BRIGHT FUTURES — Teen who organized Life Skills Buddy Program recognized for passion

Published 12:20 am Tuesday, July 25, 2023

PORT NECHES — Ashlyn Gilchriest’s caring for others led to a special acknowledgement by a state agency.

Gilchriest, who recently graduated in the top 2 percent of her class, received the District 7 Student Heroes Award, which was presented in person Monday by State Board of Education member Julie Pickren.

Jon Deckert, Port Neches-Groves High director of student activities, nominated Gilchriest, saying in his letter that she is the ideal representative of a student with a heart of service.

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The teen organized the Life Skills Buddy Program at the high school, making it a priority to have students with special needs feel included in all aspects of student life on campus, he said.

Gilchriest, who was student body president, also presented the concept of Life Skills Buddies to thousands of student council members throughout the region at spring and fall conventions for Texas Association of Student Councils District 17, he added.

Pickren said the award is the highest her office offers students and the organization represents 61 school districts and covers 10,000 square miles; she received a lot of applications.

“You represent the best of Texas and our students,” Pickren said. “Your leadership is amazing. Your grit, your grades… But the thing that stood out to me most of all was your service above self. And those three things, leadership, grit and service to others. That is what Texas is about.”

Gilchriest said one of the areas she focused on over the past few years is the school’s life skills program.

“That’s what I’m very passionate about. Through Student Council, we were able to reach out with them and have little things we do each week. There was things all across the school that help them and elevate them. Just making connections with our life skills program,” Gilchriest said.

The recent grad is preparing to move across country with her family, where she will attend Pennsylvania State University. She plans to major in political science with hopes of becoming a lawyer.

She said she felt honored to receive the award.

A small ceremony was held at PNGISD Administration Building, where school officials as well as Deckert, librarian Candice Curran and Gilchriest’s grandparents, Thomas and Marie Gilchriest and Kathy Hawsey were in attendance.

Thomas Gilchriest called her a beautiful child with a great heart, while Kathy Hawsey told of how the teen befriended an elderly woman in her neighborhood and that it warmed her heart.

Gilchriest is one of 15 Texas students named 2023 Student Heroes by the State Board of Education.