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The volunteer superstar

Kelbie Pogoncheff is excelling in school and in the community

Photo credit: Rikki Jane Photography

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Kelbie Pogoncheff is not your typical 17-year-old military kid. The Lakes High School senior goes the extra mile to give back to her community by volunteering with Special Olympics Washington (SOWA). She became involved with the program when her brother AJ, now 11 years old, began participating. "One day at practice they needed an extra volunteer and I've been in love with it ever since," she said.

Kelbie jumped right in and was soon working with Special Olympics softball, swimming and bowling teams to help special-needs children hone their skills. Special Olympics helps to change the lives of people with intellectual disabilities through the use of programing in sports, health, education and community building. Three years ago, she recognized the need for Special Olympics cheerleaders, so she started a cheer team.

Kelbie is also an active volunteer with the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) on Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) where she helps out with filing and other office chores. In 2015, she organized a summer camp for children with special needs. She also helps out at several Lewis Community Spouses' Club events.

Kelbie is very humble when asked about her volunteer work. "Ironically, I feel incredibly selfish when I am volunteering. It's often that I am complimented for the work that I do, in reality, I am constantly being taught more than I will ever be able to teach."

Working with the special-needs athletes who compete in the Special Olympics, has been a very rewarding experience for her. Kelbie is empathetic to the challenges they work through to accomplish daily tasks that many of us take for granted. "Every day that I volunteer, I am shown compassion, determination and hard work throughout all aspects of life," she said.

She is the daughter of Staff Sgt. Blagoy Pogoncheff and his wife, Stacie. Pogoncheff is currently deployed to Guantanamo Naval Base, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Her mother, Stacie, volunteers extensively at JBLM as well. In addition, to her brother AJ, Kelbie has a sister, Kialie, who is 15.

"I am beyond proud of Kelbie and her generous giving heart," said Stacie. "Her kindness and compassion for others began when she would come to work with me, around age 1, at a nursing home. In 2015, we visited the World Games for Special Olympics and she noticed Special Olympics cheerleaders. She asked why Washington Special Olympics didn't have cheer. So we returned and asked the "whys" and "hows". Genia Stewart, with CYS Sports and the Special Olympics office helped get cheer up and running. Now in our third season, SOWA offers competitive cheer."

Like many students with military parents, Kelbie faces unique challenges that most students don't have to deal with. With her father currently deployed, she takes on the extra responsibilities that entails, especially for the oldest child. She manages to juggle it all successfully while holding a job at Tijuana Taco in Lakewood and participating in many school activities. At Lakes High School, she was a member of the cheerleading squad her freshman and sophomore years. Currently, she is in the Photography Club, the Blue and Orange Scream Squad (BOSS) and was the manager for Lakes Varsity Football. She also exercises leadership skills as a member of the Associated Student Body (ASB) 2017-2018 Student Council.

Kelbie's selfless service, which she learned from her parents, is certain to lay the groundwork for a bright future. 

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