2015 Sonlight Scholarship Winners

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Sonlight students exemplify academic excellence, creativity & servanthood

Congratulations to our 2015 Sonlight scholarship winners! Like so many Sonlight students, they have a heart for learning, exhibit exceptional character, are active in their communities, demonstrate leadership skills, are creative, cultivate spiritual depth and are well-prepared for the academic rigors of college.

What part does a Sonlight homeschool education play in the past successes and future goals of these students? All have completed at least five Sonlight History / Bible / Literature programs (including high school-levels). Their exceptional talent, along with an eagerness to follow God's leading, make it a joy for Sonlight to invest in their continuing education.

Sonlight has awarded over one million dollars since we began the scholarship program, including $92,000 to these 13 winners over the next four years. We look forward to seeing all God does in and through them as they take what they've learned - through Sonlight and their homeschool experience - into college and the world beyond.

$20,000 Scholarship Winner

($5,000 each year)

Keila Pieters

Top scholar Keila Pieters of Mexico has been studying with Sonlight since kindergarten. Mom Tracey reflects, "She was born to be a world changer." A kaleidoscope of interests and creative pursuits, she's an avid reader, writer, photographer, web designer, blogger, film editor, cook, seamstress, painter, calligrapher, musician and more.

As a missionary kid, Keila has been involved in ministry from a young age. Drawing on Hebrews 4:16, her life exhibits a goal for which she strives: "I wish to be bold!" Her heart for missions has led her to serve in Mexico, Malawi, Peru and Uganda. On one such venture at age 16, when the attending pharmacist returned to the States, Keila stepped up and took the lead of the pharmacy for the rest of the medical brigades, which reached thousands of needy Ugandans.

Fueling her dream to become a medical missionary, Keila has been accepted to a summer internship in Tanzania, where she'll shadow healthcare professionals. Her SAT score makes her eligible for the Honors Fellows program at her first-choice school, Calvin College, where she plans to double major in biochemistry and English.

Though she has the drive and talent to go far in the private sector, she's committed to serving the poor and forgotten. "I desire to live my life with unhindered faith, uncertain risk and unexpected adventure," says Keila.

$10,000 Scholarship Winners

($2,500 per year)

Hannah Allison

Hannah Allison of Bend, OR, memorized more than 1,000 Bible verses in less than six months for the National Bible Bee. Her documentary about special-needs children, Labeled, was featured on Family Talk with Dr. James Dobson. She's a champion fiddler and two-time Scripps National Spelling Bee competitor, as well.

Inspired by two sisters with special needs, Hannah has a passion for "the least of these." She was just 15 years old when she started producing the film that became a "Best Documentary" and "Audience Choice" Hollywood Film Festival award-winner. "I prepared to the best of my ability, and knew that I would have to trust God to provide the rest," she recalls.

Never one to let her dreams be deterred, at age 11 she had an idea to start a family band, despite the fact that only she played an instrument. Everyone started practicing and The Allison Family Band was born. She has since spearheaded two CD recording projects that include her original arrangements and Wonderfully Made, a Psalm 139-inspired song she penned.

Contemplating her future, Hannah resolves to "stay focused on God and always be ready to say 'Yes' to His call."

Tabitha Golden

Tabitha Golden of Colorado Springs, CO, found her calling after discovering how much she loves science and public speaking. "I want to be His messenger of hope and healing," she says of her decision to become a registered nurse. She recently participated in the Learning Link Observation Program, which enabled her to shadow nurses in various medical positions and confirm her path.

Tabitha's supporters describe her as personable, dependable, compassionate and energetic. These qualities are evident in her roles as community volunteer, Vacation Bible School leader, and AWANA Journey and Summit team member, where she worked with small groups and younger children, and competed nationally in various skills categories. "She has blossomed and the kids love her," observes her director.

Tabitha is also a fine arts pianist, competitive figure skater, National Honor Society member, Institute for Cultural Communications member and National Merit Commended Scholar. She's "the real thing," says one mentor. "Her walk with God is humble, her obedience quiet and her approach gentle."

James Lewis

James Lewis of Knoxville, TN, has a vision for his life, and it involves revival - taking back hearts and minds that have turned from God's truth. Studying nine Sonlight programs, James discovered powerful stories that were, "fundamental in my growth as a man of God."

James scored a 34 composite on the ACT, including a perfect 36 on the science portion of that test. He has also completed college-level engineering and chemistry courses. He's a swim team captain and state qualifier, runs cross country and plays varsity soccer. Musically gifted, he plays and teaches piano, and also violin. Forensics and debate (he's a three-time national qualifier) round out a long list of interests and pursuits.

James' most remarkable quality, says Mom, is his love for God and deep hunger to understand the Word. He's studied Greek and Hebrew, translated parts of the Bible and memorized several New Testament books. He aspires to study philosophy and natural science at Harvard, perhaps continue to seminary, become a pastor and one day train others. Like Ezra (7:14), he has "set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach."

