Five students from around New York state lined up Wednesday at the front of a room full of friends, family and classmates at the Empire State Plaza and waited for the winner of the statewide 2015 Youth Advocate of the Year Award to be unveiled.
As the event’s organizer lifted the opaque cover away from the winner’s glossy image, Niskayuna High School senior Bianca Sciocchetti’s smile lit up. It matched the larger-than-life depiction of her joyful grin that had just been uncovered, revealing her as the event’s biggest honoree.
Four other high school students received regional honors during the Kick Butts Day ceremony, which takes place each year to celebrate New York students who collaborate against the tobacco industry as part of the youth organization Reality Check of New York.
“Well, this is amazing,” a beaming Sciocchetti said from the podium.
The four-year volunteer has been a guiding force in the Capital District chapter of Reality Check, stepping up as a student leader who helped maintain continuity through a series of three coordinators (the adult professionals who guide the student groups).
“It’s just a good cause in general,” Sciocchetti said. “It’s working for saving lives and helping out all those people who might not have a choice.”
In addition to caring for the cause, she had some inspiration from an older sibling.
“A few years ago, I saw my sister get a regional award, and it kind of motivated me to continue with this,” she said. Two years her senior, Ella took home her trophy in 2012.
Sciocchetti also has a more academic interest in the topic. She plans to study marketing in college and said her experience with the group has already given her a leg up on the subject.
“Before I even took a marketing class in high school, I already knew about having a product in a movie … point of sale, stuff like that,” she said. “I also have all this information about tobacco companies.”
She said that along with her blue and silver trophy, she was happy to walk away from her four years of volunteerism at Reality Check with shiny, new leadership skills.
“I’m definitely more confident and able to talk,” Sciocchetti said. “I’ve definitely grown as a person through this program.”
Erica Olmstead, a past winner of the award who has made a career of anti-tobacco activism, was one of Sciocchetti’s coordinators through the Capital District chapter. She was also a member of the committee that reviewed applications for the Youth Advocate of the Year Award.
Olmstead said above all, Sciocchetti’s leadership embodies the organization’s mission.
“She’s always the person who leads everybody else, who keeps things pulled together, keeps everybody on track,” Olmstead said. “She always does it with a smile on her face, so I think that in itself makes her unique. … And she’s actually made a lot of decisions that influenced the direction that the program takes, which is the whole point of the movement.”