Our eighth scholarship competition has come to a close and for another year, we are astounded by the volume of impressive applicants from across the country. Since opening our scholarship competition, we have enjoyed supporting scholars representing a wide range of backgrounds, locations, and ambitions. This year we have had the privilege to read so many passionate essays from scholars highlighting how creative thinking has helped them find success.
After poring over the hundreds of applications received, we are honored to name Nicholas Copenhaver as our Spring 2020 Scholarship winner! We were deeply inspired by the sacrifices Nicholas has made serving our country for 16 years in the United States Army and were moved by the details he shared. One of Nicholas’s proudest accomplishments in his life is being a father raising his two children. While evenings are a common stressor for most families, Nicholas shared how he takes creative approaches to ensure healthy habits are practiced and family time is always valuable.
We are proud to share Nicholas’s two essays in their entirety:
Service and Sacrifice
Since I was young watching my dad and grandfather fly airplanes for the Air Force, I knew that I wanted to serve my country as a combat aviator. Growing up traveling the world as the son of a military officer, I learned firsthand about the struggles that America asks of its military personnel. As a young man, this led me to appreciate one word – sacrifice. Before I joined the military in 2004, I hadn’t really known the true meaning of the word “sacrifice”. Like most 20-year old’s, rarely did my decision-making include anything that outweighed my own personal self-interests. While feelings of patriotism following the 9/11 terrorist attacks led to my initial enlistment into the United States Army, the “sacrifices” I’ve sense learned to welcome have shown me how to become successful, while also living a deeply satisfying and meaningful life.
The military has taught me to sacrifice short-term comfort for long-term achievement. I’ve learned to sacrifice time and energy in the name of a worthwhile goal. Over the course of 16 combat deployments, I’ve learned to sacrifice the feelings of safety for the feelings of duty and selfless service. The military gave me direction as a young man, while also giving me the opportunities to reach many life goals through sacrifice. This profession allowed me to become an Army Ranger, help others as a young medic in combat, and later to become a Warrant Officer and helicopter pilot within an elite aviation unit. The learned appreciation of sacrifice has given me a perspective and mindset that pushes me to succeed, despite what the world, my body, and my emotions are telling me is possible.
All the successes and setbacks throughout my career have also given me the knowledge and confidence to persevere through the difficulties that come with any worthwhile sacrifice. In times of doubt, I am fueled by memories of Ranger School, which remind me to keep my head down and keep walking forward – despite the emotional and physical stressors. In times of uncertainty, I am reminded of my time as a Ranger medic, having to push through anxiety and ambiguity as I frantically rendered aid to my wounded teammates in combat. In times of fear, I am reminded of my past 10 years as an Army helicopter pilot, and the recognized importance that cognitive and emotional control play in life. All these memories, and hundreds more over a 16-year Army career, have helped me to grow and to appreciate the power in having a career path with purpose and sacrifice.
Parenting with Creativity
Being a father of two toddlers has been one of the proudest accomplishments in my life. It has also been the source of some of my most intense stress. In my 2-cent parenting opinion, I have two immediate jobs as my children’s father. First, take care of the logistics in the mornings without losing them somewhere along the way from home to school. Second, respond to and stay ahead of their developmental needs. This one is the ultimate moving target of parenting. As soon as you think you are figuring it all out and everything is on track, one of the kids decides to repaint their bedroom walls with shoe polish, or have a “salon day” with every baby doll in the house.
Our weekday evenings together have historically been a major source of conflict and stress. Following work, I pick them up from school, hustle them into the house, help them with homework while I am distracted figuring out dinner, all while mediating their sibling antics towards one another. Shortly thereafter, I’m rushing them to bed with zero quality time spent and stress levels through the roof. Needless to say, this model of a calming end to a day would need some thoughtful analysis and creative problem solving if I wanted to change these family dynamics.
With that, I sought to first understand everything about this problem. On a chart, I wrote down my observations of our evenings together over the course of a week. What I found was pretty telling of the culture I allowed to thrive. My observations included a strong TV addiction, constant nagging and fighting, hunger as soon as they got home, and zero quality time spent with one another before bedtime. I then wrote down the values I hoped to foster in my children, which were being stunted by the current structure of our evenings together. These values included responsibility, teamwork, family connection, and healthy eating habits.
Next, I wrote down some thoughts on how to create a structured, calm, and family- focused evening together. Solutions that I came up with included a checklist to put on the refrigerator that helped them visualize the tasks for the evenings beforehand. These tasks initially included homework, family dinner, dishes cleaned, pajamas on, snack time, and family activity time. I also wanted to bring the kids into meal planning on the weekend before a school week. I threw all the quick and easy microwave food we were accustomed in the trash. I then compiled ten healthy recipes and let them chose three to make together on Sundays, with enough leftovers for the two extra days.
After coming up with some creative ideas, it was time to put these plans into action. It turns out that putting some imagination into this problem completely transformed the stress of our household. We were able to spend valuable family time together and our precooked healthy meals actually saved us time from the microwave and takeout dinners we lived on. The fighting decreased and the kids actually liked having a list they could visually check off and see progress with.
I evaluated the next few iterations of this plan and made improvements. My youngest is learning to read, so I created pictures of food to put into the meal plan to help improve her prereading skills. I also laminated the lists and meal plan template and let the kids do the dry erase marker responsibilities. I learned to leave a blank line next to the “Family Time” block for a daily write-in. After picking up some board games and educational crafts, we now had better options than picking what TV shows to watch.
I completely believe that getting creative with this problem created a more practical framework for instilling some values into my children that are important to me. What I’ve learned from the results of this experiment is that I have a limited amount of time and energy in my day, and all the competing “businesses” of my life (family, career, friends, community, hobbies, and school) compete for these resources. After reallocate these resources purposefully, I can better guarantee that my long-term and priority investment remains with my family. This creative solution to our stressful evenings has ensured that healthy habits are instilled in my children, while also safeguarding the family as a source of happiness in each other’s lives.
As the winner of Creative Safety Supply’s 2020 Spring Scholarship, Nicholas will receive $1,000 toward his continuing education. We couldn’t possibly be prouder to assist his efforts in changing the world.
We’d like to offer our heartfelt gratitude to everyone who applied for this scholarship, and we invite everyone who did not win to apply for our future scholarships. We host two scholarship contests each year, and the deadline for our next scholarship award ends on July 15. If you or someone you know is attending an institute of higher learning, have a look at our scholarship page which includes all of the information necessary to apply.
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