Local freshman is an award-winning youth volunteer

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Glennita Williams is starting high school this school year as a nationally recognized leader, a distinction bestowed upon her for her big heart and generous spirit.

Glennita Williams is starting high school this school year as a nationally recognized leader, a distinction bestowed upon her for her big heart and generous spirit.

Williams, now a 14-year old Thornton High School incoming freshman, was named one of America’s Top 10 Youth Volunteers in the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards for work she has been doing since fifth grade. Since her days at McKinley Elementary and Junior High School in her hometown of suburban South Holland, she has been sending care packages to U.S. troops stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to veterans at the local Hines and Jesse Brown Veterans Administration hospitals.

Williams was selected for the youth volunteer award from a pool of 29,000 nationwide. The program honors middle and high school students for their volunteerism.

Her volunteerism started when she found out that a friend’s father had been stationed in Iraq and she e-mailed him and asked him what he needed. She quickly found out that the troops’ meals didn’t include an iconic treat: Twinkies.

But her big heart wouldn’t let her send the sweets to him only. She figured if he wanted them so did other soldiers.

Williams told the Defender that within 10 days she had collected 1,000 of the golden snack cakes. The donations came from people at her dad’s job, students and staff at her school, neighbors and others in the community, she explained. Then she shipped them to the soldier and a few of his comrades. She found out some of the soldiers’ additional needs and sent not only Twinkies, but also personal care and other items as well.

Some of the troops responded to her benevolence with thank you cards, an American flag, signed paraphernalia and other gifts. That had Williams beaming.

“I love when they send than you cards,” she said. “I get to hear about them (the troops).”

A year or so after the youngster had done her first mailing to the troops she continued to see news reports about the war. She would not sit idly by.

“I have to help them out some more,” Williams said she told her mother.

Her packages to the troops went from a one-time happening to now being an annual event for her and her small suburban town.

Williams places bins in strategic places throughout South Holland, including at a municipal recreation center and at the police department, that have a list of needed items affixed to them. She gets the word out that she’s collecting items, tells people where they can go to donate and then when the collection period ends, she gathers the goods and prepares them for shipping.

After asking the mayor, personally, she was granted use of the town’s recreation center to place the filled bins, sort the items and package them.

Her mother, one of her biggest supporters and helpers, called her daughter’s work a labor of love – an infectious one. Anita Williams points out that her daughter is “bold” in her volunteerism and managed to garner support from the mayor, police department and “the entire community” to help fulfill her desire to acknowledge military service men and women.

Glennita Williams’ efforts have been acknowledged by former Ill. Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn, members of the Illinois House, and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., in addition to the national award. Her school principal nominated her for the Prudential honor.

“I was so overwhelmed because now with the national title I can do more and help the soldiers more,” the teen said of her volunteerism honor.

Since she began, Williams has done four shipments overseas to the troops and two outreach efforts to local veterans. She gets troops’ addresses through “referrals” from family and friends with loved ones in the wars, through e-mail solicitations and from her own Internet research.

“She has always had such an amazing heart to help people,” Anita Williams said about her daughter. And she prays for her daughter to be able to continue to pour out her heart and time. She and her husband help their daughter to collect the filled bins, bring them to the staging site for packaging, transport the packages to the local post office and ship them off.

“‘God you know this child’s heart. You just have to help her,’” the mother said she prays.

The volunteerism not only exposed Glennita’s generosity, but also her entrepreneurialism.

She started a non-profit company called America’s Guardian Angels that is dedicated to being a support for military personnel.

“We just support the veterans and troops. And I came up with the name … because I feel that they are our guardian angels,” she said

“She just wants to be a leader and a role model, and help,” her mother said. “It’s a lot but … I rather for her to do this than to be out there all wild. I’m just glad she has a heart to help people and want to be a leader.”

Glennita said that age is not a factor in wanting to reach out to people, especially the women and men of the armed forces. Since she started, the teen said she has collected over 600 pounds of Twinkies. She explained that she reached out to Hostess, makers of the snack cakes, but has not gotten a response from the company. But she vows to continue her efforts, nevertheless.

“Please support our American troops. They sacrifice a lot for us and their families sacrifice,” she said. “Please support our veterans as well.”

Copyright 2011 Chicago Defender

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