Kaua‘i volunteer takes to national stage

Kendra Kawamura, 16, of Lihu‘e and Jordan Bayang, 13, of Wahiawa were honored in the nation’s capital recently for outstanding volunteer work.

The two Hawaiians — along with 100 other top youth volunteers from across the country — received $1,000 awards as well as personal congratulations from Indianapolis Colts quaterback and Super Bowl MVP Peyton Manning at the 12th annual 2007 Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, held at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

Kendra and Jordan were named the top high school and middle level youth volunteers in Hawai‘i last February. In addition to their cash awards, they received engraved silver medallions and an all-expense-paid trip with their parents to Washington, D.C., for last week’s recognition events.

The Spirit of Community Awards were created 12 years age by Prudential Financial to encourage youth volunteerism and to identify and reward young role models. Since then, the program has honored more than 75,000 young volunteers at the local, state and national levels.

“Kendra and Jordan have demonstrated a level of compassion, dedication and achievement that is truly exceptional,” said Arthur F. Ryan, Chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial, in a press release. “We are proud to give them recognition they so richly deserve, and hope that their example will inspire other young people to become actively involved in their own communities.”

Kendra, a member of the University of Hawai‘i 4-H and a junior at Kaua‘i High School, developed a program that recruits young groups to decorate the dining hall of a local soup kitchen with a different holiday theme each month.

After attending a 4-H conference, Kendra received a small grant to start the service project on Kaua‘i and approached the 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,” said Kendra, in the release. “It felt like an unhappy place.”

The manager loved Kendra’s proposal to dress up the dining room with a holiday theme each month. Kendra drew up a blueprint of the room, made a list of needed supplies, and began inviting school and church youth groups to bring their decorating touches to the soup kitchen.

This approach accomplished two goals, it provided a steady stream of young volunteers to work on the project, and it significantly increased awareness of the hardships faced by those less fortunate.

To keep her recruitment efforts going, Kendra helped develop a promotional brochure and a Power-Point presentation to share with community groups, and then worked on a training manual to prepare volunteers for the project.

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

Jordan, an eighth-grader at Ho‘ala School, has participated in numerous projects to benefit his community over the past five years.

His desire to serve his community began when he attended 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, in the release, who was only 8 years old at the time.

At the camp, Jordan and his fellow campers learned about many different needs in his community, and discussed ways they could be helpful.

Since then, Jordan has spent more than 100 hours a year volunteering. He has read stories to preschool children, picked up trash around his community, collected clothing for a local shelter, and helped educate tourists and local residents about green sea turtles. “By volunteering, I became a better person,” said Jordan, in the release.

Application for the 2007 awards program were submitted last fall through schools, Girl Scout councils, county 4-H organizations, American Red Cross chapters, YMCAs and Volunteer Centers affiliated with the Points of Light Foundation.

The top middle level and high school applicants in each state and the District of Columbia were announced in February.

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