Key to the White House is reward for Taneytown teen's good works

When she was 13 years old and created a charitable foundation, Josie's Smiles for Pediatrics, Josie Grant of Taneytown couldn't imagine that her flair for philanthropy would carry her to the Nation's Capital.

But there she was last week, touring the White House, strolling down Cross Hall — the hallway that President Barack Obama uses for presidential press conferences — and taking part in a panel discussion in the Eisenhower Building, right off the West Wing, where she addressed the role of philanthropy in the lives of those associated with Kiwanis International.

"It's pretty cool," Grant, now 17, said this week with a hint of a laugh.

For the senior at Francis Scott Key High School, her White House trip was a primary perk of being named a Champion of Change, part of an Obama Administration program that honors citizens who make a difference in their communities. Grant was one of 14 members of Kiwanis International to be honored at the White House on Sept. 21.

During the day-long program, honorees were recognized for devoting time and talents to community outreach projects. They then had the opportunity to share their stories with Obama Administration officials and Kiwanis members around the globe.

Grant had quite a story to share. Four years ago she was inspired to start Josie's Smiles for Pediatrics based on the experiences of her young cousin, now 12, who lives with Goldenhar Syndrome, a congenital birth defect that involves deformities of the face.

Grant's efforts started with a simple goal — she wanted to give her cousin and other pediatric patients reasons to smile. That motivation manifested itself in a toy drive in 2008 that collected more than $2,100 worth of items for pediatric patients at Carroll Hospital Center.

While at Francis Scott Key, she began working with Key Club, the Kiwanis program for high school students, and inspired her fellow Key Club members to join the effort. According to Carroll County Public Schools officials, Grant has since coordinated the donation of more than $26,000 worth of items to the hospital.

She noted that Key Club is built around the attributes of service and charity, and said being involved with the organization inspires her to "leave a legacy, and give kids the kind of life my parents have given me."

"Key Club has really impacted me, and has made a huge difference in my life," said Grant, who hasn't chosen a college yet but is leaning toward the University of Delaware. "I don't know where I'd be without it."

The feeling is likely mutual — she's currently Key Club's Capital District Division 9 Lieutenant Governor, and helps organize programs, activities and charitable efforts of high school clubs throughout Carroll, Frederick and Washington counties.

Last year, those clubs pooled their efforts and organized a donation of some $2,000 worth of items to the Johns Hopkins Children's Center. In April, club members visited the hospital, accompanied by a film crew for the Kiwanis' "Key Club TV."

It was based partly on the success of that effort that Grant was nominated by Mike Downs, Key Club International director, for the Champions of Change program.

Grant said she was "very surprised" by the nomination, and even more so when she got the call from a Kiwanis official that there was some "good news" — she had been selected by the White House for the honor.

Last Thursday, Grant traveled to Washington with her parents, Carol and Neil, and older sister, Shelby, where they attended a reception hosted by Kiwanis, then a dinner. After spending the night downtown, all four toured the White House and attended the panel discussion, where Grant got to "tell our story."

Even though she didn't see President Obama roaming the halls, Grant said the experience was "a lot of fun. It was cool to see all the different areas of the White House."

But perhaps the most rewarding, she said, was the sense that she was representing her school and her Key Club, showing that today's generation can be a force for good..

"Sometimes I think the older generation doesn't think we can make a difference," she said, "but I think that if we can put a smile of someone's face, we show we can.

"That was pretty neat to me — having adults telling us that, as kids, we are inspiring to them."

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