State Honorees

Zachary Woolley, 16, of Birmingham, Ala., a sophomore at Oak Mountain High School, can't walk, get dressed, or do his schoolwork without assistance because he has cerebral palsy. Yet he has helped raise more than $10,000 to find a cure and to purchase essential equipment for a little girl in Poland who also has the disease. "My parents have always taught me that I can be mad and a jerk, or I can really like life and help others understand disabilities," he said. So, since he was 3 years old, Zachary has helped educate others about cerebral palsy as a spokesperson for United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) and a champion for the Children's Miracle Network. 

Recently, he and his father teamed up to produce and sell a special Christmas ornament that depicts Zachary receiving a gift from Santa Claus to raise funds for UCP. While working on the project, Zachary discovered that the artist in Poland commissioned to create the ornament had a daughter with cerebral palsy. Zachary worked with fellow student government officers at his school to sponsor an event that raised enough money to purchase both a wheelchair and a bathing chair for the little girl. The experience made Zachary feel very thankful. "I may be in a wheelchair, but I have a good home and family," said Zachary. "We have so much."

Lindsey Jones, 10, of Gurley, Ala., a fifth-grader at Central School in Huntsville, helped a local American Cancer Society chapter surpass its $313,000 Relay for Life fund-raising goal by serving as the event's 2006-07 Honorary Youth Chair. Lindsey got involved because she wanted to "give back a portion of what had been done for me" while she battled a rare form of cancer at age 3 that left her blind. "I wanted to give people hope that they could do it, and that one day cancer would be eliminated," she said. 

As Youth Chair of the Relay for Life, Lindsey appeared in advertisements, gave interviews to the news media, participated in numerous civic and charitable events, spoke and sang at local colleges about the importance of cancer research, and had her picture displayed on the hood of a racecar during a special day held in her honor at the racetrack. The Relay for Life ended up drawing more than 25,000 people and raising $331,000.  In addition, Lindsey collected more than $3,000 directly through her own website. "I have learned that nothing, including blindness, should stop you from doing what you want to do and being what you want to be," Lindsey said. "Cancer took away my eyesight, but not my vision for the future."

Distinguished Finalists

Paris Davis, 15, of Irondale, Ala., a freshman at Shade's Valley High School, raised $7,000 to open an Internet Café that has given kids in her small community a safe and convenient place to access computers and socialize. Paris found a location, sought sponsors, found a contractor to renovate an old church building, and recruited others to join her as volunteer staff members at the café.

Shannon Edsall, 16, of Alabaster, Ala., a sophomore at Thompson High School, conducted environmental-education workshops for more than 1,000 children and 100 adults across Alabama. During her training sessions, Shannon uses outdoor "teaching" trails along with interactive electronic "quiz boxes" she built by hand to test the environmental IQs of her students.

Joy Lampkin, 17, of Homewood, Ala., a student at Homewood High School, started a summer cheerleading camp for girls who are terminally ill or have a terminally ill sibling. In 2003, Joy persuaded the Children's Harbor Care Center, where she volunteered, to finance the two-day camp to help the 50 girls who participate each summer boost their self-confidence, determination, and enthusiasm for life.

Gregory Stanhope, 15, of Florence, Ala., a sophomore at Florence High School, turned a storage closet at a local high school into a multi-sensory room filled with lights, sounds, and activities designed to calm autistic and other special-education students when they get agitated. Gregory solicited money and materials to create the room, and recruited fellow students to complete the conversion.

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State Honorees

Taylor Bell, 17, of Little Rock, Ark., a junior at Pulaski Academy, created Little Rock's first organized soccer league for special-needs children. Because his mother, a speech pathologist, works with special-needs kids, Taylor says he has long recognized that "children, regardless of their abilities, are much more alike than they are different. Unfortunately, I also have seen how some children have limited opportunities to be part of a team because of their special needs." Taylor is also passionate about soccer, so he decided to combine these two interests by introducing the sport to children with disabilities.

Taylor contacted the Arkansas Soccer Association and the Little Rock Futbol Club for assistance, researched programs in other cities and states, met with school principals, and scheduled a trial summer camp in 2004. When the response confirmed the viability of an ongoing league, Taylor secured uniforms and playing fields, recruited coaches, created team rosters, and formulated schedules. He conducts two eight-week seasons a year, spending three hours every Saturday morning coaching his players, and up to 10 additional hours a week on administrative tasks. To date, more than 100 special-needs children and more than 100 teen coaches have participated in the program. Taylor hopes to start similar programs in other parts of Arkansas, and last summer trained 22 coaches in Texas. He also is developing a coaching manual and training younger volunteers to take over when he goes to college. "When you find something you are passionate about, you have to do it. If you don't, then you will spend the rest of your life regretting it," he said.

Laura Talbert, 13, of Benton, Ark., an eighth-grader at Bauxite High School in Bauxite, assembled and shipped care packages containing "neck coolers" and other personal items to a 224-member Army unit almost every week during its recent tour in Iraq. When a relative serving in the Army's 1035th Unit wrote home about the 130º heat and lack of hygiene supplies and other personal items, "it became a personal duty for me to help and let them know we care," Laura said.

With assistance from her mother, grandmother and two friends, Laura purchased materials for 240 camouflage neck coolers and then sewed them together. She also shopped for books, magazines, games, holiday decorations, snack food, personal care items, and small "goodwill" items, such as coloring books, for the soldiers to give to Iraqi children. Laura and a few friends then sorted, packed, and mailed packages to the Army unit on a regular basis. In addition, Laura shipped supplies to a soldier's family after their home was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. "During all of this, I learned to be more thankful for what I have, and the freedoms that we sometimes take for granted," she said.

