This year, 194 youths between the ages of 6 and 18 were awarded the $1,000 Kohl's Kids Who Care Scholarship. The scholarship recognizes kids who help make their community a better place. To receive this honor was no small feat -- there were approximately 18,000 nominations.
Kayleigh Puma, 17, of Bergen, has made the safety of her community a top priority. Kayleigh began her efforts in seventh grade, when she helped establish the Byron-Bergen Emergency Response Team (BBERT) in her school. What started out as a program to teach students how to run the school's Red Cross shelter quickly became something much bigger.
"We started going over to the elementary school and teaching little emergency preparedness lessons to the elementary school students," said Kayleigh.
From there, the program soon expanded. BBERT began giving presentations at Genesee Community College for other high schools, helped to educate area senior citizens, and performed disaster drills with the local fire department. Though Kayleigh is graduating, the long-term outlook for BBERT remains bright.
"It was just really something that started off small, and now it's reached so many people," says Kayleigh.
Jon T. Robertson (known by friends and family as JT) also has chosen to help out his community, and like Kayleigh he started at an early age.
The 12-year-old from Cuba created the Make a Difference Day Express, which is now in its fifth year. The program is named after the national Make a Difference Day, which occurs annually on the fourth Saturday of October. JT's program provides chronically or terminally ill, handicapped and underprivileged children free tickets to spend a relaxing day with their families on the Arcade and Attica Railroad. So far, JT has bought more than 1,200 tickets and raised over $30,000.
"We started getting a lot of publicity in the third year," JT says. "We didn't expect this much support."
The program uses money received from recyclables to purchase tickets for prospective train passengers. Robertson also has a blog (www.makeadifferencedayexpress.blogspot.comLine is overdrawn ), on which he lists places to recycle to fund the program -- and where he expresses his goal to buy out all three trains this year.
Kayleigh and JT have each chosen a unique way to better their community. When asked what they wanted people to take away from their two very different programs, however, both had the same response: They want to help people.
Haley Keeley is a junior at Starpoint High School.