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North Hills Monthly

Ingomar Student Honored as Distinguished Finalist in Prudential Spirit of Community Awards

May 01, 2017 08:21AM ● By Clare Heekin Lynch

Ryan Poisker with fellow students along with John Morey, assistant principal, and Heidi Stark, principal of Ingomar Middle School

Growing up in a military family, Ingomar Middle School student Ryan Poisker knows how hard it can be on everyone in the family when a parent leaves on deployment. 

TSgt. Edward Poisker, who currently serves as a combat arms instructor and has served in both the Army and the Air Force for more than 22 years, has been deployed abroad several times. His wife, Maureen, said those times were stressful for Ryan and his older brother, Connor. 

“Military children don’t sign up to serve, and most are born into this lifestyle, but they are impacted by the service of their parents,” she explained. “At the time of Ed’s deployments, we found that the schools weren’t really equipped to counsel these kids, so there were times the boys felt the stress.” 

With some guidance from his parents, who are both active volunteers in their community, and his school principal Heidi Stark, who is a West Point graduate and Army veteran herself, Ryan led an initiative to create a ‘Purple Up! for Military Kids’ program at his school. 

Former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger designated April as the Month of the Military Child in 1986 and every year since, the military community has celebrated with special days and events to honor military families and their children. The group Operation Military Kids created ‘Purple Up! for Military Kids’ as a way to encourage community awareness and support of military children.

“Ryan was drawn to this event because it recognizes the contribution that the military child makes as their parent, or parents, serve our nation,” said Maureen Poisker. “He came up with the idea to raise awareness about the sacrifices of military children so that these kids wouldn’t have to deal with their emotions alone.” 

In early 2016, Ryan set out to host his own ‘Purple Up!’ event at his school. The budding leader prepared a formal proposal for the school administration, spoke with members of the student body, and even reached out to the local branch of the Pittsburgh Central Federal Credit Union (now CHROME) to ask for their support in making photocopies of his flyer to hand out to every student. 

“Everyone was excited to help Ryan, and the community really came together,” Poisker said, adding that since starting this program, North Allegheny school counselors have been able to connect kids from military families with one another. 

Because of the success of the event, Ryan’s principal nominated him for The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, which represents the United States’ largest youth recognition program based solely on volunteer service. Local honorees were reviewed by an independent judging panel, which selected state honorees and distinguished finalists based on criteria including personal initiative, effort, impact and personal growth. This past February, Ryan and his family were excited to learn that he was a distinguished finalist, winning the bronze award. 

However, Ryan didn’t stop and dwell too long on this achievement—he jumped right back into planning this year’s ‘Purple Up!’ day, which was held on April 21. 

Ryan approached Jennifer Deklever, vice president of CDS Administrators Inc., and company employees helped raise money for the event through office jeans days. With the money, Ryan was able to hand out purple pencils and purple note cards to his classmates. 

“The thought behind these ‘goodies’ was to encourage the students to write notes to fellow peers attending McCool Middle School stationed on Naval Base Guam,” explained Poisker. “We still have kids who may fall through the cracks and feel alone. We want them to feel comfortable to come forward and connect with each other.”

For Ryan and his family, the initiative is a time to remind people just how different military kids’ lives are. “Focusing on military kids helps them know that they are part of a special group of individuals who share an exciting and unique lifestyle,” said Poisker. 

For the adults and other children who surround military children, it is a reminder of the sacrifices military children make for their country.

For more information about Ryan’s award, visit