Lihu‘e girl one of two top youth volunteers in Hawai‘i

Kendra Kawamura, 16, of Lihu‘e, was this week name one of Hawai‘i’s top two youth volunteers for 2007 by the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism.

Jordan Bayang, 13, of Wahiawa, was the other.

The awards program, now in its 12th year, is conducted by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

Kawamura was nominated by University of Hawai‘i 4-H in Kealakekua and Bayang was nominated by Ho‘ala School in Wahiawa.

As State Honorees, each will receive $1,000, an engraved silver medallion, and an all-expense-paid trip in early May to Washington, D.C., where they will join the top two honorees — one middle level and one high school youth — from each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia for several days of national recognition events. Ten will be named America’s top youth volunteers for 2007.

Kawamura, a junior at Kaua‘i High School, developed a program to decorate the dining hall of a local soup kitchen with a different theme each month to lift the spirits of people who eat there. After attending a 4-H conference, Kendra received a small grant to start a service project in her area and approached Kaua‘i’s new Salvation Army Soup Kitchen with an offer to help.

“While talking with the manager of the dining room, I noticed the room looked dark, colorless and gloomy,” Kawamura said in a press release. “It felt like an unhappy place.”

The manager loved the proposal to dress up the dining room with a holiday theme each month, so Kawamura drew up a blueprint of the room, made a list of needed supplies, and began inviting school and church groups to bring their decorating touches to the soup kitchen. This approach provided a steady stream of young volunteers to work on the project and significantly increased awareness of the hardships faced by the less fortunate. To keep her recruitment going, Kawamura helped develop a promotional brochure and a PowerPoint presentation to share with community groups, and then worked on a training manual to prepare volunteers.

Kawamura says the faces of soup kitchen diners now light up when they walk into the decorated room.

“Even though people are homeless or hungry, they have pride and want to be treated with dignity like anyone else,” she said.

Bayang , and eighth-grader at Ho‘ala School, has participated in numerous community service projects to benefit his community over the past five years, ever since attending Camp Kokua, a summer service-learning camp sponsored by his school.

“This two-week camp made me realize that I could make a difference in our community, even at my age,” said Jordan, 8 at the time.

Campers learned about different needs in their communities and discussed ways to help. Since then, Bayang has spent more than 100 hours volunteering, reading stories to preschool children, picking up trash, collecting clothing for a local shelter and educating visitors and residents about green sea turtles.

“By volunteering, I became a better person,” said Jordan.

Judges also recognized two other Hawai‘i students as distinguished finalists for their impressive community service activities: Kathryn Kawauchi, 17, a senior at Hilo High School on the Big Island; and Jackson Mbar, 17, a senior at St. Anthony Junior/Senior High School in Wailuku.

“People as caring and committed as these young students are critical to the future of our neighborhoods, our cities and our nation,” Arthur Ryan, chairman and CEO of Prudential, said in a release. “By recognizing these honorees, we hope to encourage other young people — our future leaders — and all Americans to think more about the value and importance of volunteering in their communities.”

“This year’s honorees are proof that the youth of today are conscientious and capable of performing selfless acts of kindness in their local communities, on a national scale and at the global level,” Gerald N. Tirozzi, NASSP executive director, said in the release.

State honorees and distinguished finalists were vetted from more than 7,500 local honorees based on personal initiative, creativity, effort, impact and personal growth.

After seeing the sights in D.C. and meeting with their local congressional representatives, 10 of the 102 honorees — five middle- and five high school-level — will be named national honorees on May 7 by a national selection committee (including various nonprofit heads, national politicians and actor Richard Dreyfuss) and receive and additional $5,000 in awards and grants from The Prudential Foundation for nonprofit, charitable organizations of their choice.

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