Elise Sweigart

Elise Sweigart of Oman has studied nearly every Sonlight offering: History / Bible / Literature programs, sciences, electives and College Prep courses. She scored 2200 on the SAT and is a National Merit Commended Scholar.

Over time, Elise has developed a love of literature and stories, which provide a commonality and thus "a great bridge between peoples." An incisive reader and gifted writer, her essays have been described as "a unique combination of roving curiosity and organized argument."

Elise most enjoys Irish dance. She has progressed to the highest level and now runs a thriving business with her younger sister, teaching 60 students from around the world, choreographing and competing.

Cross-cultural interactions with friends have yielded rich lessons. "Our love for others is a greater witness than any intellectual argument for Christianity," asserts Elise. She affirms that people aren't projects, that we're called to "find the image of God in everyone," and that serving starts with a praying heart.

As she plans for college and career, majoring in English and eventually teaching, Elise maintains a clear vision. "I want to focus on Christ, share His overwhelming love, continue in prayer in preparation for service, and grow intellectually."

$4,000 Scholarship Winners

($1,000 each year)

Sonlight will additionally award these eight outstanding students a $1,000 scholarship for each year of college, up to four years:

Bethany Helm

Bethany Helm of Stanleytown, VA, lives life with an open heart. She grew up in Mauritania and loves "exploring new cultures and exchanging experiences, ideas and beliefs with people whose backgrounds differ from my own."

Bethany is deeply involved in Bible study, youth choir and youth sign team. Her kindness and nurturing nature have made her an excellent assistant Sunday school teacher, tutor, babysitter and Girl Scout Cadette Troop assistant leader. While in Mauritania, she volunteered with the Softball-Baseball Federation of Mauritania and kept score for the league. Oftentimes this became a public relations role, where she would engage with individuals of all ages in the Nouakchott community.

Returning to the U.S. in 2013, Bethany pursued her interest in dance, choir and crafting. She participates in ABC Handicrafters, a group that make small gifts for patients in hospice and at Brenner Children's Hospital. She has also volunteered for Hunger 2 Heath, a weekly mission to pack food for children to take home over the weekend.

For college, she is exploring many options, including Meredith College's psychology program, which serves children with autism, or Furman University's education program. She says, "Whatever path I take, I pray that I will 'faithfully obey the voice of the Lord [my] God' (Deut. 28:1), and do so with conviction, diligence and joy."

Matthew Jones

Matthew Jones of Salisbury, NC, is a natural-born leader who shows extraordinary initiative and intelligence. He's a National Merit Finalist, Science Olympiad Regionals award winner and earned an SAT score of 2350. A proficient communicator, he has won first place in several categories of the Rowan County Home School Association (RCHSA) literary competition and delivered award-winning speeches while participating in 4-H Speak Up workshops. His mock trial team recently placed fourth out of 85 in the state.

In addition to being a multifaceted scholar, Matthew seeks to use his talents to change the world. "I am imbued to make my life count: to create an impact on American society for Christ and for posterity," he says. He has participated in grassroots politics from a young age and plans to continue his endeavors for change.

As part of a homeschooling honor society, Matthew plans and organizes speaking events with other members several times a year. He has volunteered at VA Hospitals, nursing homes, McClintock Summer Science Experience Camp, Rowan County Fair and Students in Training. He plans for a career in dentistry and to continue volunteering his talents: "I'm looking forward to what the future holds as I seek to mesh missions, dentistry and politics."

Garrett Kapelski

Garrett Kapelski of Smithton, IL, sees a great need in the world for "godly men and women to aspire to positions of leadership and guide our society, keeping God's will at the forefront of law-making and policies." To this end, Garrett will pursue a degree in political science, after which he plans to attend law school. His ultimate aspiration? President of the United States!

"I want to leave a mark with my life," says Garrett. He is off to a great start pursuing this goal. He has been a member of the Turkey Hill Busy Bees 4-H Club for 10 years and currently serves as president. Garrett has achieved numerous public speaking and leadership awards, including the National "I Dare You" Award, Illinois State Fair "Superior" Award in public speaking, and 4-H Outstanding Junior Leader Award, to name a few. Compelled to serve the Lord, he has volunteered for nursing homes, food drives, Adopt-a-Soldier, tutoring, youth retreats and as an assistant parish school teacher.

Garrett's deep sense of responsibility led him to consider studying law. He reflects, "Doing good for the distressed and needy is a noble calling, and obtaining justice for them is one of the best things a man can do." His ultimate goals in life are "to be the best man I can for God and to lead others toward Christ."

Melanie Lewis

Melanie Lewis of Knoxville, TN, follows the Lord's footsteps with her passion for dance and debate. She's a three-time national NCFCA (National Christian Forensics and Communications Association) qualifier with a creative spirit that makes her a talented singer, gifted piano player and artist. She's also captain of her swim team and involved in church ministry.

