Charlotte Parent's 2016 Terrific Teens

Meet eight dedicated and determined young men and women taking action, staking claim and exploring new latitudes with bright perspectives.

Joshua Sun

Talented, Intelligent, Dedicated

Senior, Providence High School

Parents: Moses and Mary Sun

Whether he is learning to play a new instrument or taking some of the most difficult classes Providence High School offers, Joshua Sun is known for his strong work ethic. He began playing piano at age 11, took up trumpet in middle school and learned the euphonium at the end of his freshman year because the band needed someone to play the instrument. Within a few months, he was chosen to play the euphonium with Providence High’s top concert ensemble. Joshua also has been drum major of the Providence High marching band for two years.

“I wanted (the position) so I could give back to the program that has given me so much in the last four years,” Joshua says. He further leads the music program as a member of the band leadership team, an elected body that helps guide the program’s development.

“He has an engaging and charismatic personality that draws people to him,” says Joshua Potter, Providence High School director of bands. “Because he has such strong character traits as demonstrated in his work ethic, intelligence and talent as a musician, it has been easy for his peers to follow his lead.”

Joshua has served as captain of the men’s tennis team at his school, was named a Junior Marshall at Providence High and was selected for a summer internship at UNC Chapel Hill to study science and genetics, a field he plans to pursue professionally. He credits his desire to help others to three trips he’s taken to Cuba with his church, Carmel Baptist.

“In Cuba, I saw how much they didn’t have, and yet they were happier than most people in the United States,” Joshua says. In everything he does, Joshua says he wants people to do well and enjoy their experience.

“He has shown a genuine care for his peers and desire for them to find success as well,” Potter says.


Kerstie Phills

Fearless, Charismatic, Energetic

Senior, Charlotte Christian School

Mother: Kendall Phills

Kerstie Phills began playing basketball at age 5 with her mom as her team coach. Now as a senior, she is poised to break records on the Charlotte Christian School varsity women’s basketball team. Her inspiration is her dad Bobby Phills, a standout Charlotte Hornets player who died when she was 1 year old. “He left a legacy for me,” Kerstie says.

At 5 foot, 8 inches, Kerstie is a versatile player who can play under the basket or shoot around on the wing. She recently scored her 1,000th point and is on track to break Charlotte Christian’s point-scoring record for a varsity female player. She is a three-time All Conference and two-time All-State ladies’ basketball player.

“Kerstie is the rare person who is equal parts ultimate team player and superstar,” says Luke Boythe, head coach of the Charlotte Christian varsity ladies’ basketball team. “Her ability to balance that well is what makes her so effective as a basketball player and a leader.”

Kerstie hopes to play basketball in college, where she plans to study medicine with the goal of become a physician’s assistant specializing in pediatrics or orthopedics. She loves children and recently worked as an aid for Charlotte Christian’s lower school physical education teacher. She also is a member of the National Honor Society and the National Spanish Honor Society, serves as Student Body Treasurer and recently was elected homecoming queen by her classmates. She is a leader and fan favorite on the Knights Knews broadcasting team, an audition-only group that produces a comedy news broadcast for Charlotte Christian’s upper school. She is known for her dynamic smile and lovable personality.

“Kerstie loves Jesus, authentically, and that is paramount to shaping who she is as a person,” Boythe says.


Matthew Salvino

Wise, Focused, Determined

Senior, Charlotte Catholic High School

Parents: Michael and Denise Salvino

When Matthew Salvino’s mother Denise was diagnosed with bladder cancer, the course of Matthew’s life changed.

“The complete randomness of the disease really shocked me,” says Matthew, who had just finished eighth grade.

As his family got to know oncologists at the Levine Cancer Institute, he wondered how he could do more for their work. A longtime athlete, he knew basketball coaches at Charlotte Catholic and asked them to help with “Cougars 4 a Cure,” a fundraiser that has brought in more than $67,000 for local bladder cancer research in three years. Each year, Matthew designs and sells a T-shirt, and on a designated day students can wear the T-shirt instead of their school uniform and get into a school basketball game for free.

Matthew has spent two summers interning at Levine Cancer Institute, where he has assisted in two student research projects, including one that was presented at a national cancer meeting.

