The Del Mar/Solana Beach Optimist Club members' most favorite and "optimistic" morning is the day they hand out the Vic Kops Children's Challenge Awards.
The awards were started by Optimist Vic Kops 28 years ago as a way to recognize elementary school students who were doing extraordinary things. The awards have carried on the Del Mar resident's legacy since he died in 2007 at age 61.
"When I do this every year, I just feel him looking down and smiling," Chairwoman Susan Pfleeger said. "He would be so proud."
This year, the club honored the most children it ever has — 12 winners in the six categories of community service, courage, arts, science, fellowship and humanities. Three students were from the Solana Beach School District, and nine were from the Del Mar Union School District.
In the category of courage, there were two inspirational recipients: Wills Cole and Noah Severns.
Wills is a second-grader at Carmel Creek who has lateral meningocele syndrome. He has "growing rods" along his spine that have to be surgically moved periodically to straighten his back and adjust to growth. His teachers, Shirley Giese and Cory Bertelson, said that after surgery, his first question is always: "When can I come back to school?"
Through some tears, Del Mar Hills sixth-grade teacher Allison Warren lauded her courage award recipient, Noah. Noah was diagnosed with bone cancer at age 6 and has undergone numerous chemotherapy and radiation treatments. A recent surgery left his left side partially paralyzed, but Warren said he continues to walk tall and proud.
"He's had 15 surgeries in six years, and yet he returns to school with a positive attitude and never complains." Warren said.
Del Mar Heights sixth-grader Cameron Chang was honored for his leadership skills in the classroom as well as his acting abilities, particularly in the role of Fagan in "Oliver Twist." His teacher, Louwana Spetter, said he's quick to help others, naturally commands the room or stage, and is an "absolute delight to be around."
In the area of humanities, the award was given to Lauren Grove, a third-grader at Del Mar Heights. Her teacher, Carol Faulkner, said Lauren is a standout writer, recently winning a San Dieguito Historical Society contest that asked students to imagine what life was like in the past in their communities. Lauren wrote about old Del Mar, picking flowers and crunching her teeth into freshly baked bread.
"Your writing is always polished, creative and fanciful," Faulkner told Lauren. "You pour yourself into everything you do, and you have a hunger for learning that will allow you to succeed in everything you do."