At 16, Chelsea Pitonyak has character


In Jeffrey Thomas Hayden’s short life, he was a gifted student, a competitor, and a good friend of Chelsea. He loved sports but he especially loved a challenge. That was to be his greatest strength and his greatest loss. It was September, 2004, one month shy of his 12th birthday, when he lost his valiant battle with an inoperable brain tumor. Chelsea was one of his biggest fans and prayerful supporters. His death left a chasm in her heart but she never wanted to forget her friend. Barely a teenager herself, she began the tireless journey alongside Jeffrey’s parents raising money and awareness to save the lives of other children sharing the same diagnosis. This fall marks the fifth year for Chelsea’s JTH Foundation Book Drive for Children’s Hospital held in her best friend’s memory. With more than 15 Lakota schools now involved, she’s collected more than $20,000 in books, dvd’s, and videos. Chelsea also volunteers for a therapeutic riding program at Winton Woods where she’s learned great respect for the children’s abilities to push themselves out of their comfort zones. Active in and out of school, she has earned the Bronze and Silver Awards in Girl Scouts and is a member of the National Honor Society, the Student Task Force Community Service Program, and has participated in mission trips to rural Liberty, Kentucky. “Community service is important to me because I should use my talents to help those in need. It is very fulfilling to be able to do good towards others and see it expand,” Chelsea said.

Chelsea is one of 40 teens who will be honored on November 6 by the YMCA of Greater Cincinnati for exemplifying the YMCA’s core character values – caring, honesty, respect and responsibility. In my communication work with the YMCA, I have had the greatest pleasure to learn about and get to know them all. They are true inspirations. Thank you to the YMCA for working to instill character values in young people, and for celebrating those who choose to live their lives with character!

To learn more about the YMCA Character Awards, you can visit

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