June 10, 2014

2014 Joseph W. Madison Youth Award Recipient

James Dwenger, Swan Valley High School

By Kay Wejrowski


James Dwenger, 2014 Joseph W. Madison Youth Award recipientJames Dwenger was born knowing one word: “Yes.”


As he grew up, he learned a full sentence: “What can I do to help you?”


That attitude, coupled with a smile that will brighten anyone’s day, has been his mantra though life.


Need your barn fixed? James will stop by after school to help you out. Have a problem with a cabinet? He’ll look at it between classes. A true Boy Scout and Eagle Scout, James epitomizes what it means to live your life for others, not because it is easy, but because it is the right thing to do.


When our middle school needed shelving for the letterpress, and had no budget to purchase it, James designed and crafted a furniture unit that far surpassed anything that could be ordered. And he did the work out of the goodness of his heart.


This year our entire school became involved in a fundraiser for the Child Abuse and Neglect Council Great Lakes Bay Region, building and painting Adirondack chairs and writing and illustrating books. James spent every Friday teaching young would-be craftsmen how to tell the difference between a wood lathe and a planer and gave them the confidence to build their own masterpieces out of what was once a tree. In between each lesion he prefabricated wood pieces to demonstrate for his young charges what their chair parts should look like.


Since he was in the seventh grade, James has been helping with both winter and spring Special Olympics. He’s not the kid you see who shows up when the buses pull in. James is always the first on the site, unloading trailers and setting up for events. He is also one of the last people to leave after the long day, still grinning from ear to ear.


After 10 p.m. the night before spring Special Olympics this year, James received a distress call that the team was short certified lifeguards to run the pool events at Saginaw Valley State University. Sure enough, early the next morning James showed up at the pool in a swimsuit, carrying a beach towel, with a crew of swimming pals in tow.


James can make pulling weeds and hauling brush into a fun time. On beautification day he can be found leading the troops to a cleaned up community, turning it into a party in the process.


A natural leader, James never let his learning disability get in his way in the classroom, or working out in the world. He’s challenged himself by taking Advanced Placement Literature and the AP national tests, even though he has a reading disability. He facilitates Socratic discussions and explores classic literature like a pro.


As a Boy Scout, James has mentored many young men and boys at camp. Whether taking them on nature trails or soothing homesick hearts in the wee hours of the night, his compassion and gentle nature puts everyone at ease.


Throughout high school, he has worked a part time job the maximum hours allowed each week, and served as the captain of the varsity wrestling team.


James had a goal in high school to become a member of National Honors Society. Our school’s grade point requirements are much higher than the state or national organization deems necessary, and James missed the cut-off by one hundredth of a point. Regardless, he is perhaps one of the greatest examples of what National Honor Society stands for: Scholarship, Leadership, Service and Character. James Dwenger has unquestionable character, a heart the size of a football field, and radiates goodness and kindness in everything he does. It is an honor to know him.


James Dwenger is a perfect candidate for the Saginaw Community Foundation Joseph W. Madison Youth Award.