She multiplies every talent she possesses by sharing with others: coaching kids in summer swim league, teaching piano, singing at youth group, coaching debate and performing at a local nursing home. She additionally lends her talents for the Lord by assisting with the campus ministry in which her older siblings are involved. When they bring home guests, Melanie takes on the role of encourager and host.

Deeply impacted by a recent mission trip to Rancho 3M, an orphanage in Mexico, Melanie came home with a larger mission: "to protect the dignity of humankind because every person is made in the image of God." With that goal in mind, she plans to attend the University of Tennessee and learn Spanish so she can return to the orphanage. "Sonlight has enabled me to view my faith in Jesus as truth that is applicable in the world." She desires to "[bring] other people to taste and see the riches of Christ."

Sarah Plagenhoef

Born to missionaries in unreached Albania, Sarah Plagenhoef of Albania heard God's call directing her to a life as a missionary at the age of 16. She now envisions her future to be "entirely devoted to building and extending God's kingdom through the bold proclamation of his word with the love of Christ as a world missionary."

Sarah's experience in the field is already extensive. In Albania, she has worked as a translator, cultural liaison, educational tutor, and ministry participant in humanitarian and local church contexts, and also served in multiple Vacation Bible Schools. She has additionally been involved in evangelism and outreach efforts in Turkey, Macedonia and the U.S

Besides her interest in drama, music, art and sports, Sarah enjoys working with students of all ages as a science lab technician and teaching assistant at an international school in Tirana, Albania. Her natural teaching ability, work ethic and passion have led her to apply to North Central University, where she plans to major in pastoral and biblical studies, as well as get her TEFL certification to teach English overseas. Sarah affirms, "I have no doubt that my time at NCU will help prepare me to do my part in reaching 'every nation, tribe, people and language.'" (Rev. 7:9)

Rebecca Reeves

Rebecca Reeves of Hattiesburg, MS, is a musician, mentor and change-maker, all for the glory of God. "In life, everyone finds a different career or calling, but everyone ultimately should be working to show God's grace," she professes.

From a young age, Rebecca has used her musical ability to praise God by playing violin at church, in orchestra and at nursing homes. She has demonstrated her heart for mentoring as a leader-in-training at Camp Garaywa, an Upward Basketball Coach, and Boys & Girls Club of America volunteer. Rebecca created and implemented a "living library" for the children of the Boys & Girls Club of America in Hattiesburg, MS. This entailed arranging for professionals from various sectors to speak to the club participants. Rebecca's goal is to inspire a love of learning and working hard. Through her efforts, the children have learned the importance of exercise, school, music, reading and, most important, a relationship with Christ.

Compelled by deep compassion, Rebecca plans to attend University of Southern Mississippi to pursue a career in nursing. "I believe that nursing will give me ample opportunities to honor God, and I look forward to learning and growing in college next year."

Nathan Sexten

Nathan Sexten of South Vienna, OH, loves politics. "This is my God-given passion: to look at policy, government and society, and when finding it unsatisfactory, creatively respond with a solution," he pledges. Nathan has developed skills as an orator through speech and debate. He has been a member of the Alpha Omega Speech and Debate Association Club for four years and was team captain for two years. Through TeenPact, he has learned the state legislative process and participated in a moot court competition, placing in writing and overall speaker categories. He has also worked as an intern for a state representative campaign, where he took on a leadership role and helped organize volunteers and resources.

Musically talented, Nathan plays keyboard and guitar in his youth group worship band. He supports local and overseas missionary work by volunteering for the First Christian Church encouragement team. He also raises bees, has given presentations and won scholarships for his work. Alongside this, he raises Golden Comet chickens and runs a successful egg business.

Nathan plans to attend Liberty University to study politics, maintaining a focus on our Lord above all other goals. "Planning and preparing for my future are extremely important," he assesses, "but staying open to God's direction in my life is even more important."

Elijah Thede

As a third-culture student, Elijah Thede of Haiti was destined to be a bridge between cultures. "Living between American and Haitian cultures opened my eyes to the world in a special way that I want to share," he professes. When humanitarian aid workers come to Haiti (such as in 2010, when he served at a field hospital near the epicenter of an earthquake), Elijah helps host the teams. This requires a variety of skills: orientation to Haitian customs and culture, household chores, translating, leading devotions and providing treated drinking water.

Elijah conceived and executed The Book Herder Project to give children and adults access to books in French and Haitian Creole. After discovering that school children had to return their books at the end of the year, he organized a fundraiser and purchased books for a lending library, further revealing his servant's heart, as well as his love of reading and learning.

When he returns to the US, he frequently speaks at supporting churches, where he enthusiastically discusses Haiti and his family's ministry. He enjoys helping others "see Haiti in a positive light, expanding their worldview of this often-misunderstood country and highlighting how the Lord is working there." He plans to use his life experience to engage students in discussions throughout college, as well.

He plans to attend Calvin College for engineering and continue to serve those in need. "I know God will show me how to use my talents to serve Him wholeheartedly, during college and beyond."

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