Whitehall eighth-grader Raelynn Matteson has been awarded the No Place for Hate Gold Star Award for 2022.
The award is given annually to a student at the elementary, middle, and high school level. Matteson was the award winner among all the Capital Region’s middle schools that take part in No Place for Hate.
“Our group was in the cafeteria and class officers were announced and at the end, they did a tiny intro about what it was and the different age groups. Then (Gale) announced my name, and it was complete silence and then people started clapping and I was in total shock,” Matteson said.
She sat down with David Gale, No Place for Hate supervisor and junior high counselor, to talk about the award.
Matteson was one of the first students to approach Gale about combating bullying within the school and has been deeply involved since the program began this year. Gale said he was the one to nominate Matteson and was shocked when he saw the email about the win.
“You could nominate one student that has gone above and beyond as well as shown the message of the initiative and the first student to come to my mind was Raelynn,” Gale said. “I put the nomination in on a whim and a prayer because this is our first year of doing No Place for Hate and like I’ve said before, we were behind the eight ball in joining this year.”
“In the Capital Region, she is the middle school student that has been selected and it’s amazing. I was astonished they selected her – it’s well deserved,” he said.
One of the programs Matteson talked about was a bake sale they held last week for WAIT House of Warren and Washington County in Glens Falls. WAIT House offers help to homeless youth in need by providing emergency shelter, case management and goal-planning, connections to services, and on-site life skills training and tutoring. The bake sale raised just over $230 and students were educated about emergency homing resources if they need them.
“Knowing the reasons why we’re doing it and being able to show our group is one of my favorite parts,” Matteson said. “Also, how people don’t just come up for the food and they come up to talk about the group.”
She said she’s happy to have her work be acknowledged at such a prominent level, but she said she would still be just as motivated to continue working on the No Place for Hate initiative even if she hadn’t won.
“It feels nice to have the work be seen because before it I felt like Whitehall wasn’t really acknowledged for things like this,” she said.
“I would still be pushing as hard as I am now without the award. I don’t care if I get them or not, I just want to get the message out.”
Gale said that it was hard to choose a student to nominate as they have all worked hard this year in making Whitehall Junior High School a welcoming place for all students.
With it being the first year of the program and the award being region-wide, Gale and Matteson said they didn’t think little Whitehall would be a contender for the award. They said they were now even more excited for next year.