MOOSEHEART, May 24 - Start spreading the news: "Super J" took her cape and tights to Gotham and came back with first-place in the Moose Youth Awareness Congress in her utility belt.
"Super J" is Jaelynn Burkamper, a junior from Boone, IA, who took first place and earned a $12,000 scholarship at the recent Congress, which was sponsored by the New York State Moose Association and took place in White Plains, NY. Burkamper said like all participants, she had hopes of being one of the five scholarship winners as the names started to be read.
"Of course, in your heart, you hope 'maybe it's going to be me,' " Burkamper said. "After third place, you start to think 'I don't think we did it this year, but there are a lot of people here who are deserving of it. Then a lot of people started to turn to look at me and say 'don't you think it's you?' And then they said 'the first place winner is' - and I just started crying."
The Moose Youth Awareness Student Congress is a gathering of children who have given a series of "Moose KidsTalks" about some topic in order to help children aged 4-through-9 to make positive choices in their lives. The Congress consisted of young men and women from across the U.S. and Canada in addition to Mooseheart representatives.
A total of five scholarships are awarded each year. In addition to Burkamper, the other scholarship winners were:
Second place: Emilee Garrett, Michigan, $8,000 scholarship
Third place: Anna Maria Marini, Connecticut, $5,000 scholarship
Fourth Place: Alexa Schwichow, Illinois, $3,000 scholarship
Fifth place: Lexi Loccisano, Florida, $2,000 scholarship
Burkamper performed an incredible 20 Moose KidsTalks through 2011-12 as "Super J" - who visited every second-, third- and fourth-grade in her area in an effort to get those students to realize their superpowers.
"We talked about how superheroes have to believe in themselves and be confident," Burkamper said. "We talked about how we all have superpowers. I got asked a lot if I could fly. I said that maybe we can't fly. But maybe you love drawing -- and that is one of your superpowers."
If she can't fly, just what are Super J's superpowers?
"Having super confidence and super strength to do super things," Burkamper, who said that while dressed as a superhero, she asked the children to become part of her super crew.
"After my talk, I asked the kids to come up with their own list of things that they could do using their super powers," Burkamper said.
To reach the number of students she did through her KidsTalks required some sacrifices. An excellent student, Burkamper took over a week off school.
"It did take some extra work and some hours had to be put in to make up the homework," Burkamper said. "But I did some of it before I started giving the talks so I'd be prepared."
Burkamper was a participant in the 2011 Youth Awareness Congress on Charlotte, NC, and the high school junior said the experience was beneficial - and not just in terms of what topic she chose. While scholarships are awarded, the Congress is annually marked by how students who are strangers when they arrive become friends before they go home. This year's Congress included a day trip to New York City, which fulfilled a dream for Burkamper.
"I loved North Carolina, but I've always wanted to go to New York," she said. "I'd love to go to college there."
Receiving the scholarship for winning was important, but Burkamper added that she has gained much by participating twice in the Congress and she hopes to return in 2013, when the Congress will be held in the Chicago area.
"Of course $12,000 is a ton of money, but it's just a small part when you think of how much I've gotten out of the program," she said. "I have met so many people. I am constantly talking to those people on Facebook. I have many friends from other states and you're not going to get that from any other camp or a weekend long thing."
The amount of the scholarship is significant, however. Burkamper said not long after returning from the Congress, her high school had an assembly at which they read the scholarships received by students.
"You'd hear them say $100 or $500 or even $1,000 - and everything helps," Burkamper said. "But it's really hard for me to get $12,000 in my head. Obviously it doesn't pay for everything. But I'm only a junior and this is the start."
In the coming year, one of Burkamper's goals is to raise awareness of the KidsTalks program within Iowa. She said she also plans to participate in the program again.
"Hopefully I'll be lucky enough to be at the International Congress in Chicago," she said. "Mooseheart is something that I've just been introduced to. I'd be really excited to have a chance to see that."