DERRY — A Pinkerton Academy junior is taking one day at a time and hoping to make a daily difference in the lives of those in need.
Mariah Larocque, 17, of Derry was named one of two top youth volunteers for 2013 by the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism.
She received notice of her award in a surprise visit to her classroom on Feb. 19.
Pinkerton nominated Mariah for the honor.
The Derry teen’s commitment to helping others gave her an opportunity to put together a small group of her friends two summers ago to form a nonprofit organization, “We Can Change the World,” to conduct regular service projects in the area, including help at the local soup kitchen and an assisted-living facility.
“There was bullying, homelessness, hunger and so much more,” Mariah said. “These kinds of things are what many of our peers are seeing and yet they turn and look the other way.”
Mariah and her friends refused to look away and took on the challenge.
“It was then that we decided we wanted to make a change in the world,” she said.
Leading the charge, Mariah and her “We Can Change the World” group spent hours researching, networking and planning an agenda to get things done. Volunteer projects took top billing on the list.
The teens served up hot meals for those in need, collected books and toys for children, provided free babysitting for those who couldn’t afford a sitter and did yard work for people needing help.
The group also set up an online site and Facebook page to speak out about bullying. They plan to take the anti-bully message to local elementary and middle schools.
It’s all part of Mariah’s mission to “make the world a better place, one day at a time.”
Along with Mariah, Anne Macleod, 14, of Windham took the second New Hampshire award for her work helping young people with disabilities learn to water ski.
As state honorees, Mariah and Anne will each receive $1,000, an engraved silver medallion and a trip in May to Washington, D.C., to receive their recognition along with the winners from all across the nation. The top 10 students will be named America’s top youth volunteers for 2013.
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, now in its 18th year, is the nation’s largest youth recognition program based on volunteer service alone. All public and private middle schools and high schools along with other youth organizations were eligible to select a student for an award.