Distinguished Finalists

Marybeth Allinson, 18, of Benton, Ark., a senior at Benton High School, played a leading role in funding and constructing a youth-built home for a needy family in her community. While serving in a variety of leadership roles in a youth-run Habitat for Humanity chapter, Marybeth helped organize fund-raisers, handled publicity campaigns, recruited and managed teen volunteers, wrote grant applications, scheduled work sessions, and participated in the actual construction of the new home.

Vakeyia Dulaney, 18, of Little Rock, Ark., a senior at Hall High School, helped turn an abandoned lot into a popular community playground. With help from neighborhood residents and civic organizations, Vakeyia and other youth volunteers researched and planned the project, created a budget, wrote a grant proposal, cleaned and leveled the lot, created a nature path, and installed playground equipment.

Morgan Holt, 16, of Conway, Ark., a sophomore at Conway High East, developed a program to teach weekly dance and cheerleading classes to disadvantaged children at the Conway Boys and Girls Club.  Morgan develops lesson plans, recruits teen volunteer assistants, works with club officials to schedule classes and other activities, and leads the children in cheer and dance activities for one hour each week.

Sydney Steely, 17, of Murfreesboro, Ark., a member of the Pike County 4-H and a senior at Murfreesboro High School, created a six-week, library-based reading program last spring that provided free books to 5- to 8-year-old children as a reward for completing weekly reading assignments. Sydney obtained a grant to buy books, advertised her program, recruited other volunteers, planned and scheduled lessons, and conducted entertaining activities to encourage reading. Nearly 300 books were given away to her young readers.

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State Honorees

Alexander Srodes, 16, of Placida, Fla., a junior at Lemon Bay High School in Englewood, has been working to save endangered sea turtles for the past five years by making presentations at schools, libraries, and special events.  Alexander was just 11 years old when he created "Turtle Talks," an educational program about the loggerhead and green turtles that nest on the beaches near his home in Southwest Florida.  "When I learned that they were rapidly approaching extinction, I knew I had to notify my peers that this problem existed," he said.

Alexander visited a local marine lab to learn more about the turtles, and then applied for a grant from the Gulf Coast Community Foundation to develop a traveling educational show that includes a PowerPoint presentation, a turtle costume, and other props to engage young audiences. Since 2002, Alexander has delivered his "Turtle Talks" to thousands of kids and adults at 25 schools, eight libraries, and seven nature events. These days he also gives away free copies of an information and activity booklet he wrote; 10,000 copies have been printed in English and 5,000 in Spanish. Last year, Alexander learned that an aquarium in Clearwater had named one of its turtles after him. "It is up to us as young people to support conservation efforts so that these ancient reptiles can continue to swim the world," he said.

B. Donovan Foster, 14, of Beverly Hills, Fla., an eighth-grader at St. John Lutheran School in Ocala, designed and helped sell an award-winning decal that is projected to raise more than $70,000 to support manatee rescue, research, and rehabilitation programs. Donovan has enjoyed drawing and painting since he was young, and he developed a passion for manatees after a sixth-grade field trip gave him the opportunity to swim with the creatures.When he heard about a contest sponsored by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to design a manatee decal, he jumped at the chance.

"I used the underwater photos I took of the manatees and strove to make my painting capture the serenity of these docile creatures," Donovan said. After his design-depicting a mother manatee and her calf, entitled "Manatees at Sunrise"-beat 74 other entries, Donovan got to work selling the new decal in the Citrus County Tax Collector's Office and at Homosassa State Park. He also got his school involved in the fund-raising effort. While selling decals, Donovan serves as a passionate advocate for manatee preservation. "Manatees are such beautiful and inquisitive creatures," he said. "Helping them live on for generation after generation should be of utmost importance to us all!"

Distinguished Finalists

Erica Alexander, 17, of North Miami Beach, Fla., a senior at Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High School in Miami, collected hundreds of hygiene items, medications, toys, and books, and personally delivered them to Sri Lankan victims of the disastrous tsunami that struck Southeast Asia in December 2004. Erica also raised more than $3,000 to aid the victims, and continues to host periodic collection drives to benefit people in her mother's homeland of Sri Lanka.

Jaclyn Dolinsky, 18, of Plantation, Fla., a senior at American Heritage School, organized a basketball tournament at her school that has raised more than $4,500 over the past two years to grant the wishes for two terminally ill children. The proceeds from Jaclyn's "Swish-for-a-Wish" tournament enabled the Make-A-Wish Foundation to send the two children on vacations with their families.

Megan Getter, 17, of North Fort Myers, Fla., a senior at Fort Myers High School, hosted a teen volunteer fair and created a volunteer directory and website to help young people find service opportunities in their community. Megan also speaks to community groups on behalf of the Friendship Volunteer Center's Teen Corps, and participates regularly in Teen Corps activities.

Stacey Grant, 17, of Lakeland, Fla., a senior at George Jenkins High School, led a group of seven high school girls in producing 25 storybooks for visually impaired children in their county. Each book included printed text, Braille, raised illustrations, and a "Storyteller CD."

Kathleen Greenman, 16, of Marathon, Fla., a member of the American Red Cross of Greater Miami & the Keys and a junior at Marathon High School, founded a nonprofit organization called "Hands on Hands" with her older sisters to raise money for orphans in Kenya. Last year, Kathleen organized a Thanksgiving-style fund-raising dinner, and even though it took place shortly after Hurricane Wilma inundated her community, the event brought in more than $10,000 for Kenyan children.

Laura Irastorza, 17, of Miami, Fla., a member of the Girl Scout Council of Tropical Florida and a senior at Our Lady of Lourdes Academy, has raised more than $12,000 selling Girl Scout cookies over the past five years to provide 50 cleft-lip and -palate operations for foreign children through Operation Smile. Laura also undertook a 10-day medical mission to Morocco to volunteer for Operation Smile, and plans to become a doctor one day so that she can help these children directly.