“It's very inspiring to see young folks have passion for something particular, especially something like cancer awareness and advocacy,” says Dr. Edward Kim, chairman of the department of Solid Tumor Oncology at Levine Cancer Institute. “(Matthew) is a serious yet personable young man who will achieve much down the road.”

Matthew also is known for academic excellence and leadership abilities, and he serves as president of his school’s honor council.

His mother’s disease was caught early, and she is now cancer-free. The experience has cemented his desire to go to medical school after studying chemical engineering in college.

“I wouldn’t say I’m glad she had cancer, but I’m glad I’ve been able to get involved in these things and have an impact in these fields,” Matthew says.


Marco Garcia

Active, Creative, Giving

Senior, South Mecklenburg High School


Marco Garcia’s list of soccer superlatives is long: Charlotte Observer 2015 Boys Soccer Player of the Year; MVP of the 4A state soccer championship, where he led the South Mecklenburg boys’ soccer team to its first title since 1971; and all-state forward.

“Marco stands out as a creative and dynamic player,” says Michael Magno, who has coached Marco at Charlotte United for the past three years. “He has multiple skill sets, but what sets him apart from other players is his ability to improvise and manipulate the ball at a high speed.”

Marco has been playing soccer since he started walking, often playing with his dad, his grandparents and his uncles.

“I like everything about the sport,” he says. “I like scoring goals, being creative with the ball, taking people on.”

His high school team went undefeated this year, beating Laney High School 2-0 in the state finals. Marco, a left-footed player who can play with both feet, scored 39 goals over the season and racked up 20 assists. He helped the 97’ Gold Team, a premier level team in the North Carolina Youth Soccer Association, make four straight North Carolina Final-Four appearances, three straight North Carolina Finals and its last two North Carolina State Championships.

He is a strong student and hopes to continue his soccer career in college, and he has his eye on professional play. Marco always carries his cleats and a soccer ball in his car in case an opportunity arises to play. He volunteers regularly at his church and with local charities, and he’s always glad to stay afterward and play soccer with kids.

“I want to stay humble,” Marco says. “ I want to help people who are in need.”


Claudia Michaels

Cheerful, Focused, Kind

Junior, The Cannon School

Parents: Carolyn Lyons and Jim Michaels

As a young child, Claudia Michaels was diagnosed with severe peanut and tree nut allergies and had to be careful about what she ate. Watching her food so carefully helped her be responsible and hone her communication skills. Last year she started writing a blog about how she manages her allergies.

“Being willing to share about my allergies and helping other people has helped me a lot in coping with them,” she says. “Being more vocal about my food allergies has helped me a lot in being more confident.”

She is a member of the teen advisory group of Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE), a national advocacy group, and takes part in the annual Charlotte FARE Walk for Food Allergy and FARE Teen Summit in Washington D.C. Each fall, she builds a large wall displaying carved pumpkins in her yard, where on Halloween, she stands by it and talks to passersby about food allergies.

She also is a dedicated volunteer and recipient of the President’s Volunteer Service Award. Claudia has spent the last four summers working in the children’s services department of University City Regional Library, where she has helped promote the summer reading program, lead story times and craft projects, created literacy displays and helped English and Spanish-speaking patrons. She’s pursued her interest in health by volunteering at Carolinas Medical Center and Levine Children’s Hospital, which sparked an interest in a career in public health.

“I really like helping people and hearing people’s stories,” she says. She has been a member of the Charlotte Children’s Choir for nine years and has performed with the Charlotte Symphony and Opera Carolina and sang at the White House with the choir in 2011. “Claudia is always focused, always giving her best, always cheerful, responsive, polite and kind to others,” says Heather Potter, associate conductor of the Charlotte Children’s Choir.


Dakota McDonald

Ambitious, Charismatic, Innovative

Senior, Independence High School

Parents: Neatosha and Reginald McDonald

Growing up, Dakota McDonald often passed by the Idlewild Volunteer Fire Department on her way to school, and she remembers having her picture taken on Engine 92 when the truck came to her neighborhood. She’s now completed two years as a volunteer firefighter, and she is the only high school student on the Idlewild VFD force and the only female volunteer firefighter in the area.

“People look at me and they’re kind of shocked,” Dakota says. “I like that I’m showing other people that you don’t have to be male to do this.”

