Each year, the Edina Community Foundation (ECF) honors Edina citizens who have made a difference in the lives of youth in the Edina community at the Connecting with Kids Leadership Breakfast.
Dick Crockett, executive director of the ECF, has watched the leadership breakfast—where ECF’s Connecting with Kids Award is handed out—continue to grow in a community where residents are always striving to make Edina a better place. “We look for individuals who help connect kids to the community, and this year, we honored a handful of youth who are making a positive change in their peers’ lives,” Crockett says.
Sreeyutha Ratala, one of the winners of the 2021 Connecting with Kids Award, is an 18-year-old Edina resident with a passion for technology and making coding classes accessible through an endeavor she started called Camp Venom. “I was so honored to receive the Connecting with Kids Award,” Ratala says. “Hearing speeches from other honorees and what they accomplished was incredibly inspiring to me. It showed me that even if you are really young, you can make a big impact on the community.”
When starting Camp Venom, Ratala took inspiration from both her grandfathers, one of whom once told her, “To yield a power of knowledge is to pursue a passion in education.” When he was young, he did not have many resources while he was pursuing engineering—so, with her grandfather’s words, experience and her own passion, she created a plan to start Camp Venom.
Camp Venom is an affordable and accessible coding camp for youth to learn the basics of coding and work on personalized projects. With her passion for technology driving her, she began pursuing a Computer Science degree at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) this fall.
Sreeyutha Ratala, second from the left in the orange top, with other 2022 award winners.
Edina resident Francesca Lichtenberger was another award recipient and youth honoree last March. Francesca is a passionate young woman going into her senior year at Benilde-St. Margaret’s. This 17-year-old was awarded at the Connecting with Kids Breakfast to honor her service on Edina’s Human Rights and Relations Commission (HRRC).
“I joined the HRRC because I wanted to make a positive impact in my community,” Francesca says. She decided this is what she really wanted to do during the spring of 2020 when she saw many social justice movements arise. “I wanted to really be involved and implement changes. I’ve noticed over the years that the HRRC has tried to make Edina a more inclusive and equitable place for all of its residents, and I knew I wanted to help make that change,” she says.
Francesca has big plans for the future and wants to eventually pursue a degree in pre-law, international relations or government. “On top of being in the HRRC, I’m also a member of the Human Services Task Force, which is essentially a group of community volunteers that allocate $100,000 annually to charities that impact residents of Edina,” she says.
“I was incredibly grateful for receiving this award,” she continues. “The HRRC loves human rights, and we love our community. Everyone on the HRRC is absolutely amazing to be around, and it’s so cool to be around accomplished, astounding adults and I’m honored to serve with them.”
Do you know someone in Edina who’s deserving of this award? Nominations for the Connecting with Kids Awards open up on January 1, 2023. Visit edinacommunityfoundation.org for more information.