Samantha Stapper

Samantha Stapper, 17, is honored at the Central Texas Incredible Kids Celebration Thursday, April 10. Stapper is a senior at Belton High School.

Rusty Schramm

BELTON — The 15th annual Incredible Kids Celebration honored 10 Central Texas students, as families, friends and supporters gathered at the Bell County Expo Center on Thursday for the event hosted by the Central Texas Youth Coalition.

Each year, 10 students are recognized at the celebration. Each student overcame hardships, and did community service with academic and social achievements. For visitors, it was a chance to see these 10 young people shine, but for many of the students, getting there was a rough road.

One of the most unusual stories was Rosaline Abuwe Smith’s. Rosaline, now a senior at Salado High School, has been in the U.S. for only five years.

She and her younger brother were sent to America from Rwanda by their mother when things became too dangerous to stay. Rosaline had extended family murdered in Rwanda’s violent turbulence. When she and her brother came to this country, they went to a distant cousin in Maine. When that cousin had to travel back to Rwanda, they were sent to Plano.

When Rosaline arrived in America, she spoke no English. But she hasn’t let that slow down her endeavors. Her hope is to enlist in the Marines to give back to the country that embraced her and her brother.

Nathan Diederich, a senior at Ellison High School in Killeen, was well on his way to getting a college soccer scholarship. All that changed when he was diagnosed with a rare blood-clotting condition that had formed a blood clot on his brain. Due to the nature of the condition, Nathan can no longer play contact sports, and playing soccer the way he had been was out.

“It was a total life goal change,” he said. “It was a rough couple of months. I lived off the couch for a while because I was in a lot of pain.”

His athletic abilities aren’t going to go to waste.

Nathan has started building on plans to go into exercise science. He still has dreams of working with professional sports teams or maybe in Olympic training centers.

“I’m trusting in God that he has a plan,” said the 17-year-old, adding he was humbled by the Incredible Kid recognition.

Other students recognized were Emily DeGraaf, Brody Grogan, Lance Dugger, Abigail Patterson, Samantha Stapper, Nathan Wallace, M’ryle-Nicole Spencer and Michael Eckert.

Grogan and Dugger were not present at the ceremony. Brody, a senior at Belton High School, was visiting a college in Maine where he has been offered a full scholarship.

Lance, a senior at the Career Center in Killeen, was taking partin an academic regional competition.

His father, who accepted his award on his behalf, said he had placed first in two out of 16 categories.

“I’ve had the privilege of reading about the absolutely incredible young people being honored here, and all I can say is, ‘Wow!’” said keynote speaker Carlyle Walton, president and CEO of Metroplex Health System. “Winston Churchill said, ‘What a pity youth must be wasted on the young.’ Churchill was very wrong. We are in great hands.”

Walton ran through Abraham Lincoln’s early career failures, how he lost over and over again before finally winning the presidency. He compared the students to the president.

“(These students) have allowed their happiness to be dictated by their disposition and attitudes, not their circumstances. Every one of them embodies amazing, extraordinary, marvelous,” he said.

Each Incredible Kid was introduced by a representative of the coalition’s top business sponsors before they received a special plaque in recognition of their achievements.

Also recognized for their contributions and service were incredible adults Jay Taggart, Glen Grandy and Robin Battershell. The Greater Killeen Lions Foundation also was recognized.

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