2022 Students of Distinction

Payton Danosky founded organization to connect generations

Posted on May 16th, 2022 By:

Gig Harbor Now is posting profiles of each of the 25 Students of Distinction being honored by the Greater Gig Harbor Foundation. The students will be honored during a banquet from 6 to 9 p.m. Wednesday, May 18, 2022, at Ocean5, 5268 Point Fosdick Dr.

Student: Payton Danosky

School: Gig Harbor High School

Category: Community Service

Payton Danosky has always loved being outdoors. Family vacations are usually spent exploring national parks or taking field trips with hands-on learning experiences.

Her love of the natural world has expanded through the upper-level courses she’s taken in biology, chemistry and earth sciences. In addition, she belongs to a variety of science-related clubs including Johns Hopkins Medical Explorers, Pierce County Medical Explorers and the GHHS HOSA Club.

Last year she took a biochemistry course at Oregon State University where she did research and prepared a report on Hepatitis C.

Payton Danosky

Lifting Hearts with the Arts

She’s also been on the varsity swim team since her freshman year and has gone to district and state competitions.

But the thing that’s given her the most pride and satisfaction during her high school years was founding Lifting Hearts with the Arts–Washington, a non-profit that connects local teens with seniors in assisted living facilities.

As it became obvious that COVID restrictions were going to be a long-term thing, Payton realized that the loneliness and isolation felt by those elderly residents was only going to get worse. And students were also isolated – away from their friends and the activities they enjoyed.

She connected with 15 long-term care facilities and brought together 70 students committed to establishing close relationships with the elderly residents.

Lifting Hearts with the Arts adapted to the changing protocols with a combination of online and in-person holiday parties and group activities, and matched student volunteers with seniors for one-on-one meetings based on their shared interests.

She also organized a greeting card drive with local high schools, Voyager Elementary students and two Tacoma high schools. The students made 400 cards that they distributed to assisted living facilities. “I made nearly 80 cards myself,” she said modestly.

“I personally have learned so much and have made deep friendships with many of the seniors,” she added. She meets on-line every week to share stories and reinforce the strong connections.

One of her friends in a senior facility in Renton is now writing a book about her experiences, Payton said. “It’s been so beneficial for them and for us teens as well. We’ve become family for many of them and they’re like honorary grandparents to us.”

Hundreds of hours of service

Recently Payton was honored with a national President’s Service Gold Award for dedicating more than 250 hours a year toward connecting with seniors. And in the 2020-21 school year she was awarded a varsity letter in community service. And by this past January, she had already surpassed the hourly requirements for this year.

Grace Zolnosky, life enrichment director at Gig Harbor Court, a local senior living facility, calls Lifting Hearts with the Arts “the perfect match for our residents. Payton’s obvious passion for service assured me that this would be a rewarding partnership. She created empowering group activities and events during the holidays that genuinely lifted the spirits of our seniors. She has helped residents find joy where there was sadness.

“I have been truly impressed with Payton’s character and with the professionalism with which she carries herself. She has been a tremendous asset to my programming.”

Payton has also formed strong connections with younger kids as a teacher’s aide at a local elementary school. She developed problem-solving techniques to make learning fun and interactive for second graders and was able to continue volunteering even during COVID when classes were switched to virtual.

Payton’s next step is to decide which college she wants to attend. She’s been accepted to the University of Washington, California-San Diego, California-Berkeley and CalPoly and wants to eventually earn a PhD in environmental science.

Payton Danosky

School: Gig Harbor High School

Category: Community Service

GPA: 3.977

Parents: Timothy and Tonya Danosky

Activities: Varsity swim team; Johns Hopkins Medical Explorers, Pierce County Medical Explorers, GHHS HOSA Club; National Honor Society; Dean’s List every quarter; Running Start; Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society at TCC; founder of Lifting Hearts with the Arts; President’s Service Gold Award for community service

Favorite teacher: Mr. Bjorkman – “He approaches his teaching with a positive and caring attitude. I had him for Algebra II and when I took on-line Pre-Calculus the following year, he went out of his way to explain challenging concepts to me even though I was no longer in his class.”

Best thing about GHHS: “There is a place and activity for everyone and many options for students to pursue their personal interests: AP courses, Running Start, clubs, sports choices, etc.

I feel with Running Start I am in a program that both challenges me, lets me explore my interests and prepares me for my future educational endeavors.

Advice to younger students: Find something that you’re passionate about and do it. It makes it easier and gives you a sense of accomplishment.