Hillendale fifth grader named among top two youth volunteers in Pa.

Running to raise money to buy coats earns Toocheck honors


Nikolas Toocheck, a fifth grade student at Hillendale Elementary School (seen following a running event in 2012) was honored with the Prudential Spirit of Community Award for his work to raise money to coats for needy children. Times File Photo.

A fifth-grade student at Hillendale Elementary School was named one of Pennsylvania’s top two youth volunteers by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism.

Nikolas Toocheck was honored for his quest to raise money to buy coats for kids in need by running marathons on each of the seven continents. A devoted runner, Nikolas has always loved running with his dad. Over the years, as his running distances became longer, he decided to tackle marathons. Then he learned that there were marathons all over the world.

“I thought, wouldn’t it be cool to run one on every continent?” Nikolas said. “And then I thought it would be awesome to help people while I do it!” Nikolas calls his campaign, “Running the World for Children.”

For as long as he can remember, Nikolas said he has been involved with the nonprofit Operation Warm, which was started by his grandfather 15 years ago to provide winter coats to children who otherwise might not have one. When he was very young, Nikolas would donate money from his piggy bank to the cause, help his mother shop for coats, and distribute them.

But as he grew older, he wanted to do more. To begin his campaign, he stepped up his training in preparation for his first 26.2-mile run. With the help of his family, he solicits donations of $1 for every step he runs by speaking to groups, explaining his mission at races and other events, and reaching out through a website and social media. Nikolas completed his first marathon at the end of 2012 in Delaware.

Since then, he has run marathons in both Antarctica and Australia. His efforts so far have raised approximately $20,000, enough to buy coats for 1,000 children.

“Lots of these kids haven’t ever received anything new before,” said Nikolas. “They feel special and happy with their new coat!”

Toocheck shares the honor with Alexis Werner, 18, of Shaler, where she attends Shaler Area High School. She formed a student-run organization designed to aid homeless veterans and promote greater appreciation for the sacrifices U.S. service members have made serving their country.

As State Honorees, both will receive $1,000, an engraved silver medallion and an all-expense-paid trip in early May to Washington, D.C., where they will join the top two honorees from each of the other states and the District of Columbia for four days of national recognition events. During the trip, 10 students will be named America’s top youth volunteers of 2014.

The program judges also recognized eight other Pennsylvania students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.

Two other Chester County students were named among Pennsylvania’s Distinguished Finalists for 2014:

John Armstrong, 18, of Chester Springs, a senior at Downingtown STEM Academy, founded “On Track,” a mentoring program to help middle school athletes stay on track academically, athletically and socially. John, a sprinter on his school’s track team, coordinated an invitational meet that raised $5,000 and was awarded a $4,000 grant that he has used to purchase iPad Minis to lead the students toward science, technology, engineering and math careers.

Quinn Norris, 13, of Phoenixville, an eighth-grader at Academy of Notre Dame de Namur, raised $15,000 to support brain tumor research at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia by creating and coordinating the “Cupid’s Cranium” 5K on Valentine’s Day in 2013. Quinn, who recovered from brain tumor surgery when she was 4 years old, organized a committee of volunteers, recruited sponsors, and secured more than 600 walkers for the walk, which she plans to host every year.

“We applaud each of these young people for their exemplary volunteer service,” said Prudential Chairman and CEO John Strangfeld. “They use their time and talents to make a meaningful difference in their communities, and we hope their example inspires others to do the same.”

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