Daniel Lage, 17, of Coral Gables, Fla., a senior at Gulliver Preparatory School in Miami, collected used textbooks and sold them on the Internet to raise $2,500 to rejuvenate an after-school program in Miami's Little Havana neighborhood. Daniel's funds were used to renovate space for the program, revamp the curriculum, and purchase new books and backpacks for 60 underprivileged students.

Jared Padgett, 13, of Sarasota, Fla., an eighth-grader at Sarasota Middle School, served as junior project coordinator for "Operation Military Kids," a 4-H project that provides support to families of deployed soldiers. Jared helped write grant proposals, raise funds, purchase toys and craft projects for military children, and pack and ship goods to soldiers overseas.

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State Honorees

David Mulcahy, 18, of Roswell, Ga., a senior at Marist School in Atlanta, developed a program that helps financially disadvantaged kids become soccer referees so that they can earn money to help themselves and their families. David, who loves soccer, earns his spending money by refereeing soccer games. "I know the benefits of refereeing: pride, a sense of accomplishment, and, of course, the money," David said. "I simply thought that what was good for me might be good for others."

David started in 2002 with the idea of helping just one underprivileged youngster receive referee training, but he didn't stop there. To date, he has raised more than $3,500 in donations from churches, businesses, family, and friends to pay for referee courses, fees, uniforms, and other equipment for dozens of young people. He identifies suitable candidates for his program, recruits mentors for them, arranges transportation to classes, assists with tutoring if needed, and helps place his newly trained referees in positions at area soccer clubs. He recently persuaded his high school soccer team to sponsor eight kids, and the Georgia Soccer Association to provide 25 free spaces in its referee classes. David is now providing advice to a similar program in Florida.  "In attempting to give pride and a sense of accomplishment to others, I realize that I have done the same for myself," he said.

Jonathan Peacock, 14, of Alma, Ga., a member of the Bacon County 4-H and an eighth-grader at Bacon County Middle School, spent three months planning and preparing a time capsule to help celebrate his community's centennial last year. When the head of Alma's centennial committee asked him to help make the town's celebration more memorable, Jonathan thought about a time capsule and began doing research. He found a company to provide an aluminum capsule canister, and delivered a PowerPoint presentation on his plan. With $1,000 from the committee, Jonathan purchased the capsule and bought a newspaper ad asking the public for ideas on what to put in it. He then collected things such as photos, a telephone book, and technology items, carefully packed them into the canister, injected nitrogen to preserve the contents, and organized a ceremony to bury the capsule under the town's centennial square. "When people living here in 2106 open it, they will be able to see what the town is like now," said Jonathan.

Distinguished Finalists

Carson Hand, 18, of Columbus, Ga., a senior at Northside High School, delivers motivational speeches and songs across the country to inspire young people and adults who are battling cancer. After his own successful treatment for liver cancer, Carson prepared a speech and wrote a song about making the best of every opportunity, which he now shares with cancer-related groups, school students, service clubs, military personnel, and other audiences across the United States.

Gabrielle Richards, 17, of Snellville, Ga., a senior at South Gwinnett High School, created and leads the "Heaven Sent Foundation," a group of community volunteers who visit and provide encouragement and small gifts to children and elderly people in medical facilities. After meeting with medical facility activity coordinators and obtaining permission from school officials, Gabrielle developed an ongoing plan to recruit both teen and adult volunteers, publicized her efforts, solicited donations of small gift items from local businesses and private sponsors, and began coordinating visits by "Heaven Sent" volunteers.

Jordan Schwartz, 13, of Marietta, Ga., a member of the East Cobb YMCA and an eighth-grader at the Atlanta Girls' School in Atlanta, built a website to encourage and support girls undergoing treatment with human growth hormones ( In addition, Jordan, who has been diagnosed with Turner's Syndrome, has delivered motivational presentations, written an article for a magazine published by the Governor's Council on Developmental Disabilities, and raised money for disaster relief efforts by selling "reminder bands" on her website.

Jena Sims, 18, of Winder, Ga., a senior at Winder-Barrow High School, organizes "Prince and Princess of Hope" beauty pageants to boost the morale of children and teens fighting terminal illnesses. Jena canvasses for applicants, recruits volunteers and "judges," solicits donations from local and national businesses, and produces events that make each participating child feel beautiful and special. So far, 1,100 children in four states have benefited from her pageants.

Michelle Waters, 18, of Savannah, Ga., a senior at Savannah Arts Academy, developed a program designed to provide comfort to grieving children by helping them create websites to honor the memories of lost loved ones. After creating a plan and working with a grief center counselor and a high school technology teacher, Michelle obtained approval for her project, developed a questionnaire and permission slips, created a master website, and attended weekly children's grief counseling sessions to prepare for working with individual children.

Laura White, 16, of Alpharetta, Ga., a junior at Northview High School in Duluth, organized monthly swimming lessons for more than 50 disadvantaged children in the Atlanta area. After obtaining permission and developing a plan, Laura obtained a grant to help fund her program, recruited volunteer instructors, drew up lesson plans and schedules, and began coordinating classes that teach children not only how to swim, but also how to be safe and have fun in the water.

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State Honorees

Niharika Jain, 16, of Shreveport, La., a junior at Caddo Magnet High School, founded a 25-member "youth board" for a local YWCA, to conduct volunteer projects benefiting underprivileged children who are staying at the Y's family violence shelter. Niharika first visited the YWCA several years ago while studying domestic violence for a social studies project, and was stunned by the living conditions for women and children at the shelter. Even more upsetting to Niharika was a brochure that told of a 3-year-old Shreveport child who had been beaten to death by her father. "I had no idea that domestic violence occurred in my own community," she said.

