Meet the 2012 awardees!
The Hasbro Community Action Hero Award recognizes six outstanding youth volunteers who are making their mark on the local or global community and are proof that anyone can make a difference regardless of their age.
Hasbro Community Action Heroes are selected from hundreds of nominations and travel to New York City where they receive their awards. In addition, awardees recieve a $1,000 educational scholarship.
The 2012 heroes are:
Zach Certner, 15, is the visionary leader of SNAP (Special Needs Athletic Programs), a master motivator, and a tireless champion and advocate for special needs families. SNAP has a three-pronged approach to improving the lives of special needs children. The first is its sports clinics, which includes basketball, baseball, soccer, swimming, tae kwon do, yoga, music, and art programs and has over 800 trained mentors to implement clinics 5 days a week during the school year. Children not only learn how to play sports but also gain confidence and self-esteem, forming strong and lasting bonds in a non-competitive environment. For many of these kids, this is the first time they've been able to be part of a team or win a trophy. In 2011, SNAP provided over 3,000 hours of service to the community through its sports clinics program. SNAP's second focus is its In House Buddy Program. Two highly trained mentors are matched with one special needs child and visit their home regularly, providing friendship and homework help. This not only improves the child's social and communication skills, but also gives the mentors insight into the challenges faced by some of their peers. Most recently, SNAP has begun to provide sensitivity training to promote a culture of acceptance. Zach has been taking SNAP's message of acceptance and anti-bullying into the classroom throughout New Jersey. Over the course of 108 workshops, SNAP has educated over 2,700 kids about the challenges of their special needs classmates.
Maryam Farooq, 14, is a student leader who brought a nationally recognized anti-bullying program, No Place for Hate, which is sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League, to her school, doing a job that would normally be the responsibility of a teacher or administrator. She, along with her committee members, created a No Place for Hate Bulletin Board, organized and led student assemblies and staff and student workshops on the signs of bullying and how to deal with bullying. She also helped to implement anti-bullying lessons into the school's curriculum. She created a culture where students treat each other with respect. Through the program, bullying which was swept under the rug or dealt with through disciplinary measures by adults, is now part of an important and open dialogue which allowed many students to feel empowered to take the first steps towards preventing and ending bullying.
Nimansha Jain, 16, uses her unique sense of logical reasoning to find intricate solutions to problems in her community. Merging her passions of volunteering and public health, Nimansha founded the Grandfather Youth Task Force. It was after her grandfather's death due to Alzheimer's disease that she looked back at the memories she shared with him and was inspired to begin volunteering with the Visiting Nurses Association, making weekly visits to a hospice patient suffering from dementia. Nimansha's passion for hospice care grew with every visit, though soon she began to notice the lack of youth in the nursing home during her visits. She knew this needed to change. With this beginning inspiration, Nimansha created a group that would specifically work towards the goal of decreasing the distance between the ages. Currently, Nimansha has expanded her project to implement computer classes with youth and seniors, in which the youth are the teachers and the seniors are the students. According to Nimansha, "volunteers are not paid, not because they are worthless, but because they are priceless."
Cassandra Lin, 13, is the co-founded of Project T.G.I.F -Turn Grease Into Fuel, a sustainable system that collects waste cooking oil (WCO) from residents and restaurants and refines it into biodiesel, a clean-burning alternative energy and distributes it to families in need. When the Westerly, Rhode Island-native learned about global warming, she worried about rising sea levels in her coastal town. She decided she needed to do something so she gathered a group of young environmentalists to help convince her town council to place a waste cooking oil receptacle at the town's transfer station. Together, the young team distributed 5,300 flyers, 3,500 promotional calendars, and made over 40 presentations to students and adults. The team visited over five hundred restaurants to ask the owners to donate their grease. They partnered with grease collectors, biodiesel refiners, and local charitable organizations to collect, refine and distribute biofuel to families who need emergency heating assistance. They also drafted a bill to mandate WCO recycling for businesses in Rhode Island; this went into effect on January 1, 2012. The team has helped set up nine public receptacles in Rhode Island and Connecticut for residents to recycle their grease. The project has collected 100,000 gallons of waste cooking oil and has produced 80,000 gallons of biodiesel. By the EPA's calculations, this offsets 1.6 million pounds of CO2 emissions. Cassandra and her team have distributed 14,600 gallons of BioHeat(r) to heat the homes of 146 local families. TGIF now provides emergency heat to over 100 families every year.
Fort Worth, TX
Will Lourcey, 9, saw a need in the community, made a plan, gathered his team, and took action. After seeing a man on a street corner carrying a sign that read "Need A Meal," Will wanted to do something to help. He brought together a group of friends to volunteer at a local food bank where they packed 6,000 backpacks with food for kids at-risk of hunger and served 500 families through Mobile Food Pantry. This was the start of FROGs: Friends Reaching Our Goals, whose motto is: "Having fun while helping others." Will's next action was a sports-based program called Hits & Kicks Against Hunger. Youth sports teams recruited sponsors to pledge $1 for every hit or goal scored in softball, baseball, or soccer games. All money collected went to the Tarrant Area Food Bank. In the end, over 100 children participated and were able to collect over 2,000 cans and FROGs at the Plate, a baseball tournament to raise awareness and money for the food bank, provided over 50,000 meals for the hungry.
Nina Mahalingam, 8, started volunteering when she was barely three years old. She has been helping to host Time to Clay workshops and Stuffed with Hugs events, through which she makes and donates pottery and stuffed animals to programs that support disadvantaged children in the US and Africa. After the 2011 Japan quake, Nina remembered the old Japanese legend that anyone who folds a thousand paper cranes is granted a wish. She came up with the "Wish Upon a Crane" campaign so children might fold paper cranes and send hope to their peers in Japan. Nina co-led campaigns in malls and libraries and also rallied youth worldwide (with help from family) using the Internet. Children from 12 countries responded by folding over 9,000 cranes and raising $18,000 for this effort. These cranes are now part of a massive art sculpture unveiled in Japan's Sendai Train Station on Jan 12, 2012. Nina also co-founded Walking Books with her cousins, which brings mobile library services to children in remote areas who would otherwise not have access to books. To date, this program has distributed over 4,500 books (valued $13,500) worldwide.
Read Nina's reflections on being a Hasbro Community Action Hero here!