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Greenfield High School’s Chelsey Opalenik is Franklin County Youth Citizen of the Year

Chelsey Opalenik of Greenfield.  Recorder/Paul Franz

Chelsey Opalenik of Greenfield. Recorder/Paul Franz Purchase photo reprints »

GREENFIELD — Whether it is serving as president of Western Massachusetts Student Councils, volunteering for Our Lady of Czestochowa Parish or playing sports, Chelsey Opalenik tries to give back to others.

“I grew up in a family where I was fortunate to have extra things and have a strong support system,” Opalenik, 17, said recently. “I grew up trying to give back to others.”

The Greenfield High School junior is receiving the ninth annual Franklin County Youth Citizen of the Year Award today for her leadership in school and community service.

Opalenik’s French teacher and neighbor, Tamara Grogan, nominated her.

“Chelsey does so much — and everything she is capable of — and does it with responsibility and humor,” Grogan wrote in the nomination letter. “She is the epitome of the axiom — ‘if you want to get something done, ask a busy person.’”

“Chelsey takes her duties very seriously and believes she should give back to her school, church and town communities. These days, she is a rare phenomenon among young people who are so busy with their electronics that they don’t have time to do homework, much less run projects for the benefit and improvement of others,” Grogan continued.

Opalenik, one of the top students in her class, keeps a full plate of community service and school activities.

She is both the president of the Greenfield High School Student Council and the Western Massachusetts Student Councils — a regional student group in which different school leaders collaborate and exchange ideas on school issues.

Leadership is something she has always naturally gravitated toward.

“I try to show as much care and compassion as I can to everyone,” Opalenik said.

Joining the student council in the eighth grade was a pivotal point in Opalenik’s life.

“It taught me how to step out of my comfort zone,” Opalenik said. “If I didn’t do that in the beginning, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

Opalenik also keeps a busy schedule with sports, playing varsity field hockey, basketball and softball for the high school.

While balancing sports, council and school work can be stressful, Opalenik credits her teachers and parents for helping her achieve her goals and succeed.

“I have to remind myself I can only do so much. You have to figure out what I can do today and not worry about the things you can’t get to,” she said.

Opalenik said she learned much of giving back from her parents. Her mother is a nurse at Baystate Franklin Medical Center and her father is a chef at Green Fields Market.

“They’re the kind of people if anyone needs something, they’re the ones to get it done,” Opalenik said. “I got that legacy from them.”

Opalenik hopes to continue helping the community in the future as a teacher or pediatrician.

“I’ve had such good role models in my life that helped. I’ve had amazing teachers that pushed me and motivated me,” Opalenik said. “I thought I would like to be an influence in a child’s life like I had in mine.”

Her advice for others: “Love what you do and the people around you. It’s so much better when you’re happier.”

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