Niharika organized a drive to collect cleaning supplies for the shelter, but then realized that much more could be accomplished by organizing a dedicated group of young people. She proposed the idea of a youth board to YWCA and school officials, and distributed application forms to all of the public high schools in Caddo Parish. After 25 girls were selected for the board, Niharika began conducting monthly meetings and planning volunteer projects. Initially, the board members helped children with reading and homework in an after-school tutoring program, and after discovering that the kids did not have enough books to read, Niharika's group collected more than 1,000 books for them through book drives at four high schools. Niharika also organized a youth "summit" that gave more than 100 students from 11 high schools a chance to learn about leadership, politics, and domestic violence.

Noel Netzhammer, 13, of Metairie, La., an eighth-grader at Archbishop Chapelle High School, helped create an annual summer camp where children with disabilities interact with other kids. Noel became aware of the isolation experienced by many special-needs children because she had an autistic boy in her class. "I started thinking about how things could change for him," she said. "If the boys and girls in class really got to know him, they'd be less likely to make fun of him and more likely to be friends with him." Noel thought about forming a "friendship club," and, after discussing it with her mother, a special education teacher, the idea blossomed into a summer camp.

With funding from Jefferson Parish, the Green Park Friendship League Summer Camp has provided reading, writing, math, social, and other activities over the past two years to two dozen kids with and without disabilities. Noel has served as a junior counselor, helping teachers prepare for each day, assisting with lessons and snacks, and ensuring that the special-needs campers make new friends and feel safe and accepted. She says this experience has not only taught her about autistic children and the benefits of inclusion, but also reinforced her desire to become a brain surgeon. "Perhaps one day I can find a cure for this puzzling condition, as well as other childhood diseases," Noel said.

Distinguished Finalists

Lucy Boyd, 17, of New Orleans, La., a senior at Academy of the Sacred Heart, was only 7 years old when she started the Children's Leukemia League to raise money for leukemia research throughout the Gulf Coast region. Since then, she has organized a series of fund-raising events that have collected more than $50,000 for the cause.

Austin Granger, 15, of DeRidder, La., a sophomore at Rosepine High School in Rosepine, launched an environmental awareness and recycling program to conserve the earth's resources and encourage others to protect the environment. Over the past five years, Austin has collected 1,025 pounds of newspapers, 43 cell phones, 10 gallons of soft drink tabs, and $500 worth of aluminum cans. He also has shared his environmental knowledge and passion with his community through demonstrations, workshops, and illustrated talks.

Hope McFarland, 17, of Keithville, La., a member of The Extra Mile Region VII, Inc., in Shreveport and a junior at Caddo Parish Magnet High School, established "Reading Ambassadors," a motivational reading program for school-age children. Hope started her program at schools in six parishes in Louisiana, and has since expanded it to include schools in Texas, Arkansas, and Mississippi, reaching more than 2,600 children with the message that reading is important.

Wenlong Wu, 18, of New Orleans, La., a senior at Benjamin Franklin High School, created an organization to solicit school supplies and educational funding for New Orleans students returning to the city following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. After contacting countless organizations for support, Wenlong raised thousands of dollars for schools and student scholarships in his city.

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State Honorees

Claire Crawford, 16, of Starkville, Miss., a sophomore at Starkville High School, has raised money to provide stuffed teddy bears with cleft lips to nearly 1,000 children undergoing cleft palate surgery, and campaigns actively to raise awareness about the congenital condition. Claire, who was born with a cleft lip and palate, learned about specially made teddy bears with stitches above their lips available from the Cleft Palate Foundation, and she ordered one. "I felt that I could relate to the bears and remembered having stuffed animals that brought me comfort in surgery," she said. "I wanted to provide the same comfort for other cleft children."

Claire sent letters to businesses, civic clubs, and individuals, telling her story and asking for donations to buy a bunch of the $10 bears. She initially hoped to raise enough money to purchase 24 bears, but ended up with 50 times that amount. Then she began delivering speeches and PowerPoint presentations to doctors, businesses, and state and national conferences to spread the word about cleft children, treatments, and her teddy bears, which she dubbed "Claire's Bears." So far, she has raised more than $12,000 to purchase more than 1,200 bears from the Cleft Palate Foundation, which uses the money for cleft research. She distributes them to doctors and hospitals that treat cleft children, and directly to affected families. "Perhaps the most important lesson I have learned is that to help others is to help myself, which is a life-changing experience," said Claire.

Ebony Archie, 13, of Jackson, Miss., a member of the Girl Scout Council of Middle Mississippi and an eighth-grader at St. Andrews Episcopal School in Ridgeland, volunteered as a tutor with her church's after-school program. Ebony began tutoring at her church while it was serving as a shelter for victims of Hurricane Katrina. "This energized my interest," she said, "and when that group moved on I decided to continue with the younger students in the church's after-school program." Many students in her school district still can't read by the time they reach third grade, and don't have family members at home who can help them with their homework, explained Ebony.

Every day from October through May, Ebony went to the church after school to help children in kindergarten through fifth grade with their homework assignments, often researching topics in advance. Ebony also assisted the kids in a computer lab, teaching them educational computer games. Many of her pupils' grades began to improve after only a couple of weeks of tutoring, "and their attitudes toward their homework really improved," said Ebony. A couple of them have even begun volunteering as tutors, themselves. "Volunteering is a way of life for me," said Ebony. "You don't have to be an adult to change a community."

Distinguished Finalists

Candace Duke, 17, of Florence, Miss., a senior at Florence High School, started an adult mentoring program for underprivileged children who want to play community sports. Candace's program, called "Duke It Out for Athletic Assistance," recruited adults to encourage and cheer for young athletes, solicited sponsorships to pay for registration fees, and collected used sports equipment for kids who needed it.

