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Ponte Vedran of the Week – Anna Grace Keller

This week’s Ponte Vedran of the Week is Anna Grace Keller. We first met Anna Grace when she submitted a blog to the Ponte Vedra Focus Blog Writing Scholarship. We were incredibly touched by her love and wholehearted compassion for the community as well as her drive to encourage other young adults (and older too) to serve well and love greatly.

Name: Anna Grace Keller

Age: 17

Grade: Junior (11th grade)

School: Ponte Vedra High School

College Aspirations?  Where?: I am looking to apply for the Army ROTC scholarship because it aligns with my passion of service and also facilitates a pre-med track. I have talked to some Army ROTC programs at different colleges, including Notre Dame (where my sister is a sophomore) and Princeton. I also have visited the University of Florida (Go Gators!)  a couple of times and am going to apply there as well. 

How long have you lived in Ponte Vedra: I am a native Ponte Vedran, so I have lived here for a total of 17 years!

Favorite class in school: I love all science classes, so it’s hard to pick a favorite, but I’d probably have to go with Physics or Biology because I love that what you learn in the classroom can be seen every day in the world. 

Person you most admire: My mom for sure. She is the Chief Administrative Officer at the PGA Tour, and as a woman in the predominantly male-dominated fields of business and golf, she has taught me that gender stereotypes are meaningless and that I can accomplish great things and make a big impact in this world.

Favorite hobby/past time: I am a major movie theater-goer. I love going to see new movies on the big screen with my family and friends, the popcorn, and, most importantly, the Snowcaps.

Favorite movie: Silver Linings Playbook all the way. Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawerence acting duo is unmatched. 

Favorite place to visit in Ponte Vedra: The Guana Wildlife Preserve under the Palm Valley bridge. I love hiking, and these trails are really close to my house. Its nice to be able meet with my friends or walk with my sister and get outside a little bit. 

Favorite book: The Shoemaker’s Wife by Adriana Trigiani. This book is a must-read! I told my whole family to read it and they fell in love. It’s a historical fiction novel beautifully told by a phenomenal writer. 

Favorite thing about Ponte Vedra: I like that it has so many interesting people from all over but still retains a lot of small-town warmth. I also love that wherever you go, you’re close to the water which is always a nice pick-me-up.  

What are you thinking of taking as college major: I am looking to go Pre-Med in college, but as a particular major I am leaning towards Biology right now. I am admittedly a science nerd, and so I’m super excited about just being able to learn more about the field I love.

What does service over self mean to you: Service over self means putting yourself aside for a moment and considering the obligation you have as part of a community. It’s a string of actions, yes, in the sense that you should do acts of service to help others but more than that, it’s a mindset. The mindset of what can I do that will create positive ripples and help others. What can I do to make someone else’s life a little bit better. Adopting this mindset is, in my opinion, the key to fulfillment and will ultimately make you a better person and our community better for it. 

Favorite local charity/organization and why: My favorite local charity is Golf Fights Cancer, which is an annual golf event that not only raises money for Cancer research and patients, but also connects a college golf team with a child who’s fighting cancer and helps the child stay strong through treatment and shows the team the importance of compassion. My other favorite charity is St. Francis House, which is a homeless shelter that provides some housing as well as serves meals, offers employment services, and provides a wonderful community. My family and I love to cook dinner (especially BBQ!) and serve it to the residents there when we can. 

Tell us about how you serve in the community: I am a Religious Education teacher at my parish, St. John Paul II Catholic Church in Nocatee. I teach about 25 seventh graders each week on different aspects of the Church teaching, which I really enjoy and is something I look forward to each week. Additionally, I am a OneBlood Chairperson who organizes quarterly blood drives at the  Church. During COVID, blood and convalescent plasma donations are needed now more than ever, and so it has been my privilege to be able to coordinate these drives and connect OneBlood with all of the amazing and willing donors in our community. 

How would you encourage others to come serve as well: Serving in the community is simple once you get over the false idea that whatever you do has to be this grand huge gesture and take lots of time you don’t have. Rather, I would encourage you to do whatever is in your realistic capacity. If you are a busy parent, try and arrange for your family to serve dinner for a homeless shelter once a month. It’s great family bonding and serves the community! If you are someone who has more time on their hands, I’d encourage you to research some local charities and find a mission you are passionate about. For instance, some homeless shelters like Mission House offer clinical services, which could be especially meaningful for a retired medical serviceperson. No matter how grand of a scale your action is, it is doing something positive for the community and this grassroots effort of everyone doing their part can make an enormous positive impact. 

How did you become involved in serving the community: I think it was a combination of my family values and my personal religious values. My parents are both busy workers, but growing up, they would always make the time to organize a family service project and instilled the importance of those acts in my sister and me. One of my favorite family traditions involving service is every year around Christmas, one person in the family is responsible for organizing a family service project to kick off the New Year and they have to present it to the rest of the family on Christmas morning. For instance, this past Christmas, it was my Mom’s turn to choose, and she chose to get the ingredients and supplies to make bagged lunches for homeless shelters in the area to pass out to anyone who needed it. As a family, we made the PB & J sandwiches, put some various snacks and waters in there, and they were good to go! The importance of service iterated to me by my parents has only been confirmed to me by my Catholicism, where we are taught time and time again to treat others as we want to be treated. 

If money was not an obstacle, what would you do to impact change in the community: I am the leader of the Students Demand Action club at Ponte Vedra High School, and one of the things we advocate for is common sense gun reform. I’m really passionate about ending the gun violence epidemic, and so I would advocate for reasonable, common sense gun reform such as more extensive background checks, reducing automatic weapons in circulation, and safeguards against gun ownership by high-risk individuals. An actual event to accomplish some of these goals could be a gun buyback program, which would be especially meaningful as you could see an immediate change in the community. 

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