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Friday, October 13, 2000

Local young volunteers
achieve national honors

By Pat Gee

Aubrie Weedling has been volunteering to help others for half of her young life.

At age 7, she started visiting the elderly with a friend, but continued helping others on her own in Indiana.

Since moving to Hawaii two years ago, Weedling, now 14, has been cooking and serving food to the homeless and handing out food at the Hawaii Foodbank.

She is one of two volunteers honored with the national Prudential Spirit of Community Awards for being Hawaii's top youth volunteers for 2000.

Nakamura The other is Leanne Nakamura, who organized the cleanup of seven truckloads of fish nets at Kualoa Beach. Each girl won $1,000, a silver medallion and a trip to Washington, D.C., for the awards presentation earlier this year.

Weedling works at the food bank once a week, bagging, shelving and handing out food, and at the Institute for Human Services at least once a month.

The experience has made her feel "lucky about what I have. Every time I go to the food bank or IHS, you listen to the people tell you about themselves and you have to be so grateful for everything you have," Weedling said.

When she first went down to IHS, she was surprised to find that many homeless "look like everyone else that walks down the street. The people are trying to work, they just can't afford to buy homes.

"Or maybe they made a mistake -- getting pregnant too early in their lives, or they ran away from home," she said.

Her parents are supportive about her volunteer work and raised her to have compassion for others, Weedling said. She thinks she won the award for her attitude about her work more than anything else.

She was nominated for the award while attending Moanalua Middle School as an eighth-grader.

Nakamura, an 18-year-old University of Hawaii freshman, started working with youth in Summer Fun as a junior leader at the age of 11, and has done a number of highway and beach cleanups.

Nakamura plans to "try everything at least once -- like being a one-term legislator, so people can't bribe me with votes."

Until then, she is going to be just "a professional student" who is interested in preserving Hawaii as a beautiful paradise, she said.

Nakamura and her friends organized a group called "Student Action and Values for the Environment" about a year ago because they wanted to start their own cleanup of Kualoa without having adults tell them what to do. They learned how to gather enough sponsors to help them remove three tons of nets, rubbish and ropes, she said.

Her aim is to get volunteer help from impressionable middle-school students who have too much time on their hands to hang out at the mall or get into trouble smoking or doing drugs, she said.

"This would be a great time for them to start thinking of their community," said Nakamura, who thinks the worst environmental blight is the Ala Wai Canal.

She loves doing community service because "it opens the doors to a lot of things. It feels good -- you know you're making a difference. And it's a lot of fun."

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