Young Marylanders honored for community spirit

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Sade Miller with one of the dogs from the Humane Society, where she volunteers to work with the animals.

Two years ago, when Sade Miller was in fifth grade at Ridgely Elementary School in Denton, she decided to raise money for the hospice in Caroline County.

Instead of holding a bake sale or asking the adults in her life for money, Sade (pronounced Sha-day) decided to teach the dance in Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video to nearly 100 students in her school, who then performed it at several venues in town.

"We didn't charge admission," said Sade, now 12 and in seventh grade at Lockerman Middle School. "They just donated."

Since then, she's raised more than $5,000 for a variety of causes, including Susan G. Komen for the Cure, which has special meaning to her because her great-aunt is a breast cancer survivor. For that dance, the participants wore pink gloves.

More recently, she and her fellow students held bake sales to raise money for their classmate Arianna Russo, who was hit by a car in October. In two weekends, they raised $1,600, which they gave to the Russo family to help pay for a vehicle to take her to the Mt. Washington Pediatric Hospital for physical therapy.

Because of these efforts, Sade is one of two Maryland youths recognized as Honorees in this year's Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. The other is William Michie, 17, of Annapolis, who wrote and self-published a novella about sailing, titled "Racing Winds," when he was in eighth grade, and donated a portion of the proceeds to Eco-Libris, an organization that plants trees in developing countries. With his funding, 250 trees were planted in deforested communities of Nicaragua and Guatemala.

"The research involved in writing my book, and some of my adventures in sailing, exposed me to a great deal of international culture, as well as some of the problems that exist globally," he explained in an email. "It seemed fitting that for each book I sold, I would offset the environmental cost of printing that book by planting a tree."

The award program, now in its 18th year, is run by Prudential Financial, the New Jersey-based financial services institution, in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals. It recognizes young people from all 50 states plus the District of Columbia for their volunteer and philanthropic efforts.

As honorees, William and Sade each won $1,000 plus the opportunity to travel to Washington the first weekend in May for two days of events, including notable speakers and tours, and the chance to meet the 100 other honorees. Ten will be named top winners, collecting grand prizes of $5,000, plus an additional $5,000 for the charity of their choice.

Harold Banks, spokesman for the awards, said students in grades six through 12 fill out the detailed applications online, describing their philanthropic work and why they do it. This year, about 28,000 applications were submitted, which is a fairly typical amount, he said.

Between two and 10 finalists are named in each state, in addition to the honorees. In Maryland this year, the finalists are Celeste Awokoya-Gregory, 17, of Silver Spring; Nylah Burton, 17, of Upper Marlboro; Susanqi Jiang, 16, of Rockville; Jessica Lantz, 17, of Trappe; Melissa Rifkin, 17, of Frederick; and Lindsay White, 17, of Phoenix.

"We judge them on impact, the longevity of the project, what inspired them," said Banks. "We see amazing things with these kids," he said.

Most don't know about the contest when they get involved with a cause and simply give their time because they care.

"I take my hat off to the students, and I support the parents as well," said Banks. "The program doesn't exist without students and parents who care about their communities."