Abigail Hardin, 16, of Clinton, Miss., a junior at Jackson Academy in Jackson, wrote a book about her experiences growing up with a port-wine birthmark on her face, and has used it to teach hundreds of elementary school children how to be kind to those who are different. To reach even more children, Abigail hopes to publish her book, "Look At Me, I Am Just Like You."

Eden Johnston, 16, of Mt. Olive, Miss., a junior at Simpson County Academy in Mendenhall, sews bibs for elderly veterans at the State Veterans Home in Collins to help them maintain a sense of dignity, and also produces weighted lap pads to help very active young children sit still during speech therapy. After designing her products and researching the production process, Eden solicited donations of materials, held a fund-raising yard sale, recruited volunteers to help, and got to work making her bibs and lap pads.

Richard Kennard, 16, of Starkville, Miss., a sophomore at Starkville High School, has been soliciting donations of books, snack foods, and cleaning materials for several years for a Ronald McDonald House in Memphis. Richard also visits the house regularly not only to deliver the donations, but also to cook meals for the families staying there and to "hang out" with the kids who are undergoing medical treatment.

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North Carolina

State Honorees

Caroline Johnson, 17, of Wilmington, N.C., a junior at John T. Hoggard High School, started a club at her school to raise money and public support for victims of genocide, natural disasters, and other crises around the world. Before moving to North Carolina last August, Caroline learned about the crisis in Darfur, Sudan, and became active in her Kansas school's Save Darfur Club. "I became very upset and moved by the entire situation," she said. Caroline intended to launch a Darfur club at her new school in Wilmington but, after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit the Gulf Coast, decided to expand her focus and work on behalf of people everywhere who need funds and attention.

She secured approval for her new "G.A.P.P. Club" (for Global Awareness and Peace Promotion) from the student council, and recruited a teacher advisor and student members. The club now meets every week and schedules one or two activities a month. It has conducted a frappacino sale for UNICEF's AIDS fund, a bake sale for earthquake victims in Pakistan, awareness campaigns for genocide victims in Sudan and Uganda, and events to raise money by selling candy, bracelets, and buttons. "I hope and believe that we have shown our fellow students that it is very cool and very important for young people to be involved in things that some might say are too big or too far away for us to be able to help," said Caroline.

Mason Gonzales Park, 11, of Raleigh, N.C., a sixth-grader at West Millbrook Middle School, has helped raise nearly $48,000 for the American Diabetes Association, the American Heart Association, and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society over the past five years. "Diseases are out there so we have to help those who have them and keep raising money so scientists can find a cure to stop them," he said. In his first volunteer effort, Mason participated in a local school walk when he was just 6. "It was a great feeling to know that even at such a young age I could be involved and have such an impact on others," he remembered.

Now he engages in several fund-raising campaigns a year, participating as a team member in nationally sponsored events, and also pursuing his own fund-raising activities, such as washing cars, selling lemonade, recycling cans, setting up collection jars, canvassing for donations, and holding yard sales. In the process, Mason has given speeches to audiences of up to 3,000 people, appeared in TV and radio public service announcements, led flag ceremonies and sang the national anthem, and sent hundreds of letters and email notes to potential sponsors. One year, he even asked Santa Claus and birthday party guests to make donations instead of bringing him gifts. "It's the greatest feeling in the world knowing that I am part of someone else's success," said Mason. "If everyone would take the time to help change someone's life, the world would be a much better place filled with happiness and hope."

Distinguished Finalists

Elizabeth Buckholz, 10, of Harrisburg, N.C., a member of the Girl Scouts Hornets' Nest Council in Charlotte and a fifth-grader at Pitts School Road Elementary School in Concord, organized a Community Safety Day to help teach kids in her county how to be safe. At the event, more than 150 youngsters watched fire, police, and sheriff's personnel demonstrate how to escape a burning building, what it's like to drive while impaired, how police dogs catch criminals and find drugs, and other safety topics.

Mark Draelos, 17, of High Point, N.C., a junior at The Early College at Guilford in Greensboro, developed a website for the Ward Street Mission to connect interested volunteers with the needs of the mission. Mark, who learned interactive website design to complete this project, hopes to soon include an online means of making donations and an electronic community newspaper.

Ann Guggisberg, 18, of Warne, N.C., a senior at Hayesville High School in Hayesville, organized and taught beginner art classes for elementary and middle school students in the summers of 2005 and 2006. In addition, she produced and sold note cards featuring the students' work, and then donated the $1,000 in proceeds to local libraries.

Svyatoslav Petrov, 16, of Raleigh, N.C., a sophomore at Ravenscroft School, developed and implemented a hand-hygiene training program for medical workers at a local community hospital to prevent the spread of acquired infections. Compliance with proper hand-hygiene procedures increased from 32 percent to 75 percent during the five-month program, and Svyatoslav is now working to introduce it to schools.

Haowei Tong, 17, of Winston-Salem, N.C., a senior at West Forsyth High School in Clemmons, established a free tennis clinic for underprivileged children in her area. After soliciting tennis equipment from local businesses and promoting her clinic, Haowei recruited friends to help her teach basic tennis skills to more than two dozen kids, while emphasizing the importance of balanced nutrition, regular exercise, and team-building.

Kelly Wolfe, 17, of Greensboro, N.C., a volunteer with the Greensboro Chapter of the American Red Cross and a junior at Walter Hines Page High School, helped raise more than $10,000 to support victims of Hurricane Katrina by organizing a "24-Hour Swim for Relief." Kelly, who started a volunteer group within her swim team, worked closely with fellow volunteers to plan the event and other fund-raisers to support those in need.

