COCONUT CREEK – A South Florida fifth grader who raised more than $162,00 to build homes for Haiti’s poor has been named one of Florida’s top two youth volunteers for 2011.
Rachel Wheeler, 11, was recognized by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program to honor young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism. The Lighthouse Point resident raised enough money to build 25 two-room Food For The Poor homes in Haiti. Rachel, who attends Zion Lutheran Christian School in Deerfield Beach, launched the campaign two years ago.
Rachel Wheeler high-fives her mom as she receives a standing ovation from Food For
The Poor staff members.
Rachel also has qualified to receive the President’s Volunteer Service Awards, a prestigious national award that recognizes Americans of all ages who have dedicated their free time to serve both their country and their community. The awards will be distributed to more than 2,800 local honorees this year on behalf of President Barack Obama.
Rachel’s house-building initiative started when she visited Food For The Poor’s South Florida-based office and heard President/CEO Robin Mahfood speak about the desperate living conditions in Haiti, where mothers sometimes feed their children mud cookies to quell their hunger pangs.
“When I saw the before and after pictures of the families he has helped, I knew he was doing God’s work and I had to help,” said Rachel.
As donations flowed in, Rachel decided that instead of just reaching her original goal of building 13 houses, she would build an entire village, complete with sanitation, kitchenettes and potable water. Rachel’s village has been constructed in Leogane, Haiti, near the epicenter of the January 2010 earthquake.
“I would tell other young people that we are the future, and we need to stand up for those who have nothing,” said Rachel, who hopes to visit the village she has helped to build in Haiti later this year.
“From the first time we met, I knew to expect great things from Rachel,” said Mahfood. “Rachel has provided more than 25 families with more than a key to a permanent Food For The Poor house. Thanks to Rachel and her supporters – lives have been changed and saved.”
From April 30 to May 3, Rachel and the other 101 state honorees will travel to Washington, D.C., where they will tour the capital’s landmarks, attend a gala awards ceremony at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, and visit their congressional representatives on Capitol Hill. In addition, 10 of them – five middle level and five high school students – will be named National Honorees on May 2. These honorees will receive $5,000 awards, gold medallions, crystal trophies, and $5,000 grants from The Prudential Foundation for nonprofit, charitable organizations of their choice.
To continue to support Rachel’s house building initiative, tax-deductible donations can be made through the charity’s secure website, http://support.foodforthepoor.org/site/TR?pg=fund&fr_id=1160&pxfid=1190