Homer student wins scholarship, honored for community service

Homer High School senior Robert Martin became the first Homer youth to receive the Summer of Heroes scholarship from Alaska Communications at the Alaska State Fair on Aug. 28. In partnership with Boys and Girls Club – Alaska, ACS presents six young adults with a $1,500 scholarship to recognize their contributions to their local community through service.

Martin’s involvement in community service in Homer began with Cub Scouts, which he joined in second grade. When he entered Boy Scouts, older scouts provided mentorship, said his mother Melody Martin. Now, Martin mentors the younger scouts.

“He’s pretty patient when it comes right down to it. He’s obviously a brilliant guy,” said Brian Partridge, who is involved with the Boy Scouts with his own sons. “With the younger kids he … discusses it and if it doesn’t work the first time, he’ll try it again a different way.”

Martin has volunteered with a variety of organizations, including the Homer Community Food Pantry, the Nutcracker Faire, Girl Scouts, and Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies. In July 2015, Martin designed and built a much-needed storage shed for the Homer Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center.

Martin built the shed for the chamber as the community service project requirement for earning the rank of Eagle Scout, a feat he is still working on. He has five more merit badges to complete before he turns 18 in April 2017, he said. The shed simplified the work of the chamber by providing the organization with on-site storage space.

“Prior to this (shed) we had to rent a storage shed to hold equipment,” said the chamber’s Executive Director Karen Zak. “One of the biggest things is our members are able to use our equipment for free — tents, sandwich boards, all types of chairs and tables — and those now are stored in the shed. … For us the convenience of having our loan equipment here has been really ideal.”

To Martin, building the shed is not a great achievement but rather a need he fulfilled. Receiving an award for community service embarrasses him because he feels he hasn’t done anything special, he said.

“Robert doesn’t see his achievement as achievements. He just thinks they are normal,” Melody said. “He’s not one to brag himself up. It’s the quiet heroes who show a lot of honor.”

Building the shed involved coordinating fellow Boy Scouts and community members to provide labor, finding a way to finance the materials, and plan other logistics, in addition to designing the structure, Martin said.

“All it took was a couple sheets of grid paper and I worked out the dimensions,” Martin said.

The Summer of Heroes program provides positive reinforcement to young adults in Alaska who contribute to their community, said ACS Manager of Corporate Communications Hannah Blankenship.

“We keep the definition of hero broad because we tend to find youths 6-18 who find causes bigger than themselves. They’re … able to take a step back and see their community as a whole and what problems there are,” Blankenship said.

Five of the Summer of Heroes scholarships are given out to children nominated by ACS customers and one is awarded to a child or grandchild of an ACS employee. In addition to highlighting 36 Alaska youth over the six years the program has been in place, ACS donates $25 for each home or business Internet sale, up to $15,000 per year, to Boys and Girls Club – Alaska, Blankenship said. This amount has totaled to $75,000 in the past six years.

Martin’s contributions to his community stood out to Blankenship when she reviewed his nomination from his mother.

“He identified a need in his community and approached it in his own unique way and went above and beyond,” Blankenship said. “He has a great academic record and is interested in science and engineering. … It was a really impressive combination for our judges.”

Melody said she knows Martin’s goals will lead him to seeking a college degree. He tested into college level courses in early high school and scored as a genius on an IQ test for adults as a young teen. He took college level courses his freshman and sophomore years of high school, was in advanced-placement chemistry his junior year, and is taking physics in his senior year. He speaks in a straightforward manner, often sounding beyond his 17 years.

“I like how it’s (science) a way of understanding the natural world through logic, reason, mathematics and tests,” Martin said.

Martin’s dream is to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), a school that fits perfectly with his desire to pursue a doctorate in a science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) field and become an astronaut.

“Because it’s cool,” Martin said. “Does anyone else need any more reason for a job than that?”

However, unless he receives a lot more scholarships like this one, he will most likely attend University of Alaska Fairbanks, he said.

Although he plans to study in a STEM field, he is unsure which one he will choose. The right major will strike him when the moment is right, he said, referencing early scientists Isaac Newton and Benjamin Franklin.

“I’m probably going to walk in, get hit on the head with an apple, hit by lightning, then come up with something,” Martin said. “I don’t know and I’m not supposed to know until I’m there.”

Anna Frost can be reached at anna.frost@homernews.com.