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State Honorees

Megan Johnson, 18, of McLoud, Okla., a senior at Choctaw High School in Choctaw and a passionate volunteer for disabled children, has helped build a handicapped-accessible playground, coached athletes at the Special Olympics, raised money for a Down syndrome association, and taught disabled children to dance. Megan became acquainted with disabled children through an elective class that worked with kids in the special education program at a local elementary school. "As I learned more about the children, it sparked an interest in me," said Megan. "I knew this was the path for my future."

As her interest developed, Megan discovered that there were many volunteer opportunities to support special-needs children. First, she worked at an annual carnival to raise money to build a playground with special equipment for disabled kids, and then joined the work crew that constructed the project. Last spring, she spent two days coaching two deaf girls at a state Special Olympics competition. Megan also recruited walkers and solicited donations for a "Buddy Walk" that benefited the Oklahoma Down Syndrome Association, and volunteered to answer telephones at Jerry Lewis' Labor Day telethon for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. In addition, Megan created a special program to teach basic dance movements to special-needs children. "By spending time with these special children and seeing them for the people they are on the inside, I can honestly say that I have learned the true meaning of compassion," she said.

Christina Senger, 13, of Tulsa, Okla., a member of the Girl Scouts of Magic Empire Council and an eighth-grader at Edison Preparatory School, conducted a community drive that collected new and gently used school uniforms for underprivileged Hispanic children attending San Miguel Middle School. "Everyone should be able to feel good about themselves," said Christina. "Appearance is a big deal in middle school."

To launch her drive, Christina placed notices in the bulletins of local Catholic parishes, and made announcements at the end of Mass at her church. As she began to collect used uniforms, Christina realized they would need to be laundered, so she persuaded a local dry cleaner to clean and press the garments without charge. In addition, Christina secured a $1,000 grant to purchase new uniforms, and a uniform company agreed to donate even more. Christina personally delivered her uniforms to San Miguel and organized them so the students there could easily find their sizes. "Quite often, I take for granted my closet of clothes," Christina said. "I learned to be thankful for what I have."

Distinguished Finalists

Andrea Chapman, 18, of Buffalo, Okla., a senior at Buffalo High School, developed a fire safety education program for elementary students, along with a companion website to provide additional information. Andrea, whose best friend lost her home in a disastrous fire, has spoken to more than 300 students and is working with the local fire department to bring her program to more schools in her area.

Amy Cole, 18, of Chickasha, Okla., a senior at Chickasha High School, formed a homework club at her school to make free tutoring available to more than 800 students, after the school's peer tutoring service lost its funding. In addition to serving as a tutor herself, Amy arranged for students from a local college to provide homework assistance, and obtained the use of a community room and computers from the Chickasha Public Library.

Brandon Highfill, 17, of Enid, Okla., a junior at Chisholm High School, created a community service organization through the Garfield County 4-H that engages young volunteers in a different service project each month. Brandon's group has raised money for a Ronald McDonald House and Habitat for Humanity, made "neck coolers" for U.S. troops in Iraq, collected jackets for victims of Hurricane Katrina, wrapped donated Christmas presents for low-income families, conducted a school supply drive for the YWCA, and undertaken many other service projects.

Ashley Zumwalt, 16, of Choctaw, Okla., a member of the Tinker Area YMCA in Midwest City and a junior at Choctaw High School, has collected more than 3,000 stuffed animals to comfort children who are traumatized by domestic violence. As the Oklahoma chairperson of SAFE (Stuffed Animals For Emergencies), Ashley conducts stuffed-animal collection drives, cleans the donated toys and dresses them up with ribbons and bows, and distributes them to police and fire personnel, who pass them along to children when responding to domestic violence calls.

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South Carolina

State Honorees

Graham Van Schaik, 16, of Columbia, S.C., a junior at Spring Valley High School, organized a hands-on science camp last summer for 160 at-risk elementary school students, most of whom had scored poorly on standardized science tests. "South Carolina consistently ranks at the bottom of most academic measurements," said Graham. "I would like to make a difference in improving the standardized test scores of elementary students in my state." Graham, who has won several awards in international science competitions, decided to create a program that would enable him to share his love and enthusiasm for science with underprivileged kids who need help in that subject.

After persuading a local Boys and Girls Club to incorporate his idea into its summer camp program, Graham researched science education topics and developed a curriculum, collected $2,000 in donations by writing to and visiting local businesses, and purchased science notebooks and other supplies for his camp. He taught his science classes twice a week over a two-month period at two elementary schools, with plenty of fun, hands-on experiments. Graham tested his pupils at the end of the camp and found they had increased their knowledge of some topics by up to 600 percent. Graham wants to expand his program and recruit other teens to join his effort. "If everyone gave just a small amount of their time to helping someone in his or her community, it would have a positive impact," he said.

Creighton Boggs, 12, of Columbia, S.C., a seventh-grader at Heathwood Hall Episcopal School, has celebrated her birthday for the past two years by throwing a party for a local animal shelter and asking guests to bring donations instead of traditional presents. Creighton loves animals and has two adopted cats she found abandoned. "I want to help other animals," she said, "but I know I can't adopt them all." While cleaning out her closet one day, she found a birthday present she'd never opened, and decided right then to devote her next birthday to helping homeless animals.

Creighton works with animal shelter officials to develop a ‘wish list' of needed supplies, and includes the list in the "All 4 Paws" party invitations she sends to all of the girls in her grade at school. At the parties, the pizza, cake, posters, and banners all bear the "All 4 Paws" inscription, and the shelter's director gives a presentation on how to be a responsible pet owner, accompanied by one of the shelter's animals. Each year, Creighton's party has collected an SUV-full of cleaning and bedding supplies for the shelter and more than $250 for shelter programs. "I believe it is important to help the animals because they cannot help themselves," Creighton said. "They must depend on us to provide them with love and care."

