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Eight students have been chosen as recipients of the 2019 Louisiana Young Heroes Awards. Now in its 24th year, the program celebrates the achievements of students who have inspired those around them, and have devoted their time, talents, and energy to making their schools, churches, or communities better places.

The Young Heroes and their families will be honored on Monday, April 15 with a luncheon at the Old Governor’s Mansion, a banquet at the Hilton Baton Rouge Capitol Center, and more.

This year’s Louisiana Young Heroes are:

  • Deondrais Boxley of Vidalia – 11th grader at Vidalia High School
  • Cade Canepa of Watson – 12th grader at Live Oak High School
  • William Gaspard of Moreauville – 12th grader at Louisiana School for Agricultural Sciences
  • Arianna Hannum of Metairie – 12th grader at Academy of Sacred Heart
  • Sydney Lewis of Pineville – 12th grader at Rapides High School
  • Ryan Smith of Baton Rouge – 9th grader at Cristo Rey Baton Rouge Franciscan School
  • Nalon Soileau of Zachary – 10th grader at University High
  • Jamone Williams of Baton Rouge – 11th grader at Cristo Rey Baton Rouge Franciscan School

Deondrais Boxley was diagnosed with epileptic seizures at birth. Raised by his grandmother after having been in foster care, he uses his past pain as incentive for his success in life. He is determined to stay focused on his schoolwork and be a positive role model for his younger siblings. That determination is paying off. Deondrais is President of Family, Career and Community Leaders of America, Class President, Vice President of the National Beta Club, and Vice President of Leadership in Distributive Educational Clubs of America for the State of Louisiana. He is a member of the Superintendent Advisory Council, Anti-bullying Committee, and Student Council and has spoken at the Vidalia Lions Club, Concordia Parish School Board meetings, and at Forest Aid Baptist Church in Natchez, MS using his life story as a source of inspiration to the youth of that community. Recently, Deondrais participated in a school beautification community service activity along with fellow classmates. He is passionate about his family, his school and his community.

Cade Canepa is passionate about healthcare and improving the world. He has volunteered over 500 hours with organizations including OLOL, Denham Strong, Mighty Moms, The Foster Village and Immaculate Conception Catholic Church. Cade overcame stuttering and is now a great public speaker, having served as President of Live Oak Key Club for the past two years, increasing enrollment and service hours by 50% over those two years. Cade is also Co-President of the Robotics Club, and is involved in BETA and band. He participates in a Capstone Program and was selected as a Boys State Delegate. Additionally, Cade is the 2017 Denham Strong Celebration of Hope honoree and a Live Oak High School Ambassador.

William Gaspard has persevered through his mother’s health challenges, and has a growing passion for serving others. He raised $30,000 for Feeding America’s Backpack Program and volunteers as the Director of Development for Truly Thrive, an organization that seeks to solve social and educational problems in his community. William provides students in the parish free school supplies, as well as enrichment activities at the Bethune Community Center. He partnered with Walmart and LA FFA to donate over 500 pairs of shoes to the Soles 4 Souls organization, and he spends 20 hours weekly doing community service. William is the Student Council President, FFA Chapter President, Beta President, and Louisiana FFA State Vice President and has served as the Area III Jr. Vice President, Vice President, and President for Louisiana FFA. He also competes on his schools Beta Group Talent team and Parliamentary Procedure Team.

Arianna Hannum lost her mother to a drug overdose and her father has been in and out of her life. When she speaks of her parents, she is always eager to explain why they are good people who made bad mistakes, not bad people. She is drawn to social activism and politics. In addition to participating in athletics, the student council, and campus ministry, Arianna spends a lot of her free time at a residential home for the elderly called Inspired Living. Arianna reads to patients suffering from dementia, plays games, and acts as a companion, and says that the human connection is something that she feels gets people through dark times. She also says it reminds her that life’s journey is long and thus hardships are brief episodes. Arianna is the definition of resilience and pays it forward by mentoring younger athletes. Her academic success is a reflection of her integrity, work ethic, and determination to capitalize on opportunity instead of focusing on that which has been lost.

Sydney Lewis was diagnosed with bicuspid aortic stenosis at 3 months old, but the condition has not hindered her love of sports or her commitment to service. After annual cardiologist visits, a significant change in the function of her aortic valve was detected, and Sydney underwent the risky but necessary Ross surgical procedure that involves double valve replacement. After sitting out of all sports for a year, Sydney worked very hard to regain playing potential. She has earned local, district, area, and state recognition in both softball and track, and holds many school records in sports. During over 200 volunteer hours, she has led or participated in school and city-wide clean-ups, and organized formal dress drives, canned food drives, and blue jean drives. She has volunteered at the Food Bank of Central Louisiana and assembled bookcases for children’s waiting rooms. Sydney has been class president for four years, as well as past vice president and current president of the student council. She is a member of the Youth Advisory Board, Youth Volunteer Corps, BETA, and Spanish Club.

Ryan Smith is an outgoing, positive and goal-oriented young man. As a young child, he was diagnosed with leukemia, an experience that affected his entire childhood, as Ryan had to face the uphill battle of regaining what he lost during treatment both physically and academically. In Ryan's case, due to his chemotherapy, he struggled to read. Because of this, Ryan has dedicated much of his time over recent holidays to beginning the program, 'Reading with Ryan,' where he visits children in local hospitals and reads to them. This opens the door for children to speak with him as someone who has survived what they are experiencing. Ryan is a member of the High School Junior Varsity basketball team, where his teammates appreciate his positive, focused and goal oriented leadership. Spreading hope is Ryan's mission, and he lives it every day.

Nalon Soileau was born with a congenital birth defect affecting both legs called tibial and femoral torsion. She was unable to walk until the age of three, and only then, with the assistance of orthopedic devices. Nalon had to work hard at the gym to train her muscles to achieve her goals of walking a pageant stage and running. She has since represented Louisiana in national pageants, made state finals on her high school track team, and has a passion for the social needs of children. Nalon volunteers at the Zachary Food Pantry and the GBR Food Bank, making bags before the holidays, so that children would have food during the break from school. She assisted Thomas Morstead’s Foundation “What You Give Will Grow” to allow her pageant sisters nationally to donate school supplies for Louisiana students after the 2016 Flood. Nalon builds tiny libraries to provide free books to children and adults, and spends weekends at The Foster Village in Livingston Parish sorting donations and making bags for foster children. Nalon inspires her teams, her physicians and everyone that sees her resilience.

Jamone Williams has risen from hard and humble beginnings to a position of leadership in school, at work, and in the community while encouraging those around him. Growing up in an environment surrounded by violence, homelessness, and overwhelming poverty, Jamone’s mother and grandmother worked hard to put the family in a better situation. In turn, Jamone has made the most of every opportunity afforded him and has made it his mission to give a hand up to anyone around him struggling with life's challenges. Through Cristo Rey Baton Rouge service projects, Jamone helps the homeless and helps beautify Sweet Olive Cemetery. Jamone has devoted hours, days, and weekends to many other worthy community service projects through school, church, non-profits, and personal endeavors, including litter abatement and recycling efforts. Jamone was named 2018 Religion Student of the Year, and continues to be a peer, mentor, tutor, and academic coach, as well as an outstanding student and athlete.

LPB and the Rotary Club of Baton Rouge present this annual program, made possible thanks to generous underwriters including Southern Lifestyle Development, Acadian Companies, and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana.