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SOAR scholarship: Muscatine student tackles suicide prevention, disabilities in school district

Seventeen-year-old Silas Hoffman of Muscatine is one of three high school seniors receiving a $5,000 SOAR scholarship from The Sedona Group and WQAD News 8.

MUSCATINE, Iowa — A Muscatine student is one of three high school seniors who are receiving a $5,000 SOAR scholarship from The Sedona Group and WQAD News 8 in 2022.

Silas Hoffman, 17, has worked on many creations while growing up.

"I just love to put my skills into use in a good way," Silas said.

He has taken his creativity to another level in the last four years. 

"It's a lot easier for some kids to hit this button than some small intricate buttons," Silas said.

"Even his teachers in the early elementary grade said, '"He's so helpful. He helps me with my computer, he helps me with the projector,"' Silas' father Chris Hoffman said.

Silas has built on the elements of STEM - science, technology, engineering, and mathematics through technology. 

"I always grew up around people who are nice neighbors or people who always help me out," Silas said. "I thought I should give back to my community." 

Silas is also credited for helping combat the coronavirus pandemic.

"Silas was just one of the many people who stepped forward to solve a problem that we were having with the masks," Shelli Eng with Help for Healthcare Heroes organization said.

He made more than 6,000 items of PPE - personal protective equipment - early on in the pandemic. Silas used a 3D printer to make face shields and ear savers. The supplies went to nursing homes, hospitals, and first responders in Muscatine County and surrounding counties.  

"It helped relieve the tension that masks had on their ears," Silas said.

"For a high school student, a young person, who themselves were struggling trying to go through school remotely, learning something brand new, that's exactly what we needed, at exactly the right time," Eng said.

"The biggest recognition is the appreciation of others as they reach out to him and thank him and tell them how they've touched him and how appreciative they are of him and that's rewarding in itself," Silas' mother Heidi Hoffman said.

Parents like Alma and Brian Brunson have also been thankful for Silas' work.

"It's using your talents to help someone," Alma said. "That's what Silas has done for us."

After the Brunson's lost their 16-year-old daughter, Micaela, to suicide, Silas made key chains that say "It's OK Not to be OK." The tags have been given out to the entire Muscatine School District in an effort to bring awareness to suicide prevention and mental health. 

"I don't want anyone else to feel or go through what we have gone through," Alma said.

"We were super impacted by it and everybody in the community was super impacted by it," Silas said.

Silas was awarded by The Sedona Group and WQAD for his devotion to the community.

"We want to present you with this scholarship from SOAR for $5,000 on behalf of The Sedona Group and WQAD," The Sedona Group's Vanessa Aguirre and Julie White said to Silas. 

Silas has also taken navigator robots to schools and public events. Many of the toys have been adapted for students with disabilities. One of the gadgets is called "Miles" the robot, which stands for "Muskies Invested in Learning Every Second." Miles has read books to students with autism. 

Silas has been accepted to Iowa State University and he will major in mechanical engineering.

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