Distinguished Finalists

Erin Abernethy, 17, of Aiken, S.C., a senior at South Aiken High School, created a paper-recycling program at her school. After receiving permission from school administrators, Erin persuaded teachers to place recycling boxes in their classrooms, publicized the program, collected paper from 88 classrooms and offices every Wednesday, and arranged for the city to pick up the recycled material.

Courtney Cisson, 15, of Greenville, S.C., a sophomore at Eastside High School in Taylors, organized a fund-raising dinner for school alumni that yielded $3,000 for "Parents of Galactosemic Children," a children's charity. Courtney distributed informational flyers, contacted alumni, planned the dinner, served as hostess, and cleaned the cafeteria after the event.

Vasanthan Kuppuswamy, 17, of Mt. Pleasant, S.C., a junior at Academic Magnet High School in North Charleston, has taught English to impoverished children in southern India for the past five summers. He also raised funds to renovate two Indian schools, and personally oversaw the construction project.

Sarah Nader, 17, of Lancaster, S.C., a senior at Lancaster High School, founded "Youth 4 a Better Community," a volunteer group dedicated to completing one service project every month. She also serves as head of the Community Service Committee and co-chair of the South Carolina Center for Safe Schools Youth Advisory Board.

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State Honorees

Taylor Cox, 16, of Brentwood, Tenn., a sophomore at Ensworth High School in Nashville, works year-round to educate the public about juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA) and raise money for the Arthritis Foundation. Taylor discovered she had JRA when she was 13. "Most people, including myself, thought arthritis was just an old person's disease," she said. Even though nearly 300,000 kids in the U.S. have juvenile arthritis, "I found JRA is a mystery to kids, adults, and even doctors," she said, adding that there is a shortage of pediatric rheumatologists and a need for better medication.

To address this situation, Taylor has delivered speeches to more than 3,500 people at school assemblies, student council and scout meetings, community service organizations, and corporate staff meetings. She urges schools to hold Halloween or Valentine's Day fund-raisers for JRA, giving them instructions on how to run the event and providing candy or flowers for them to sell. Seven schools have participated in Taylor's fund-raising program since its inception a year and a half ago, and nearly $17,000 has been collected for the Arthritis Foundation. Taylor also solicits donations from corporate sponsors, leads a team in an annual walkathon, and meets with government officials to make sure they know about juvenile arthritis. "People need to realize JRA does not just affect the person with arthritis; it also affects family and friends and diminishes so many dreams," said Taylor.

Miles Karro, 14, of Nashville, Tenn., an eighth-grader at Harding Academy, helped his mother start a program in Nashville that collects flowers after they've been used in weddings, funerals, and other events, and delivers them to hospice patients, nursing homes, service agencies, and homeless shelters. Miles and his family spent many hours volunteering for a similar program when they lived in Birmingham, Ala., and wanted to continue after moving to Nashville. First they had to prepare a headquarters, so Miles helped refurbished an old barn on their property. Then he and his mother found a local hospice organization that wanted flowers.  "They agreed that fresh flowers would provide a bright spot not only for their patients, but also for patients' family members, visitors, and caregivers," said Miles.

Miles also helped design an informational brochure, and began contacting event planners, florists, gardeners, and others to let them know about the program, called "Perenity." In addition, he spearheaded an effort to collect vases for the flowers they deliver. Perenity now provides flowers to numerous care homes and service organizations, and has more than 25 volunteers. Miles keeps busy by picking up flowers, reorganizing large arrangements into smaller bouquets, loading delivery vehicles, delivering the flowers, and visiting with recipients. "People sometimes worry about volunteering because they think that they do not have enough time or the right skills," Miles said. "The reality is, it is simple to bring a bright spot to someone else, and the person who benefits the most is often the volunteer."

Distinguished Finalists

Leigh Andrews, 18, of Hendersonville, Tenn., a senior at Beech Senior High School, raised $1,000 for the Monroe Carell Jr. Vanderbilt Children's Hospital by recording and selling "Leigh's Luvabyes," a CD of lullabies for young children. Leigh recorded two original lullabies and 10 other songs for the CD, designed a cover, and marketed her product at schools and her church. The proceeds have been used to purchase 45 toys for young patients to play with while they're in the hospital.

Congcong Guo, 17, of Memphis, Tenn., a senior at White Station High School, initiated a campaign that has raised $13,000 to purchase educational materials and supplies for disadvantaged children in rural China.  Congcong organized a fund-raising luncheon attended by 200 people, sought donations through other activities, and set up informational displays to educate the public. She then traveled to China at her own expense to deliver study materials, books, supplies, instruments, financial aid, and living supplies to schools in need.

Emily Hollingsworth, 17, of Sevierville, Tenn., a member of the Sevier County 4-H and a senior at Gatlinburg-Pittman High School in Gatlinburg, collected more than 11,000 new and gently used books to help restock a Louisiana school library devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Emily distributed collection boxes to schools and other locations throughout the community, created an advertising campaign, recruited volunteers, and coordinated a Valentine's Day donation rally. She then solicited donations to pay for transportation, and delivered the books to the St. Bernard Parish Unified School in Chalmette.

Andee Johnson, 15, of Brentwood, Tenn., a sophomore at The Harpeth Hall School in Nashville, led a holiday effort that enabled homeless people to "earn" small gifts for their loved ones by attending drug, alcohol, or education classes, or participating in community service. Andee's program, called "More Than a Toy," helped more than 125 homeless men, women, and youth reconnect with their families.

Korcasha Manning, 13, of Knoxville, Tenn., an eighth-grader at Cedar Bluff Middle School, is working to pass legislation that would encourage more adult accountability in crimes involving underage drinking.  Korcasha, whose brother was involved in a deadly drinking-related car crash, researched keg registration laws, delivered public speeches, and visited government officials to lobby for legislative changes.

