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NIE CONTEST: Hometown Heroes-Stories of inspiration
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NIE CONTEST: Hometown Heroes-Stories of inspiration

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Heroes are all around us. They can be someone who helps keep us safe and healthy like a firefighter, a police officer or a doctor. Or maybe it’s a teacher who spends extra time after school to make sure we’re at our full learning potential. Perhaps it’s our parents who serve as coaches on the playing field between work and putting dinner on the table. For this Newspapers in Education writing contest, The Free Lance–Star asked students in grades 4-6 to put on their reporter caps and interview someone who plays an important role in the community and share their stories.

Here are the fourth-grade winners and honorable mentions:


My Hometown Hero is Master Detective Danyluk. He works at the Stafford County Sheriff’s Office. He started as an Auxiliary Deputy, which is a voluntary position. Then he became a full-time employee. He has been a detective for 14 years and typically handled missing persons. To be a detective one must have a high school diploma or GED. Detective Danyluk has a college degree and he attended the Law Enforcement Academy for four months, too.

Solving cases is Detective Danyluk’s favorite part of the job. His day usually starts with checking messages and seeing if he has any new cases. He then reads the report and makes contact with the victim. After that, he makes flyers and goes out and talks to people. Finally, he fills out the paperwork and writes reports.

Detective Danyluk is my Hometown Hero because he was responsible for finding two kids in Indianapolis and bringing them home to their parents. When he is not working, he lives with his wife and two daughters. In his spare time he does chores around the house and works out in a personal gym. Detective Danyluk is quite a hero!




A local woman, Andie McConnell, battles cancer by giving the gift of time. Andie McConnell started and leads an organization to help kids with pediatric cancer by providing a voice for kids who don’t have one.

Andie started the Fairy Godmother Project to help kids with pediatric cancer. Andie saw a need in our community and wanted to meet that need by offering services to help families during treatment.

Andie’s generosity and helpfulness toward others has paid off in many ways. Some of her volunteers have said, “Andie’s care and concern for others inspired me to volunteer with the Fairy Godmother Project.” Andie has won many awards such as the Spirit of Women award and the Laurie Wideman award, which recognizes Andie as the Enterprising Woman of the Year. A couple of Andie’s volunteers have said, “Andie is a great leader and should be rewarded as such. The greatest badge she has received is the love from the families she helps.”

Andie is a very wonderful woman and she cares for others so much. When asked to describe her, one of her volunteers said, “Andie spends an immeasurable amount of time and energy helping these children and families. She pours her heart into each one of them.”

When I asked Andie about advice she would give to kids to make a difference in our community, she said, “First, find the thing that matters most to you and have a passion to help. You will enjoy yourself more if you do something you love.”




“A Career That Almost Never Was”

For as long as he could remember, Agostino Visioni wanted to be a doctor.

During college, Agostino worked toward becoming a doctor. After college, when he was ready to apply to medical school, an adviser told him that he would never become a doctor and that he should just give up. Agostino said, “I did not take that advice.”

Agostino went on to apply to medical school, but he was not accepted. Not ready to give up, Agostino earned a master’s degree in epidemiology and did some research work. Then he applied to medical school and this time was accepted.

After four difficult years of medical school and seven years of residency, Dr. Visioni became a neurosurgeon. As a surgeon, Dr. Visioni takes pride in his work. He said, “Being a neurosurgeon is a privilege.” Dr. Visioni enjoys talking to patients because they tell him things that they would not tell other people. His patients amaze him with their reactions to very bad news. To him, being a neurosurgeon is a huge honor and privilege.

Dr. Visioni has saved many lives. One patient said, “Dr. Visioni saved my life due to his analysis, testing, and evaluation of my symptoms and spine.” Dr. Visioni is an amazing, determined, and devoted person. He is an inspiration to me and a lifesaver to others.

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