(INDIANAPOLIS) - A young girl who's using her struggles at fitting in as a way to bring an end to bullying is being honored with an RTV6 Jefferson Award.
Olivia Rusk is a healthy and active 15-year-old, but she has alopecia, a condition that's left her bald.
"Alopecia is basically my white blood cells think my hair is a germ. The cells attack the hair follicle and then the hair falls out," she said. "I'm bald now, but I might re-grow my hair someday. I might be bald the rest of my life. We just don't really know."
Rusk's hair began falling out when she was 2 years old. Some of it grew back, but she wore a wig for years to cover it up.
"I just felt like I was hiding myself from others, and I was 8 years old, and I said, 'Hey I'm going to school without my wig," she said.
Rusk said she expected being bald would bring out the bullies.
"I went into school and people were like, 'Hey, you had hair yesterday didn't you?' And I was like, 'Yeah I did.' And they're like, 'Oh, sweet,'" she said.
While Rusk said she hasn't experienced much teasing, she knows other kids who have been bullied for their differences.
When she was 10, Rusk made a music video to bring awareness to alopecia and anti-bullying. She recently wrote a book and talks to groups about embracing uniqueness and standing up for others.
"I feel like alopecia could have been something that, you know, made me depressed, and, you know, hate my life, and I've just turned it into something positive," Rusk said. "So that's what I try to tell kids to do with their differences."
The Jefferson Awards are a prestigious national recognition system honoring community and public service in America.
The Jefferson Awards are presented on two levels: national and local. They began in 1972 to create a Nobel Prize for public service. Today, their primary purpose is to serve as a "Call to Action for Volunteers" in local communities.
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