- Paris Flash
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The Paris City Council on Monday recognized Matthew Draeger, a 15-year-old Paris High School student who led a student effort that collected for the community’s needy almost 20,000 household and personal items, including furniture, clothing, bedding and toiletries.
As leader of the group, Draeger was singled out last month as one of 102 “State Honorees” nationwide by the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, recognizing exemplary acts of volunteerism.
Draeger and 101 other State Honorees – one middle-level and one high school student from each state and the District of Columbia – each will receive $1,000, an engraved silver medallion, and an all-expense-paid trip in early May to Washington, D.C., for four days of national recognition events.
On May 6, during that trip, 10 of the students – five middle level and five high school students — will be named America’s top youth volunteers for 2013.
These National Honorees will receive additional $5,000 awards, gold medallions, crystal trophies, and $5,000 grants from The Prudential Foundation for nonprofit charitable organizations of their choice.
In a ceremony at the start of the council meeting, Mayor AJ Hashmi presented Draeger with a Key to the City and a U.S. flag that was flown over the nation’s capitol in Draeger’s honor.
The mayor also said that as a personal gift, he will purchase a dilapidated property at auction for the students as a possible Habitat for Humanity project.
While working on a school service project on disaster preparedness, Draeger said, he discovered how many people in Paris lack basic necessities.
“Twenty-four percent of Paris citizens are considered indigent,” he said. “I knew we had to do something for these people.”
He recruited fellow students to launch an initiative called “Operation Special Chance” that got its start in a meeting with Dana Sale, director of Models of the Maker, to get an understanding of the extent of poverty in the community.
Over the coming months, the group involved four rival school districts and several communities in the project.
The team decided to take up collections of basic items to distribute to needy families. The students spent months renovating two apartments and a garage that a local organization made available to store the donations.
They then produced a brochure, began speaking to business and civic groups about their mission, organized fundraisers, and applied for grants.
Before long, donations began flowing in from churches, businesses, local organizations, and school districts.
When “Operation Second Chance” ran low on storage space, its members talked to the owner of an abandoned factory, who agreed to let them occupy half of the building.
As of last fall, Matthew’s group had collected 19,884 items, including $1.3 million worth of new items, and had assisted 1,264 families with essential supplies.
Among the major recipients were the Lamar County Head Start Program and Models of the Maker. When the south Dallas suburb of Lancaster was hit by a tornado last year, the Paris group solicited items to help those victims.
Hashmi read a letter to Draeger from U.S. Rep. Ralph Hall (Rep.-Rockwall), at whose request the U.S. flag was flown over the Capitol in Draeger’s honor.
“Please accept my congratulations and best wishes on being named a high school state honoree for the Prudential Spirit of Community Award. I know your friends and family have good reason to be proud of the success you have attained,” Hall wrote.
“Never in our history has there been a greater need for courageous and enlightened leadership. It is to young people like you that we must look for that leadership,” Hall continued.
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards represents the nation’s largest youth recognition program based solely on volunteer service.
Since the program began in 1995, more than 100,000 young volunteers have been honored at the local, state and national level.
All public and private middle level and high schools, and all Girl Scout councils, county 4-H organizations, American Red Cross chapters, YMCA’s and HandsOn Network affiliates are eligible to select a student or member for a local Prudential Spirit of Community Award.
Nearly 5,000 Local Honorees were then reviewed by an independent judging panel, which selected State Honorees and Distinguished Finalists based upon criteria including personal initiative, effort, impact and personal growth.
Among 234 recognized nationally as Distinguished Finalists were these from Texas: