Cranbury Lions Club: ‘Every applicant was excellent’

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The Cranbury Lions Club annual awards dinner is not just a tradition but a way to celebrate local students for their achievements and community service.

The Lions Club recognized five students this summer during the awards dinner inside Teddy’s Restaurant in Cranbury on June 12. Those students received awards for the Stan Thomas Community Service Award, Todd M. Beamer Memorial Scholarship, David C. Tudor Scholarship and the Lions “We Serve” Scholarship.

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“This is a good way to support the community for certain and really helps the students,” said Mike LaPoint, former president of the Lions Club. “These students are really doing a lot of service on their own and I think it is a great thing to reward them.

“It helps them get into a new school and develop in their lives. I think this is the reason we keep doing (the scholarships and awards).”

The Stan Thomas Community Service Award was named after Stan Thomas, a lifelong Cranbury resident and Lion. The award honors those who exhibit a passion for helping others and the Lions Club hopes to inspire students and adults to find their own passion for volunteer work.

Each year, the award is presented to two Cranbury students who show extraordinary community service similar to Thomas.

Anya Kietlinski and Nandini Sharma were selected by the Lions Club Scholarship Committee to receive the Stan Thomas Community Service Award.

Kietlinski was the first female scout in Cranbury’s Boy Scout Troop 52 crossing over to the BSA Troop 52 Girl Scout Troop. She serves as a senior patrol leader and mentors other troop members.

Additionally, she provides community service for the Cranbury Education Foundation, Cranbury Presbyterian Church and the Cranbury Lions Club pancake breakfast.

“I was proud of myself to receive this award,” Kietlinski said. “I love the results at the end of community service knowing that I did something for the community and knowing I was a part of it.

“I always feel great pride.”

Sharma has supported Cranbury events and shows a passion for peace and causes through her efforts with the Cranbury School’s Perspective in Equity Action Club (PEAC) and work with the school’s vice principal on student initiatives.

“This is a great honor and an opportunity to strive even better to help the community,” she said. “This motivates me to keep doing better in helping people.”

Sharma is a leader on the track team and has led soccer clinics for underprivileged students through the Salvation Army. She has a blog called “Humans of Cranbury” talking about people and their stories and she performs Indian classical dance routines for senior citizens.

“Everyone has a story to tell, and I want to know when it comes to community service,” Sharma said. “Everyone helps everyone in Cranbury, and I want to give back to that.”

The Todd M. Beamer Memorial Scholarship, which recognizes a senior who best demonstrates citizenship, is named after Todd Beamer. Beamer helped lead passengers of United Airlines Flight 93 in stopping the terrorists who took control of their plane on Sept. 11, 2001.

The scholarship this year was awarded to Jessica Chen. Chen, who graduated from Princeton High School (PHS) in June, did volunteer work as a journalist and was chief editor of the PHS school newspaper – The Tower. The Scholarship Committee found her work with the newspaper most compelling among many of her extracurricular and community service activities.

“This Todd Beamer Memorial Scholarship meant a lot and is the culmination of all the things I did in high school,” she said. “I’m really glad to put this money toward my education. I’m excited for the new environment in college and new experiences.”

Louise Campi, head of the Cranbury Lions Club Scholarship Committee, said they received a letter from one of Chen’s teachers about how she steered The Tower through reporting the dismissal of former PHS Principal Frank Chmiel and how Chen was determined to write unbiased reporting for the paper.

“I loved it from the first article I wrote,” Chen explained. “…I really like being behind the scenes and analyze a story from multiple perspectives and get the truth out of all of it.”

The David C. Tudor Scholarship is given to a Cranbury high school senior or college student who shows a passion for science and major in science at an accredited college. Tudor was a member of the Cranbury Lions and practicing veterinarian on Station Road and a professor at Rutgers University.

Navika Sonig was this year’s recipient of the scholarship. Sonig graduated PHS in June and will be attending Rice University with a science major focused on cell and environmental science.

“To receive the David C. Tudor Scholarship was really exciting,” she said. “I’ve grown up in Cranbury and it means a lot to get the recognition. What drew me into science was climate change and a lot of the issues going on. I took a lot of science classes in high school and just got really interested in science.”

Sonig volunteered for Climate Action Plan initiative and reduction strategies at Princeton University. She founded the PHS Women’s Health Club, raised $1,000 and donated hygiene products to the RISE nonprofit organization, created workshops for women in Nigeria, and volunteered at Corner House Behavioral Health.

“I’m going to Rice University and I’m studying climate studies,” she said. “I’m hoping to do pre-law hopefully something in climate law, but we’ll see.”

The final student award and scholarship of the night was the Lions “We Serve” Scholarship, which is awarded to a high school senior or a graduate who has a high scholastic standing, demonstrates a financial need, accomplished in extracurricular activities and exhibits qualities of leadership and character.

This particular award is named in honor of Lion Patrick Meehan. The scholarship was awarded to Evan Pease, who graduated PHS in June.

“The hard work paid off finally,” Pease said “It means a lot to me and my family to be able to serve the community and giving back.

“It genuinely feels great to help people and what stood out to me has been seeing the children’s faces who I have been able to serve especially during Christmas.”

On Saturdays, Pease collects, organizes, and distributes food for Skeet’s Pantry in town located inside First Presbyterian Church of Cranbury, according to Campi. He has served as the director of the church’s Skeet’s Closet, which oversees the distribution of children’s clothes to those in need.

“We had one toy drive and clothing drive where families came in and the looks on their faces just made my day,” he shared.

During his time at PHS, he served as vice president of PHS’ Buddy Club where they helped build friendships and during the summers, he volunteered for Bible camp. He will be attending the University of Miami for college and additionally has athletic accomplishments.

“I plan on doing community service while at the University of Miami and I’m already looking into it,” Pease said.

The Lions Club received more than 10 applications this year for the award and scholarships.

“Every applicant was excellent, and we had tough choices in several areas this year,” said Campi, who is a also a former Lions Club president. “We had a lot of pride for our community seeing so many students coming forward with volunteer work, interests, and activism.”

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