Every person can make a difference.
It's a phrase that's been uttered for decades by politicians, pastors, schoolteachers, coaches, scout leaders, and parents, to name a few. It was the theme in Frank Capra's 1946 Christmas classic, It's a Wonderful Life.
But how often have you heard it from a shy, 12-year-old Ottawa Hills girl?
Meet Beatrice Thaman, who yesterday was named one of Ohio's top two youth volunteers for 2009 by the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program that recognizes great acts of kindness.
Beatrice was recognized for getting more than 175,000 vitamin tablets delivered over the past year to children in a Guatemalan village known as Pueblo Nuevo.
Pueblo Nuevo is in a northern region of Guatemala called Peten, where malnourishment is commonplace.
Beatrice became curious about Guatemala four years ago, when her parents, Mike Thaman and Lisa Gathard, adopted a baby girl from that country. Beatrice and Rosi, 4, are two of the couple's six children.
But Beatrice's curiosity didn't stop there.
The empathy in her heart was fueled by Dr. Anne Ruch, a physician and family friend who remembers talking to Beatrice and her mom one day about how poor that part of Guatemala is.
According to Dr. Ruch, it's not just poverty and a lack of food. Sanitation is so bad that intestinal worms are one of the biggest problems. Kids are so malnourished that their hair is copper-colored and their bellies are swollen.
"I think, honestly, Beatrice just heard us talking," Dr. Ruch said, adding that she was touched by what happened next. "She called me a couple of months later and said she had 30,000 vitamins."
Apparently, Beatrice had touched base with vitamin manufacturers and retailers.
Some ignored her; others made large donations.
With the help of St. John's Jesuit High School, which a brother attends, she raised money and bought more vitamins. This past Christmas, she used some of her own gift money to buy vitamins.
"The children needed it so much. I wanted to give them all a chance for a better life," Beatrice said with the poise and confidence of a young lady much older than 12. "It's not fair to let them starve."
When Dr. Ruch went to Guatemala a year ago this month, Beatrice sent along 50,000 pills she had collected. A few months later, the child did the same thing as Dr. Ruch left for her second trip of 2008.
For the physician's most recent trip, two weeks ago, Beatrice had 75,000 more vitamins for her to deliver.
So have Beatrice's vitamins solved the crisis?
Of course not. But they've made a difference - even in the intangible ways, such as getting people there to open up more to Dr. Ruch's group.
"I think because of all of these vitamins, we had a way to start a program," Dr. Ruch said. "The families just have a lot more trust in us."
And Beatrice is getting her own recognition for the work.
She will receive a silver medallion, $1,000, and an all-expense-paid trip to Washington in May with other winners, including Benjamin McMullen, 14, of Chesterland, Ohio, who raised money and recruited volunteers to help save Ohio's vanishing wetlands.
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