Alex Stepanek is a natural. The 18-year-old freshman at the University of Northern Iowa spent much of his senior year at Alburnett High School trying to make his peers laugh, speaking in front of his classmates at assemblies and doing skits, all in the name of raising money for the school’s annual dance-a-thon. One wouldn’t be out of line in thinking Stepanek is gregarious.
“I would say that’s a pretty fair assumption,” he said.
His former teachers, Kyle Kuhlers and Lauralea Wander, prefer to describe him as “motivated” and “phenomenal,” respectively.
“He just has a persona,” said Kuhlers, who is an adviser for the high school’s Future Business Leaders of America chapter. “You walk away and it’s like, ‘Dang, that kid’s a leader.’”
Stepanek’s leadership skills are now being recognized on a much wider level. The March of Dimes organization is honoring Stepanek with a 2012 Outstanding Chapter Youth Volunteer Award. At 10:30 a.m. Friday, Oct. 12, Alburnett students and staff will recognize Stepanek’s accomplishment at an assembly.
Through hosting an annual dance-a-thon, the Alburnett Future Business Leaders of America chapter raises funds for the March of Dimes, an organization devoted to raising awareness and preventing birth defects and premature births. The February event pulled in $16,000, surpassing a goal Stepanek has held since he began his involvement with the benefit as a seventh-grader.
The last school year was his second as the dance-a-thon’s chairman and the pressure, mostly coming from himself, was on.
“By my senior year I was trying to push everyone in the right direction and say, ‘Hey, this is a really great organization, we really want to raise more than $15,000,’” Stepanek recalled.
He ran the school’s assemblies, encouraging students to ask community members for pledges and even suggested new donation sources like a half court shot during halftime at home basketball games.
“He would not only come up with the ideas and decide how we were going to do it, but he would be there,” said Wander, a member of the school’s dance-a-thon committee. “He wouldn’t leave it for someone else to do. I know that’s why his peers thought he was so personable.”
When the event finally took place, the students were still shy of their goal. The mood, Stepanek recalled, was “tense.” He rallied the participating students and asked them to invite their friends to the high school’s gym, where the dance-a-thon was going on, for last-minute donations. When the tally finally passed $15,000, Stepanek jumped into a friend’s arm and circled the makeshift dance floor.
“It’s really rewarding to know that you worked really hard for something and you achieved your goal,” he said. “It’s one of the best moments of high school, if not life. It’s one of my most rewarding accomplishments, I would say, hands down … That was Alburnett’s accomplishment.”
Kuhlers nominated Stepanek for the March of Dimes honor but given the organization’s reach, both he and Stepanek were skeptical that a winner would come from Alburnett. In early September, Kuhlers received a call from a March of Dimes staffer letting him know that Stepanek had earned the honor. The teacher then called the former student, who was “floored.”
“It’s just an award for my efforts and the efforts of Alburnett as a whole,” Stepanek said.
He is eager to return to his hometown and former school not for the glory, but to once again aid his peers in supporting March of Dimes. This year, Alburnett students hope to raise $20,000 for the nonprofit.
“I’m excited to get to go back and speak one more time in front of all my peers,” Stepanek said. “I figure any help I can give them is going to be tremendous. I’m really excited to help them raise a little bit more money for the dance-a-thon if I can.”