world,” Izzy says. “That has been difficult this year but not impossible. I also have a group of friends and we connect via FaceTime every day and that makes me happy. I am definitely looking forward to returning to in-person school and seeing my friends and teachers.”