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Not just anybody gets a “mazel tov” from the president of the United States. This somebody is Madison Stern, a 16-year-old from Voorhees, N.J., who received a President’s Volunteer Service Award this past March. The award, presented by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program, recognizes teenagers who have performed outstanding volunteerism. Stern certainly fits the bill: In two years, she spent 500 hours doing tikkun olam work in three countries.
“I can list all of the activities I did,” Stern says in a quiet, polite voice, “but it might take a while. Is that OK?”
It’s more than OK, because when Stern describes her volunteer work, she speaks not of herself, but of the people she met and helped. “Most of them were children,” Stern says, “who just want the opportunity to make their lives better.”
Here’s how Stern did that. In Israel, she spent two weeks at The Jaffa Institute helping to feed hungry families. In Costa Rica, Stern spent two weeks running a leadership camp for underprivileged children. In Philadelphia, she volunteers at the Center City Lubavitch house. In South Jersey, Stern tutors Thursday afternoons at Beck Middle School and teaches the kindergarten class at Congregation Beth El on Sunday mornings. During the summer, Stern works with the Ronald McDonald House and, during the winter, she helps organize the Cherry Hill Police Department’s holiday party for kids with disabilities.
When she was called to the principal’s office at Cherry Hill East High School, Stern had no idea that she was about to receive a certificate and letter from President Barack Obama. She had applied for a scholarship from Prudential and the organization was so impressed with Stern that they nominated her for the award. “I guess 500 hours is a lot,” Stern says, “but there are so many people who need help that it’s just a drop in the bucket.”