SEBRING - Six Highlands County residents are finalists for the coveted Judge Clifton M. Kelly Champion for Children Award.
The Champion for Children Foundation, in partnership with the Children's Services Council, established the award 14 years ago to recognize on an annual basis outstanding service by child advocates who have greatly improved the quality of life for children and youth in Highlands County.
This year, the foundation received 34 nominations for this award. From this group, six finalists have been selected. The finalists, all child advocates who have successfully impacted the lives of thousands of children in the community, will be honored at a specially planned, by invitation-only awards gala at 6 p.m. Sept. 26, at Grace Bible Church in Sebring.
The finalists are:
Charlene Edwards, who has worked with and advocated for children for 40 years. Since 1989, she has worked in Highlands County and throughout 21 Florida counties with Redlands Christian Migrant Association. Edwards has served in a number of different positions with RCMA. She has been a program coordinator, an administrator, the head start manager and is currently the director of operations/Head Start director.
Pam Karlson has been advocating for children for 27 years. Beyond the daily demands of her law practice coupled with the challenges of parenting her two young children, Karlson volunteers with the Youth Development Council, Take Stock in Children, Ag-Venture and other youth-centered organizations. She also supervises student law internships and teaches vacation Bible school at her church.
Chris and Tayna Taylor are dedicated child advocates who are fully committed to making a difference in the lives of children and youth in our community. Chris is the youth director at Grace Bible Church and Tayna serves in a highly visible leadership position with Youth for Christ. They are also immersed in vacation Bible school, theatrical productions, mission trips and many other youth-oriented activities.
John Varady has been a dynamic educator with the Highlands County School Board for the past 18 years and has been a coordinator with the Heartland Educational Consortium since 2008. Aware of the value of personal interaction and building relationships, Varady is co-founder of the Miracle Baseball League in Lake Placid, established seven years ago. The league provides an opportunity for children and adults with physical and/or cognitive disabilities to play baseball.
Sandi Whidden has been an educator in Highlands County for the past 30 years and the principal of Sebring Middle School for the past 12 years. Her entire adult life has been dedicated to making an impact on the lives of children in our community. Whidden, a child advocate, is quick to deflect credit or honor for the outstanding academic accomplishments at Sebring Middle School, but instead prefers to pass on accolades to her staff. Of her many awards and recognitions, she was recently named Highlands County's Principal of the Year.
The premier sponsor for this year's Judge Clifton M. Kelly Champion for Children Awards Gala is Highlands Regional Medical Center.
More than 400 community leaders are expected to be in attendance to honor these child advocates. For information, call Kevin J. Roberts, CEO of the Champion for Children Foundation, at 381-4040.