Vegetarian Resource Group Awards Two $5,000 College Scholarships
The decision for this year’s awards was once again very difficult. After much deliberation, the two scholarship winners this year hail from a rural area and beef country.
About This Year's Winners
The first VRG scholarship recipient is Claire Askew of Kansas. Robert Torres, general partner of Tofu Hound Press, sent this recommendation for Claire: “Claire wrote to me to suggest that I consider writing another version of the book that I co-authored, Vegan Freak: Being Vegan in a Non-Vegan World for teenagers. Being rather overextended and not having been a teenager myself in a long while, I suggested to her that she was probably the one who should write the book, and that if she were to provide a proposal, we would consider it for publication. Not long thereafter, Claire sent us one of the best proposals we had seen to date. Her idea for a book was new and exciting, it had market potential, and most important for us, it was clear that this book would be an effective way to get teenagers to consider going vegan for animal rights reasons. We offered her a contract, a significant accomplishment in and of itself, as we frequently turn down proposals from professional writers with many more years experience … Claire’s performance on the contract was exceptional … She wrote a book that is genuine and heartfelt while also being funny, personal, and theoretically rigorous …” (To order Generation V: The Complete Guide to Going, Being, and Staying Vegan as a Teenager, go to www.tofuhoundpress.com.)
Amanda, co-founder of the group VegKC, wrote: "I would most definitely recommend her. Claire has been absolutely instrumental in assisting the vegan and vegetarian scene in Kansas City. She has worked with the Vegans and Vegetarians of Kansas City (VegKC) and its meetup groups for the past five or six years (since the group started) to assist in every possible way. Any time we needed someone, she was there. She has been consistently one of the few people we knew we could count on, no matter what we were asking (literature distribution, marketing, event coordination, etc.). She’s, quite honestly, one of the most passionate people in Kansas City."
"Her insights on the best ways to approach teens, and her own activities to act as both a representative and spokesperson for veganism and vegetarianism, have made a noticeable positive difference in the number of young people interested in veganism and vegetarianism in Kansas City, and a noticeable positive difference in the general veg scene overall. We wouldn’t have much of a veg presence without her diligent assistance, thoughtfulness, and proactive approach. If I had to make a top-five list of the most influential people in Kansas City’s vegan/vegetarian scene, she’d definitely be at the top of that list..."
Michelle from Herbivore Clothing Company wrote about Claire: "She can see what needs to be done and makes it happen..."
At the bakery/restaurant where Claire worked, they began labeling which products are vegetarian. After graduating high school, Claire continued her activism. She gave a talk at one local library on the day-to-day challenges of being a teen vegan and about activism to an audience mostly of teenagers. At another local library, she did a presentation/mini-workshop for teens about vegan food and vegan cooking, focusing mainly on vegan nutrition, easy recipes, and foods that might be new to non-vegans. She had a few dishes prepared to share, plus a question-and-answer session. In addition, she’s working on revisions for the second edition of her book.
The second VRG scholarship recipient is Ryne Poelker from Illinois. Ryne is from a rural farming town, which has approximately 2,000 people, where "most people hunt and/ or eat meat daily." Ryne stated, "I was also the only person in my whole school to have gone vegetarian." However, "I started to ask the questions "If I don’t stand up for animal rights, then who will?" "If I don’t do it now, then when will I do it?" I finally decided to stop waiting and sitting back for society to adopt veganism and to take up the cause myself."
In his sophomore year, Ryne protested a bull-riding event. He related, "I had figured surely someone was going to stand up and do something about the event, but after I contacted other nearby animal rights groups, I found that they didn’t have anything planned. With no one else doing anything about the abuse coming to my own backyard, I felt obligated to organize a demonstration myself... The rodeo protest was just the beginning of my career in activism… For the past few years, I have personally organized and participated in over 20 demonstrations..."
After attending a PETA conference, Ryne started an animal rights group at his school. Students would go to his house for potlucks to share healthy vegan food. Around the same time, the Petersburg Vegetarian Association was founded. Though comprised mostly of older people, Ryne worked together with the PVA so they both could have bigger potlucks and meetings. (This is very impressive since, typically throughout the United States, the younger groups are hesitant to work with the older groups, though this symbiosis can help both and the spread of vegetarianism.)
Last year, Ryne's mother, who had to provide for him and his sister, was unemployed. Due to this obstacle, he had to put in more hours at work. However, Ryne still felt the need to help others. Ryne told us, during these times of economic hardship, "I have been compelled to do something for others who are struggling to get by. I organized several vegetarian food drives for local homeless shelters... All the food I collected was vegetarian or vegan. I personally drove and delivered the food to shelters myself."
The Phoenix Center's director told us, "We house homeless men and women who are HIV+. We provide a hot meal every day for the residents. Ryne thought it was important to ask residents if they have a vegetarian preference and then make sure we had food for those who request it. Once we started asking, we found that a couple of our residents (at the time) and several since do have a preference for vegetarian meals. Due to his hard work and commitment to this issue, including several food drives, we have been able to make meals available to residents as well as provide some of the food to residents for other meals, via our food bank. It was a great idea to implement this program, and we plan to continue to offer our residents the vegetarian option. Ryne is one of a kind..."
One of Ryne's teachers stated, "He is the real deal, as hard as that can be in the corn-fed beef basket of Illinois. Ryne has earned the scholarship and more." A PETA spokesperson said, "He has been a consistently active voice for the vegetarian community via the peta2 Street Team." This includes taking part in online activism on MySpace and Facebook.
Ryne hopes to become an animal rights attorney and fight for overlooked animals in society as well as to assist activists. He said the most important thing he has learned from his work is "that one person can make a difference."
To enter next year's $5,000 scholarship contest for high school seniors, visit www.vrg.org for application details. The application is due February 20, 2010. Please submit early. This year, we are also awarding applicants an Eleanor Wolff Needs Based Scholarship Internship and a runner-up scholarship sponsored by the St. Louis Vegetarian Society. We will report on these in a future issue. If you would like to fund additional scholarships or internships, please send a donation to The Vegetarian Resource Group, P.O. Box 1463, Baltimore, MD 21203 or donate online at www.vrg.org.