May 14, 2022 — On Friday, the Florence Area Chamber of Commerce announced that Ava Glowacki is this year’s Future First Citizen and will be receiving the Marteen Wick Future First Citizen Scholarship.
“I was honestly shocked,” Ava said when she got the news after school on Thursday. “I was blown away. I can't believe it. I'm incredibly happy.”
The Future First Citizen designation recognizes a student based on their academic leadership and success as well as civic involvement and contributions to the community. It includes the Marteen Wick Future First Citizen Scholarship for $2,500.
The other nominees were Rylee Colton, John Corser, Chad Hughes, Camp Lacouture and Winnie Zhen. A panel of Florence First Citizens, Steve Olienyk, Dr. Brian Holmes, Dee Osborne, Rachel Pearson and Ron Caputo, considered the nomination packets and scored each student.
Each said that the decision was incredibly close this year.
“I honestly would have been overjoyed if any one of those kids got it,” Ava said. “I love all of them, and I'm sad that we can't all get it, honestly, because they're all wonderful. The community wouldn't be the same without any of these kids.”
The chamber normally names the winning student at the Siuslaw Awards, which will be held this July. The event also honors businesses, volunteers and the First Citizen of Florence Award. This year, however, the chamber and Siuslaw School District wanted to name the winning student in time for graduation in June and the Rhododendron Festival’s Grand Floral Parade on Sunday, May 22, where Ava will get to participate with other dignitaries.
It will be a moment in the spotlight for a student used to service.
“My first big step into volunteering was when my mom helped me create those little libraries in Florence when I was in third grade,” Ava said.
It helped that Ava had been in Shannon Graham’s class at Siuslaw Elementary.
“It was Miss Graham's first grade class that really just lit my fire. My grandma always says that she runs her class like a DJ. Miss Graham is up there, she's got videos playing, all these things. And all of us were super excited in that class,” Ava said.
She remembers meeting Shannon’s children Taylor and Kaylee, who both started important service projects for the community while they were in elementary school. Kaylee, herself a Future First Citizen, founded Power of Florence when she was 10. Taylor ran his Read for the Need book program until he graduated.
“I was seeing all that and being exposed to it,” Ava said. “Miss Graham invited all the families in the class to go and do beach cleanups and stuff over the weekends. My family was super into it. Some of my earlier memories of elementary school were cleaning up in the front of the school with my dad. And I don't know, my family has always just been really big into volunteering. And so it felt natural for me to just go on and do more.”
One lesson in particular hit home for her the importance of working to benefit others.
“I've always been an extremely avid reader. I'm looking at my bookshelf and it’s just loaded. … And I kept running into trouble when I was littler, because I would lend out all of my books to my friends. And then I noticed that sometimes my books wouldn't get returned. My mom explained to me that for some families, reading is not a big part of their lives. I was trying to figure out ways how I could help get books out there more.”
Ava learned about a man who created little libraries, public bookcases where people can take a book and leave a book, all for free.
“I thought, ‘Hey, we could do that. That's not that hard,’” Ava said. “And my dad had just redone our porch, so we had a ton of extra lumber. And I remember bugging him every single day to build this book box.”
Eventually, her dad gave in, and Ava was able to help.
“On my birthday, I got to go put the first one up in front of Florence Food Share,” she said. “At that year's Power of Florence, we did a book fundraiser, and we had a ton of people come and donate books to us to help fill the little library.”
Ava and her family now maintain the original one on Spruce Street and another installed at the CROW Center for Performing Arts on Highway 101.
“Every few weeks, my brother and I will go drive over after school and restock and clean them up,” Ava said. “They’re pretty self sufficient.”
The Glowacki family continued their connecting with the Graham family, continuing to volunteer together.
“Kaylee started doing what she called the Power Pack, basically an afterschool club where a bunch of kids my age went and did service projects,” Ava said. “I remember having a lot of fun and learning about ways I could help out in my community.”
Around that time, Kaylee brought Ava in to co-lead the Power of Florence.
“Suddenly, I've been running it on my own for four years now,” Ava said.
Power of Florence is currently looking for the next generation to step up and lead the service project, which regularly brings together dozens of groups who spend part of a day in July beautifying and improving the City of Florence. The event is bookended by a community breakfast, the Power Walk and a final Party in the Parking Lot. People can learn more at www.powerofflorence.org.
The service day took place in a reduced form over the past two years in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The pandemic was really, really hard on me,” Ava said. “I've been a straight-A student literally my whole life, except for all my spelling tests in fourth grade. It was just really hard on me, learning online and not being able to see my friends. … So I decided to graduate early and go see what the world has to offer.”
So what is next for the Future First Citizen?
“A week ago, I officially signed on to go to Oregon State in Corvallis,” Ava said. “I'm going to study environmental sciences with a focus on restoration ecology. … I'd love to return somewhere in this general area and start doing restoration work once I graduate.”
While Ava said she doesn’t know where life will take her, she hopes to retain some connection to this community.
“My whole thing with volunteering is that I do it just because it's honestly fun,” she said. “As long as kids are out there having fun, I'm sure that they're going to do great things. I always tell people when they're bored, go out and create good mischief. Cause problems, but like, solve problems. Without having fun, and without having a little bit of a goof with everything, it's not the same. Volunteering has to come from the heart, and it's always fun.”
People will be able to see Ava in the Future First Citizen vehicle during the 115th Rhododendron Festival’s Grand Floral Parade.