Award honors youth's service

Charity: Five years of collecting items for the needy helped a North Carroll High freshman win a national award for her activism.

November 20, 1999|By Mary Gail Hare and David L. Greene | Mary Gail Hare and David L. Greene,SUN STAFF

Fourteen-year-old Jamie Ridgely never asked to be recognized for feeding the hungry and helping the poor of Carroll County.

She certainly never expected to win an award inspired by Mother Teresa. But, all that happened yesterday in Washington.

The North Carroll High School freshman won the National Caring Award, given by the nonprofit Caring Institute to recognize remarkable effort helping one's community. Jamie has raised money for charity since she was a 9-year-old pulling her little red wagon through her Manchester neighborhood and asking for cans of food to feed the hungry.

Helpful Hands, her one-person campaign, now includes food and toy drives, and a campaign to give coats, hats and mittens to needy children each winter.

At yesterday's ceremony in the historic Russell Caucus Room -- the spot on Capitol Hill where the Watergate hearings took place -- Jamie was characteristically modest. She thanked everyone else, including her parents, Bryan and Sharon Ridgely.

"And, I would also like to thank my volunteers and the wonderful people of Carroll County," she said. "Without them, my drives would be nothing. My efforts will continue until there is no more need."

She also was inducted into the Hall of Fame for Caring Americans, where her photo and a brief biography will hang.

Jamie's efforts were celebrated with those of four youths from around the country, including Aubyn Burnside, 14, of Hickory, N. C., founder of an international non-profit group that donates suitcases to foster children so they don't have to cart belongings around in garbage bags.

The institute also honored four adults from the United States and two international winners. Adult awards went to Nancy Binker of Dallas for her foundation that has raised $90 million for breast cancer research, and to Arthur and Mary Willhite of Columbus, Ohio. The couple has given 8 million pounds of food to needy families, operating on a $10,000 budget from Arthur Willhite's railroad pension and extra mortgages on their home.

Founded in 1985, the National Caring Awards were created by Val J. Halamandaris, the institute's executive director, after meeting with Mother Teresa, the Roman Catholic nun who died in 1997 after dedicating her life to the needs of the poor.

Jamie walked away with a bronze statuette, an original work by sculptor Frank Eliscu, creator of the Heisman Trophy and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

"I really can't believe this is happening to me," she said.

Jamie's jitters about her acceptance speech "before so many important people" had tempered her excitement.

Sharon Ridgely said her daughter "won't talk about herself unless you force it out of her. She does not want recognition, and she is not doing any of this to get an award."

The ceremony fell neatly between Jamie's annual food and toy drives. "Praise and awards can wait, I just want to get the job done," she said.

Her Thanksgiving job was done last week. She has just wrapped up her fifth campaign, fulfilling her goal of feeding 75 families, 25 more than last year.

She delivered two pick-up truckloads: 75 grocery bags of traditional foods and a coupon good for a turkey at Carroll County Food Sunday, a food bank handling distribution.

"We had many trips back and forth from the grocery store," said Sharon Ridgely. "Seventy-five cans of sauerkraut is about all we can put in our car at one time."

The faces of hungry children set her on her mission five years ago.

"Children being hungry bothered me," she said. "I wanted to do something. I have been doing this since I was 9, and I enjoy it so much, it is just routine."

Jamie studies ballet and is determined to maintain her straightA average at North Carroll. She knows good grades are vital to her goal of studying medicine at the Johns Hopkins University and becoming a pediatrician.

But, she is as determined to maintain her devotion to the less fortunate. She has scheduled collection points and hours for her toy drive and is planning a Christmas show at a nursing home in her town.

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