The two seventh graders at Greencastle Middle School each recently won Youth Power and Hope Awards presented by the electric co-ops of Indiana. They wrote about what community service means to them and what community service they have performed.
Only five awards were handed out statewide, and two of them came from Suzanne Funk's language arts class at GMS.
Both girls were honored last week at the Marriott in downtown Indianapolis with a night's stay, breakfast with the other winners and an awards presentation with representatives from the electric co-ops around the state.
"We were really surprised. At first we thought, 'Oh, maybe Greencastle was the only one that sent in,'" Bailey said with a laugh. "But then we got there and they were actually listing how many people had sent in entries. And then it was really amazing that we were both picked from Greencastle."
Funk originally knew only about Madeleine's award, as her mother called to let the teacher know. Already excited, she got to school the next morning to find out Bailey had also won.
"Nothing could bring me down that day," Funk said. "I was thrilled. I was so excited for them. They worked hard and they were recognized among only five in the state."
Even more impressive than the award, though, is talking to Madeleine and Bailey about their commitment to community service. Both have been involved in service activities organized by adults, but their most impressive accomplishments have come as members of the "Gumption Girls," a service club they started as fourth-graders along with several classmates.
"It was fourth grade, and Madeleine and a few other girls decided that we wanted to put together a group that could do good in our community," Bailey said. "So we did, and at the first meeting we decided on the name 'Gumption Girls.' We elected all our leaders, our president -- which Madeleine was the first president -- the vice president, the secretary, the treasurer. Every year, we just elect new representatives and just keep going."
"I think the idea actually started from an 'American Girl' club-starting kit," Madeleine said. "It had different ideas to do stuff. We had all been talking about it for a while and thinking about ideas, and we had been looking through this 'American Girl' book. We all got together and started it, so it's been going on since fourth grade."
The girls didn't want to just have a club, though -- they decided to make a difference.
"I think the idea just started out as a way to get together, but then we thought, 'We can get together any time; we can just have a party. This really needs to be about something,'" Madeleine said. "I think the easiest thing for us, rather than just starting a book club, we just decided to make it a way we could help people."
And so it began, initially with eight girls, but it has grown to around 20 over the last three years. The girls meet once a month, at which time they take up a collection -- raising around $20 each month -- and brainstorm ideas for upcoming projects. Currently, the girls are planning to volunteer at the humane shelter, raise money for the A-Way Home Shelter and Riley Hospital and are planning a fundraiser for a group that helps teens who cut themselves.
Against this backdrop, it's easy to see how these two informed and concerned young ladies were selected as winners of the essay contest. A small sample of Madeleine's essay sums up what these two girls and their Gumption Girl comrades are all about.
"Four simple words define community service: helping and pleasing others," Madeleine wrote. "One small payment-free act of kindness could make all the difference to someone."