Rebecca Larsen earned Troutdale Youth Citizen of the Year for her efforts in art and the community

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Rebecca Larsen has been named Troutdale Youth Citizen of the Year.Reynolds High School graduate Rebecca Larsen got the call right before she left for driver’s ed.

The 18-year-old had no idea she would be named Troutdale’s Youth Citizen of the Year.

“I was jumping up and down,” she said. “It was a good way to start out the morning.”

Every year, Troutdale’s SummerFest Committee awards one adult and one youth citizen who have gone above and beyond their call of duty to serve the community. Nominees receive a certificate and are publicly thanked during the SummerFest Parade in which they participate.

This year, Larsen was nominated by Reynolds art teacher Bonnie Rulli.

Larsen, an artist, served as the Reynold High School Art Club president during her senior and junior years.

As president, she assisted with her high school’s art auction, coordinated the annual making of cards for residents at Claire Bridge Memory Care and organized fundraisers for the Art Club Scholarship.

On days when she didn’t have school, Larsen made visits to Lynch View Elementary School to offer an extra hand to first-grade and kindergarten classrooms teeming with more than 30 students.

Coming of age in a household with divorced parents, Larsen said her mom has always encouraged her to be artistic and creative.

But it wasn’t until she took an art class in middle school did she find out she was actually good at art.

Then in high school, Larsen took Bonnie Rulli’s introductory art class, where she was encouraged to continue art.

“Her ability in the arts is exceptional,” Rulli said in her nomination of Larsen for Youth Citizen of the Year.

Larsen twice signed up for Rulli’s independent art class, “where you can do anything you want,” Larsen said. Her favorite medium is painting in acrylics and making crafts.

Her framed artwork decorates the walls of her mother’s house in Gresham, where she lives.

Larsen joined the Reynolds Art Club her freshman year. By her sophmore year she was vice president and then became president.

One of the main purposes of the art club is to raise money for the art club scholarship, which goes to students interested in taking a college-level art class or purchasing art supplies.

One of the most memorable fund-raisers she organized was for Valentine’s Day, when the art club made roses and cards to sell to fellow students.

“We sold out on the first day,” Larsen said. On the second day, the art club was scrambling to make more as students bought up their second batch of cards and roses.

This year, the art club raised $300 for its first-place scholarship and $100 for the runner-up, which Larsen herself earned.

“If more people were involved, we would definitely have a bigger scholarship at the end of the year,” Larsen said. The Art Club membership has been in decline since she attended Reynolds, “which is unfortunate because it’s really more of a community,” she said.

“It’s a great way to make friends, and it’s how I’ve spent more of my time.”

Art and teaching interconnect

While art has kept her busy in high school, teaching elementary school is her passion.

When Larsen was in elementary school, she struggled with reading and writing and was given an Individualized Education Program (federally required for a child found to have a disability).

But through hard work and determination, along with the help of her teachers, Larsen succeeded.

“I was able to grow  and overcome these obstacles,” she said.

The result: She was placed in honors classes in middle and high school, and then went into “advanced placement” classes her junior and senior years.

Larsen realized she had a talent for teaching kids when she became an outdoor school student leader.

Under the name, “Sparkle,” she ventured on four outdoor school sessions, eventually winning an award for leadership and teaching.

Larsen plans to attend Mt. Hood Community College in the fall with the intention of continuing on to a degree in elementary education. While teaching is her primary goal, Larsen would like to continue practicing art in her studies. With her scholarship money, she will take a drawing class at the community college this fall.

While taking more art classes in college sounds great, Larsen said, “I don’t think I can afford it.”

Still, she considers the importance for kids to continue learning art.

“It is important for kids to have art to express themselves,” she said. “With some kids it’s one of the only things they’re good at.”

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