KANSAS CITY, Mo. — He has one goal in life: helping others become their best.
Winnetonka senior Joe Bell is a volunteer, an advocate for his peers, a thespian, an Eagle Scout and the recipient of a $25,000 Sallie Mae “Bridging the Dream” Scholarship.
“Because you are such an inspiring leader and you are destined to change this world, you are actually a recipient of a $25,000 Bridging the Dream Scholarship.” a Sallie Mae spokesperson said, presenting a check to Bell.
Everyone was in on the surprise except the Winnetonka senior. He’s one of seven students in the nation awarded the prestigious scholarship from Sallie Mae to help pay for his college education.
“I want to be remembered as making a difference, not only to the students but to the staff,” Bell said.
Despite some adversity, Joe is a remarkable young man.
“It was like everything, your hopes and dreams being ripped out of your chest,” Bell said.
Three years ago he received devastating news that his dad was dying.
“My dad has a terminal brain cancer,” the 18-year-old said.
It’s stage three and inoperable.
Bell and his dad, Randy, are best buds. They do a lot of volunteer work within the Kansas City community.
“I want to make a difference because anything you can do to help anyone, any time, any where, why wouldn’t you?” the teen asked.
It’s an attitude and a new approach on life Bell said he started living when his father was diagnosed.
“That’s when I began to adopt this attitude of: ‘You’re either going to let if push you up, or your going to let it drag you down.'” Bell said.
While supporting his dad through health challenges, the 18-year-old has also excelled inside and outside the classroom.
“I think it should be important to everyone to give back to their community,” Bell said.
He’s credited with organizing a student-body walk out, demanding a deeper focus on students’ safety within schools.
“We’re just kind of putting safe guards in place, and we’re not addressing the problem,” Bell said.
“I would describe him as thoughtful,” said Jennifer Ford, Winnetonka High’s counselor.
Ford said Bell is one of the most selfless people she’s ever met.
“Joe has taught me that despite what life hands you, you still absolutely have the power to do amazing things,” she said.
Bell runs his school district’s diversity council and brought a peer mentoring program to Winnetonka.
Even though he’s making huge strides and touching lives day-in and day-out, Bell “would just call myself a normal kid.”
His hair is now 14 inches long. He’s growing it out in honor of his father. Bell plans to shave it off and donate it when his father beats cancer!
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