COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Two Ohio 4-H members received national recognition in Washington D.C. recently.
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. This award is part of the Jefferson Awards program, established in 1972 to recognize individuals for outstanding public service. Blamble was one of five nationally to receive this award -- often called the "Nobel Prize of Community Service" -- at a recognition program on 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 June 19 program. In addition, earlier that day 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. "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 age 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 a lot of 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.
"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. "Community service has been a part of my life for years because of 4-H," she said. "It definitely put me in the mindset that I could do it -- that I could make a difference."
Blamble 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. "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. The first dog she trained was for someone who needed assistance with mobility and hearing. 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 said it's a challenge to say good-bye to the dogs she has kept as pets, "but once I meet the recipient, that feels really good. ... Now it's just something I love doing. I love the feeling you get by doing something that has such a big benefit for someone else."
Mitchell started animal training with a llama project through 4-H, and then trained the family dog, Spirit. "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." She and her mother found the 4 Paws organization online.
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 such as American Cancer Society, the Hancock County Society for the Handicapped, the Humane Society, and the Hancock County Sheriff Department's Canine Unit. She has also volunteered more than 2,000 hours providing literacy and educational programs to Ohio youth and adults. Mitchell began the effort as part of the national 4-H Power of Youth campaign, initiated in 2002 as part of the 4-H centennial celebration.
"I believe in the values of the 4-H Power of Youth pledge," Mitchell said, "and I'll continue to honor my pledge throughout my life."
While she was in Washington, Mitchell also received the Congressional Gold Award for her achievements in Volunteer Public Service, Personal Development, Physical Fitness, and Expedition/Exploration. Established in 1979, the program is voluntary and noncompetitive, open to all 14- to 23-year-olds. Participants set goals for themselves in each area, and earn bronze, silver or gold awards as their level of achievement increases. Just four youths from Ohio earned the Gold Award this year.
"Everything in 4-H teaches you a life lesson, even if you aren't aware of it at the time," Mitchell said.
For more information on the Jefferson Awards, see http://www.aips.org/. For more information on the Congressional Award, see http://www.congressionalaward.org/. For more information on Ohio 4-H, see http://www.ohio4h.org/.
Caption for photo: Andrea Mitchell, left, and Andrea Blamble pose after receiving honors in Washington D.C. on June 19.