Kaylee Radzyminski, 15, of Cleveland, Tenn., a sophomore at Cleveland High School, has collected 6,500 new and gently used music CDs, DVDs, and books-on-CD for troops serving in combat zones overseas. To solicit donations for her "Tunes 4 the Troops" program, Kaylee has spoken at churches and other organizations, garnered publicity from newspapers and radio stations, and organized collection drives at high school football games. She hopes to collect 500,000 discs by the end of 2008.

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State Honorees

Kyle Freas, 18, of Plano, Tex., a senior at Plano West Senior High School, founded a nonprofit organization called "Youth Together" that encourages students at elementary and middle schools to participate in a variety of projects to help homeless, abused, and critically ill children. Since launching Youth Together six years ago, he has developed eight community service projects and offered students in more than 100 schools the opportunity to take part in them. In addition to teaching students about community service, Kyle's program has provided backpacks and school supplies to abused children, movies and games to pediatric patients, and holiday costumes and gifts to homeless kids. He also has projects that support homeless and zoo animals. To accomplish all of this, Kyle has recruited hundreds of high school volunteers over the years, and raised more than $70,000 to support the projects. "There is no better feeling than sharing with others," said Kyle. "We need to realize that we are helping ourselves and our communities when we help others."

Anna DeSanctis, 13, of Houston, Tex., an eighth-grader at Holy Spirit Episcopal School, raised more than $22,000 to create libraries at four orphanages in the region of China where she was born. Anna called her effort the "Odyssey Project" because she saw it as a journey that connected her to her past. She was adopted as a baby, and later learned that most orphanages in China had no libraries for children. "I felt bad that the orphans in China didn't have books to tell them about the world," she said.

Anna set out to raise $2,000 for a library at one orphanage. First, she asked for cash donations instead of birthday presents from friends and family. She then hosted a school dance, asked her grandparents to encourage friends to make donations, sold her computer and videogames, and contributed her allowance for a year. In 18 months, Anna raised more than $22,000, which she sent to two Chinese social welfare organizations to build and stock libraries at four orphanages. There was even enough left over to construct water wells in two remote villages. Anna traveled to China last year to dedicate two of the new libraries. "I realized that if I was still in China, I might not have gone to school nor had a family," she said. "People these days don't realize how fortunate they are, but now I do."

Distinguished Finalists

Grant Allen, 18, of Grand Saline, Tex., a senior at Grand Saline High School, initiated a project to soundproof three band hall practice rooms at his school by applying acoustical foam to their walls. He collected monetary donations and supplies for the project, and recruited volunteers from his church, Boy Scout troop, band, and community to complete the project over three weekends.

Emily Benigno, 17, of Kingwood, Tex., a senior at St. Agnes Academy in Houston, spearheaded a food drive at Kingwood Medical Center as president of its junior auxiliary. Emily's drive produced more than 25 boxes of food to help restock a local food pantry that had been depleted due to Hurricane Katrina evacuees who had relocated to Houston.

Catherine Flores, 17, of San Antonio, Texas, a senior at Saint Mary's Hall, created a dance program for young girls living at St. Peter-St. Joseph Children's Home as wards of the state. Catherine teaches the class twice every month to give the girls the opportunity to find pride and confidence in themselves while also having fun.

Tania Foster, 18, of Sachse, Tex., a senior at Sachse High School, collected more than $10,000 to support U.S. troops stationed in South Korea through her nonprofit organization, "Dallas is Love." Tania raised the money by soliciting individual and corporate donations, and then purchased Army and Air Force Exchange gift certificates, which the troops can use on any military base in the world.

Alexander Levy, 17, of Houston, Tex., a senior at Mirabeau B. Lamar High School, organized a book drive and created a book cart and library system for patients at St. Luke's Episcopal Hospital. Alexander recruited friends to support his project, and then collected and sorted more then 3,500 books and other reading materials for the hospital. He also raised nearly $600 to fund his project.

Deanna Mei, 17, of Plano, Tex., a senior at Plano Senior High School, provides care packages filled with games, toys, and other items to distract young hospital patients from their pain. Since Deanna's "LUV Notes" project began last summer, she has collected enough donations to put together 50 care packages for pediatric patients at Parkland Hospital in Dallas, each with a note of encouragement or a special poem.

Diana Pham, 18, of Arlington, Tex., a senior at Summit High School, co-founded a tutoring program called "Mentors Uniting Students for Enlightenment" in 2005 to provide free tutoring to children in the first through sixth grades. Currently, Diana has 20 mentors matched with 20 young students for weekly sessions focusing on math, reading, and science.

Daniel Steck, 17, of San Antonio, Tex., a senior at Ronald Reagan High School, organized a fund-raising campaign that yielded $1,000 for victims of Hurricane Katrina, and then volunteered to work at a shelter for families displaced by the storm. A short while later, Daniel founded a Red Cross club at his school that has participated in numerous community service activities.

Stephanie Strauss, 17, of Midland, Tex., a senior at Robert E. Lee High School, is a nationally recognized storyteller and has used her experience to create "Living Memories," a program to encourage children coping with the loss of a loved one to find comfort in telling their personal stories. Stephanie, who worked closely with Hospice Midland to create this program, conducted hour-long workshops over a six-week period for 40 participants.

Natasha Verma, 12, of Victoria, Tex., a seventh-grader at Nazareth Academy, conducts presentations on how children can prevent diabetes and obesity, and also writes an Internet blog called "Health is Wealth." In addition, Natasha wrote and co-produced a DVD on diabetes that she sold nationally to raise more than $1,500 for the American Diabetes Association.

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