By Steve Jones
11:40 PM EST, November 17, 2012
Bob Nobles III plans to be a Santa's helper this year. He will distribute toys and other gifts to young people who come to the Kennedy Krieger Institute's upcoming Festival of Trees.
But it won't be the first time that the New Windsor teenager has put a smile on someone else's face.
Nobles, a junior at Baltimore's Kennedy Krieger High School, was chosen as the 2012 ambassador for the holiday gala known as Festival of Trees. Nobles, who has Asperger's Syndrome, is used to public appearances. When he was younger, he even donned a "Peep" costume — designed to look like a marshmallow treat — for the Carroll Arts Center's "Peep Show."
For the Kennedy Krieger honor, he'll appear as himself — which is impressive enough.
"We were looking for someone who was very successful academically and who participated in a number of activities," said Derek Glaaser, special education director at Kennedy Krieger High School. "A number of people were nominated, and a core group determined the best candidates. Bob was an overwhelming favorite, because he works well with both the staff and his peers. He's a member of the Young Marines and a great role model in terms of the expected behaviors at this school. All of those things made him stand out."
Festival of Trees, an annual fundraiser for the Kennedy Krieger Institute, is scheduled for November 23-25 at the State Fairgrounds in Timonium. More than 50,000 visitors are expected for the event, and proceeds benefit patient care, research, special education and community programs at Kennedy Krieger.
The event features fairyland forests, toy train gardens, more than 100 craft artisans, a Santa letter-writing station, a Harry Potter castle, book readings and live music. A total of 600 trees, along with wreaths and gingerbread houses, are the main attractions.
"There are more than 600 trees on display and so many gingerbread houses, which are all decorated and for sale," said Jennifer Burke, communications coordinator at Kennedy Krieger Institute. "We're really lucky to have Bob, who will help make the connection between the event and who it is helping."
Nobles will be in the middle of all that activity. As the event's official ambassador, he will have the opportunity to speak with visitors about the benefits of Kennedy Krieger. Those who work with him every day say there couldn't be a better spokesperson.
"When he first came to us, we already knew he was an impressive young man," Glaaser said. "We've seen Bob continue to grow, through his participation in the Young Marines to his ongoing academic success. I think Bob not only has big dreams, but achievable dreams."
The son of Bob and Sharon Nobles will be a fine ambassador for his school at Festival of Trees. But he has much larger goals. An honor student in Kennedy Krieger's Information Technology program, he has already set his sights beyond high school. He plans to attend college, and will apply to the U.S. Naval Academy.
"Whatever I put my mind to, I can achieve," said the 17-year-old, who is also interested in Johns Hopkins and other schools in Maryland. "I got the idea to go there when I was watching the Naval Academy graduation on a TV news report. I decided right there that was what I wanted to do. Since people apply from all around the country, it would give me a larger knowledge of people from all walks of life, just like Kennedy has done."
For the past several years, he has been a member of Kennedy Krieger's Young Marines. The school's program, which includes 30 students, is the only Young Marines unit in the nation comprised fully of students with special needs. Through the Young Marines, Nobles has learned the values of dedication and respect.
"I wanted to become a good example for other youths to follow, and that's what Young Marines is all about," said Nobles, who also has a second-degree black belt in karate. "It promotes a healthy, drug-free lifestyle. It's a very honorable experience."
Kennedy Krieger High School, located on Greenspring Avenue in Baltimore, serves students ages 14 to 21 with special needs. Depending on their interests and skills, students are placed in one of five different academies: Information Technology, Manufacturing and Construction, Horticulture, Hospitality and Tourism or Retail and Consumer Sciences. When they complete the requirements of their "industry area", students earn a diploma from their local school district or receive a Maryland State Certificate of Completion.
"Bob would not be where he is today if not for Kennedy Krieger," said Sharon Nobles. "When he started at Kennedy, he was below grade-level in all areas and his self-esteem was low. I've really seen him make friends and flourish here."
Nobles has particularly flourished in the Information Technology program. His choice seemed natural for a young man who is in love with mathematics.
"At home, he walks around with his math book," said Sharon Nobles. "We can be carrying groceries into the house, and he's got bags in one hand and his math book in the other."
Noble's interest in science fiction, stoked by his fascination with "Star Wars" and other movies with technical wizardry, was an early indicator he might be headed toward his eventual concentration at Kennedy Krieger. Nobles developed a frame-by-frame animated short film on his home computer, and has also indulged his creative side by molding everything from peacocks to a wreath made of math symbols in pottery classes at Glazed to Perfection in Eldersburg.
"I felt that (Information Technology) would help me understand how to use software, which is very big in engineering," said Nobles, whose identical twin brother Brian also attends Kennedy Kreiger.
The comfortable learning atmosphere and small class sizes have helped Nobles excel in the classroom and become a positive force throughout the school.
"I really like it here," he said. "Kennedy has helped me in ways that no other school could have. If I didn't go here, I'm pretty sure that I wouldn't have straight A's and wouldn't even be thinking about going to the Naval Academy. They do a lot of things here that you couldn't do in a public school."
That included a trip to Hawaii last year with the Young Marines. From Dec. 4-9, Nobles and his classmates traveled with First Sgt. Vivian Price-Butler to Oahu for the 70th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attacks that brought the U.S. into World War II.
"When I went to Hawaii, I really wasn't thinking about the Naval Academy," said Nobles, who plans to major in engineering and eventually wants to be a Marine officer. "But the trip greatly raised my desire."
A primary mission of the 185-student high school, which opened in 1999, is to help students set and reach goals. The school looks at students' academic and social abilities and makes sure they are as independent as possible when they leave school.
Beth Sahhar, Nobles' educational case manager and a teacher at Kennedy Krieger, feels that he has set realistic goals.
"We knew Bob was exceptional from day one," Sahhar said. "He's the first person to offer assistance to others, and he's actually able to teach some of the concepts to his classmates. He's a special kid."
While Nobles is not shy about showing his leadership skills, he is satisfied to let others share the spotlight.
Asked whether he would like to return as a school ambassador in his senior year, Nobles said, "why take all the glory when you can share it amongst your peers?"
"That's very indicative of Bob's mentality," Sahhar said. "He is extremely gracious and humble. He's very personable and friendly, and he can also be really funny. Bob is just a great role model for all of the kids here."
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