Saskatchewan Junior Citizens of the Year chosen in virtual ceremony

Darshana Lanke, pictured here, was one of four Junior Citizen award recipients. Supplied

The names of four Saskatchewan Junior Citizens of Year were announced Wednesday by Lieutenant-Governor Russ Mirasty, the Saskatchewan Weekly Newspapers Association (SWNA) and SaskPower.

The award recognizes youth aged 8 to 18 for their ability to overcome challenges, their positive lifestyles, and community and school spirit as well as their caring personality and responsibility.

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This year’s recipients are Megan Ebel from Weyburn, Darshana Lanke from Saskatoon, Michael Pelechaty from Prince Albert and Ashya Siermachesky from Melfort.

Mirasty called the recipients “impressive individuals.”

“Despite personal challenges, each recipient has made remarkable contributions to their family, school and community and is very deserving of this prestigious award. I am grateful to the Saskatchewan Weekly Newspapers Association for managing this award program and to SaskPower for encouraging youth through a generous bursary.”

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SWNA executive director Steve Nixon said it was “incredibly challenging” to choose just four winners out of a large selection of nominees.

“This year, as in all years, all recipients of this award are outstanding examples of Saskatchewan’s extraordinary youth,” Nixon said in a press release.

Each recipient receives a $3,000 bursary from SaskPower.

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One of this year’s award recipients, Pelechaty, said he was in shock when he first found out he had won.

“I was really happy to know that I was being appreciated and recognized through all the hard work I’ve done for the community and everybody around,” Pelechaty told Global News.

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The Grade 12 graduate was diagnosed with profound deafness when he was born. Pelechaty explained his family had two choices: “One choice was to be deaf and learn sign language and adapt and learn how to do everything through sign language, or get cochlear implant surgery,” Pelechaty said.

Pelechaty said his family decided to go with the cochlear implant surgery, explaining that there aren’t many deaf people in their community so not many people would use sign language.

“They thought I’d be more successful with cochlear implants, and thankfully I was,” Pelechaty said.

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The family had help from two charities – Saskatchewan Pediatric Auditory Rehabilitation Centre (SPARC) and Saskatchewan Royal and Purple Elks, who assisted Pelechaty through the process.

To give back to these organizations, Pelechaty started collecting tabs off pop cans. He was able to fill 16 big barrels with the tabs and donate them for the organizations to use for wheelchairs or other needs.

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“I really feel like they helped me out and I feel like it’s the best thing I can do to help out.”

Pelechaty is also planning on mentoring hearing impaired children at Sask AG Bell Camp once it’s safe to reopen with the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Pelechaty offered advice for hearing impaired children.

“Being called or being profound deaf, it’s not a weakness, you can still find your way to things like I still found my way to be in every sport I wanted to be in.”

Pelechaty added that there will be challenges, but still encouraged others to find their place, saying “there’s always a way around things.”

Pelechaty said despite all the challenges he’s faced, he sees himself as a regular person.

“I don’t define myself as deaf and different in any way. I try to keep myself just the same way as everyone else. And I really think I am. I don’t want to define me in any way.”

Pelechaty is headed to Sask Polytechnic next year taking carpentry pre-employment at the Prince Albert campus.

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Another recipient, Darshana Lanke, was nominated by friends who were lucky enough to tell her she won.

“I was very excited when I first heard. I think this award is just a celebration of everything that I’ve accomplished in the past four years and 12 years, I guess, of my life,” Lanke told Global News.

Out of her many accomplishments, Lanke said co-founding Youth 4 Change in collaboration with the Lung Association of Saskatchewan is the one she is most proud of.

When Lanke started Grade 9, she noticed a lot of students vaping and a larger “vape culture.”

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In Grade 10, she found Youth 4 Change that advocates for provincial or federal legislation around vaping or vape products.

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Youth 4 Change also has educational resources to teach students and young people about the negative consequences of vaping.

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“We actually were successful in passing Bill 182, which is the tobacco control amendment. That regulates vaping and vape products in the same manner as tobacco,” Lanke explained.

“I think this experience that I had specifically with Youth 4 Change really taught me that young people have a lot of power in our voices,” she added.

Lanke is off to the University of Alberta in the fall for Engineering. She plans to spend her bursary on tuition and living costs.

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