Shelton student’s volunteerism receives praise from the White House

A Shelton teenager has received the President’s Volunteer Service Award for assisting a Nebraska museum during his annual summer stay there with family.

Bryce Bliska, a seventh grader at Shelton Intermediate School, received a letter from President Barack Obama and a pin to recognize his volunteerism at the museum as well as at his church.

“Thank you for your devotion to service and for doing all you can to shape a better tomorrow for our great nation,” Obama wrote to Bryce on White House stationery.

The letter from the president now is framed and hanging on Bryce’s bedroom wall, where he said he can “see it every day.”

“It was breathtaking,” Bryce said of receiving the correspondence from the president.

Bryce spends two months every summer in Hastings, Neb., where his mother Briggette grew up.

She brings her two children — Bryce’s sister Anya, is a Shelton High sophomore — to her home state so they can spend time with her family.

Her father, Gaynor Watson, still lives in Hastings. Her mom, Harla, is deceased.

In April, Gaynor Watson accepted the volunteer award on his grandson’s behalf at a municipal meeting in Hastings.

Hastings is in the south central part of the state, and is perhaps best known as the birthplace of Kool-Aid.

Interest in science

While there, Bryce and his sister volunteer at the Hastings Museum, a large cultural venue with science and history exhibits as well as an IMAX theater and planetarium.

“It has a lot of different exhibits, including on dinosaurs,” Bryce said.

He assists with certain classes and programs, focusing mainly on earth and space issues. He had attended summer classes at the museum when younger.

“I like helping people,” Bryce said. “I like science, and it’s fun to learn about stuff.”

Museum staff nominated him

Bryce, who hopes to become an engineer, video game designer or website designer when he grows up, was nominated by museum staff for the award.

The President’s Volunteer Service Award is issued by the President’s Council on Service and Civil Participation. It was created by former President George W. Bush to recognize the contributions of community volunteers across the country.

Obama, in his letter, said people have a responsibility to help others. “These are duties that we do not grudgingly accept, but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing as satisfying to the spirit than giving our all to a difficult task,” the president wrote.

A family of volunteers

Briggette Bliska said she’s extremely proud of her son and the recognition he has received.

“I was over the moon,” she said. “At first I didn’t realize it had come from the U.S. president — I’d thought it was more of a local award.”

Bliska said it’s important that her children learn the importance of volunteerism — an activity she noted can be fun and is a good way to make friends.

“They’re giving something back to the community,” she said.

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Bliska has volunteered at her children’s schools in Shelton and their church in Trumbull. Her husband and their children’s father, Mark, is a financial director for businesses in Connecticut.

While in Hastings, the family also volunteers at the annual Kool-Aid Days festival. The Hastings Museum has an exhibit on Kool-Aid. Bryce likes the sweetened drink, and his favorite flavor is cherry.

Bryce's sister Anya volunteers at a hospital as well as the museum while in Nebraska during the summer.