As a junior member of the volunteer fire department, Dakota cannot go in burning structures or a HAZMAT situation, but she can participate in training and assist at a scene. Assistant Chief Mike Conger praised her willingness to give her time and energy to help others.

“Dakota is the type of young woman that I hope my daughter grows up to be — empathetic to those who are in need, a thirst for knowledge, a desire to serve her community and a willingness to sacrifice for the benefit of others,” Conger says.

Dakota is deeply involved in Independence High School, including serving a president of the student council, playing lacrosse and tennis, and tutoring athletes in English. Her love for her school is so evident that she was named Most Likely to Work at Independence by her peers.

She founded Charlotte’s Finest Teens, a citywide club that promotes community service and political activism among teens, and she works with Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department to a youth advisory council. Her future plans include studying political science and international business in college and pursuing a career as a diplomat. Her role models include Benjamin Franklin and Mahatma Gandhi.

“They understood that life is what you make it,” Dakota says. “I want to do as much as I can for as long as I can.”


Kathryn Rhyne

Insightful, Creative, Authentic

Senior, Gaston Day School

Parents: Jeffrey and Lindsay Rhyne

Some of Kathryn Rhyne’s first heroes were her babysitters, and she became a babysitter herself as soon as she was old enough. She found that she loved hanging out with kids, and has since served as a counselor at Sunship Earth, an environmental education camp for fourth graders; and at Aces for Autism, a summer tennis camp for children with autism that she helps lead with her sister.

“From my experiences being a kid and loving older kids, I’ve just realized that I can be an inspiration to them,” she says. She hopes to integrate her love for children into her career and is interested in pediatric nursing.

At school, Kathryn earns top grades and has been inducted into every academic honor society at Gaston Day School, says Carolyn Senter, the school’s director of college placement.

“Kathryn thrives when she is challenged academically as evidenced by her transcript that includes the most rigorous courses our school offers,” Senter says.

She has run cross-country for seven years, and she has played her grandmother’s violin since she was 6 years old. She joined a Girl Scout troop that met at her church when she was in elementary school and stayed with the organization until she earned her Silver Award. She has worked part-time jobs, including an internship at a pediatric therapy center in Gastonia, and now she makes and sells bracelets through her website.

Senter says that Kathryn balances her many activities well and never appears overwhelmed. “Kathryn has all of the qualities of a top scholar, but she also has warmth that draws people to her — her personality sparkles,” says Senter. “She is one of the most trusted students in the school in addition to being admired by her peers and faculty alike.”


Ehren Williams

Intelligent, Engaging, Caring

Senior, Mallard Creek High School

Parents: André and Angelica Christie

Girl Scouting, says Ehren Williams, is a family thing. Ehren’s grandmother is a lifetime member of Girl Scouting, and Ehren’s mother was her troop leader. Now, Ehren has earned the prestigious Girl Scout Gold Award, the organization’s highest achievement.

“Even though I was kind of born into Girl Scouts, I really wanted to join and I’m really glad that I did,” she says. For her Gold Award project, she parlayed her love of reading into a summer literacy program. She had noticed that her young cousins didn’t like reading, and her grandmother encouraged her to help them become more interested in it.

“If you don’t like reading because you’re not good at it, you’re not going to do well in school,” Ehren says. She created the Book Buddy program, where she partnered with a summer camp to spend an hour a day assessing third through fifth graders literacy skills and working with them to improve. She worked with a sponsor to provide each child with a backpack and three books at the end of the 10-day program.

“Ehren has always been a multifacted go-getter,” says Synthia Lewis-Lee, who works in communications at Wells Fargo. “She exemplifies passion, commitment and consistency.” Ehren’s regular volunteer work includes serving as sales associate at Once Upon A Child, a children’s resale store, and as a staff instructor at Springfield Baptist Church vacation bible school. She has participated in Junior Achievement since sixth grade, and she is a member of the National Honor Society, UNC Charlotte’s STEM program and the Mallard Creek High school newspaper. While she’ll graduate from Mallard Creek this year, Ehren has already completed her coursework and now takes classes fulltime at Central Piedmont Community College. A seventh grade biology class sparked an interest in genetics and heredity, and now Ehren is looking toward a career in the field.