For Madison Collins, staying safe is an important lesson, one that she is happy to help teach.
The Hamilton sixth-grader was among 12 Ohio Connections Academy students recognized this month as a winner of the 2018 Prudential Spirit of Community Awards.
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program is the United States’ largest youth recognition program based exclusively on volunteer community service.
For five years, 12-year-old Madison has volunteered her time helping the Greater Hamilton Safety Council with Safety Town, a summer preschool program founded in 1973 and designed to help teach 4- and 5-year-olds about all aspects of safety, including gun, household, pedestrian, vehicle, school bus and fire safety, poison/substance avoidance, as well as lessons on dealing with strangers.
Madison’s mother, Hamilton police officer Kristy Collins, said when Officer Bob Gentry still helmed the program in 2012, he told her “You need to get Maddie out here volunteering.”
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“I said, ‘She can’t volunteer, she’s only going to be seven’ and he said, ‘Well I had my granddaughters out here when they were six. Get her out here,’” Collins said.
Gentry, who led the program for 36 years, died that summer, and when Collins took over the program from him the following year, Gentry’s words continued to echo in her mind.
Madison, who readily agreed to the idea of volunteering, helps take care of 4- and 5-year-old children during the free program for 75 to 80 hours each summer, teaching them how to cross the street, escorting them to bathroom breaks, organizing them into straight lines and helping them across the parking lot to their parents’ vehicles.
She said that through the years, the best part of being a part of the program has been seeing what the younger kids get out of it.
“We see a lot of the kids that went to Safety Town a lot when we go to Hamilton (schools),” she said. “We’ll see them out and they’re always like ‘Hey, I crossed the street the other day and I remember what you taught me.’ Just seeing the kids and how they’re remembering the stuff we taught them just makes me really happy to know they’ll be safe later in their life just remembering the stuff we taught them.”
Madison was presented a certificate of achievement as one of the school’s volunteers of the year and, as a local honoree, is in the running to be named one of two Prudential Spirit of Community State Honorees.
She said she was “kind of surprised” to be selected as a local honoree.
“I know there are a lot more volunteers out there that maybe help with cancer (efforts) or do a lot more things than I do,” Madison said. “I was just super happy and grateful that they chose to pick me for middle school.”
State honorees receive a $1,000 award and an all-expense-paid trip with a parent or guardian to Washington, D.C., for several days of special recognition events. Other state-level honorees will receive bronze medallions or Certificates of Excellence.
The Prudential Spirit of Community Award program was created in 1995 by Prudential in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals to honor middle school and high school students for outstanding service to others at the local, state, and national level.
The award program is supported by Girl Scouts of the USA, National 4-H Council, American Red Cross, YMCA, HandsOn Network (generated by the Points of Light Institute) and many other national youth, service and educational organizations. For more information, visit spirit.prudential.com.
Ohio Connections Academy is a free, fully-online virtual public school that students in grades K-12 attend from home.
“The faculty, staff and members of the board at Ohio Connections Academy are so proud of the students and the time and effort they have given to make a positive impact on their communities,” said OCA Superintendent Marie Hanna “Each of the students have demonstrated extraordinary leadership and a commitment to making our world a better place - they truly deserve this recognition.”