Above and beyond: Ohio teens earn national community service awards

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COLUMBUS, Ohio – Two Ohio 4-H members received national recognition in Washington recently.
Awards. Andrea Blamble, an 18-year-old graduate of New Albany High School, received the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Award for Outstanding Public Service Benefiting the Local Community.
Blamble was one of five to receive this award June 19.
Andrea Mitchell, 16, who will be a junior at Findlay High School this fall, was a Jefferson Award finalist and represented the Lima area at the program. In addition, Mitchell received the Congressional Award Gold Medal, the nation’s highest award given to youth by Congress.
Both teens have been members of Ohio 4-H for years and served as 4-H ambassadors during 2006-2007, said Kathy Cox, adolescent youth development specialist with Ohio State University Extension.
“In 4-H, members pledge their ‘hands to larger service,’ and these two have really taken that seriously,” Cox said.
Initiative. “They are the epitome of what it means to be in 4-H. They didn’t just help with service activities that were already established – they took it a step or more beyond that and initiated service projects themselves.”
Blamble was recognized for her work with the central Ohio chapter of the Arthritis Foundation. At 13, Blamble herself was diagnosed with arthritis.
“It started in my wrist – it looked like my wrist got struck with a hammer,” she said.
About a year later, she started volunteering with the Arthritis Foundation, and was a spokesperson for the organization for two years, helping raise more than a million dollars in events across Ohio for arthritis research.
Although the organization was doing a lot of good, Blamble didn’t see much focus on children with the disease, so last year she started JACKS – the Juvenile Arthritis Club for Kids. About 10 families from central Ohio are involved.
No fear. “I didn’t want kids who were diagnosed to have the fear that I had when I found out I had arthritis,” Blamble said.
“When I was diagnosed, I didn’t even know kids could get arthritis. We get together once or twice a month and go to the zoo, have a cookie exchange, or do other things. It just helps to get to know other kids with arthritis.
“And it’s a great network for the parents, too – they talk about how medications are working or exchange other information.”
Blamble credits her 4-H membership for getting her started.
She will attend Ohio University this fall, but hopes to expand JACKS beyond central Ohio.
Mitchell was chosen as the Lima area Jefferson Award winner in part due to her volunteer work in training assistance dogs for 4 Paws for Ability, a nonprofit organization in Xenia.
“They’re two hours away, and at first they were skeptical if I could do this kind of training at such a long distance,” Mitchell said.
Training. “But as soon as I returned the first two dogs, they were ready for recipients right away. I’m on my third dog now.”
Mitchell keeps the dogs for a year to 18 months, giving them basic obedience training and then moving beyond that to specific training for one of six types of disabilities for 4 Paws recipients.
The organization sends her books, Web sites and other training materials so she can help the dogs master the skills needed for the ultimate recipients.
Currently, she’s training a dog to assist a child with autism who tends to wander off; the training includes the ability to track by scent.
Mitchell started animal training with a llama project through 4-H, and then trained the family dog.
Knack. “I seemed to have a knack for animal training, so after I went through all the dog projects in 4-H, I looked for something else I could do with it.”
In addition, Mitchell pledged in 2002 to collect donations and raise money for nonprofit groups and provide educational programs to Ohio youth and adults.
Since then, she has raised more than $11,400 for nonprofit groups.

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