Meadow Bridge Elementary School students Kyndal Gilkeson and Morgan Butcher are heading to space camp.

Both were the winners of the “Failure is NOT an Option Space Camp Scholarship Fund,” announced last month during a surprise announcement at the school, and both were awarded the opportunity based on essays on how they would handle failure by continuing to strive forward.

Russ Dunford and his daughter, Annie Dunford, visited the school to not only announce the Space Camp winners, but also to speak with fourth, fifth and sixth graders on how they can continue their education and create a better future for themselves and their community.

Annie Dunford, a current cadet at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado, spoke with students about the doors that open upon attending the Academy and continuing your education.

Annie, who wants to be a pilot, told Meadow Bridge students if they want to continue their education, keeping their grades in check now, along with taking part in community service and extracurricular activities, will help make a path to get into any school they choose.

Staying true to their character is also important as a young student, Annie added.

“Don’t conform to what everyone else is doing. Being different is what gets you in,” she said.

Russ, who founded the scholarship fund in 2014 for Meadow Bridge students, said the goal is to send two fifth-grade students from Meadow Bridge each year to the Space Camp, located in Huntsville, Alabama. A graduate of Meadow Bridge High School in the 1980s, Russ said the camp works to inspire young minds to dream the impossible and to think differently.

“You are the young hearts and minds that will take us to the next level,” Russ told the students. “Do not look at where you are and think you cannot contribute. Anything can be done, from anywhere.”

Russ told the students failure is common, but it’s how it’s handled that is the key.

Those who attend the Space Camp have opportunity to take part in all sorts of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) related activities, which Russ said is extremely important in today’s time.

“I want them to come and work on the next rocket ship or any next big thing,” he said. “In an area where drug addiction is taking over, it’s more important than ever to offer students opportunities like this.

“If you don’t give them opportunities, they’ll find something else they shouldn’t be doing.”

Email:; follow on Twitter @jnelsonRH

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