If Michelle Fields had her way, no dog would go to bed hungry or cold.
That's why the Lake Braddock Secondary junior developed a program for neglected dogs, collecting blankets and food so the animals could live happier lives.
“I got started because I want to be a vet,” said Michelle.
She came up with the idea when she saw a homeless man and his dog on a Southern California beach one day. The dog looked ill, and it compelled Michelle to take action.
“[The homeless man] could hardly take care of himself,” said Michelle. “How could he take care of this dog?”
Judges of the 2006 Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program noticed Michelle's compassion and dedication to her volunteer service, and honored her with a state-level Certificate of Excellence. The annual award program partners with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) to recognize young people for outstanding community service activities. Connie Fiorito, the program manager at NASSP, said the program is meant to show other children that volunteering is important and necessary in each community.
"They learn skills good for a life time," said Fiorito. "It's amazing how much they [youth volunteers] can do."
Fiorito said the program had 8,000 applicants and only selected 102 winners. Michelle won a certificate-of-excellence, which the program also considers a top-honor.
"It's so uplifting when I read these applications," said Fiorito. "It makes me feel like I haven't done anything in my life, because these kids have done so much."
MICHELLE WAS LOOKING for a volunteer program to fulfill a Girl Scout requirement while living in San Diego, Calif. She needed to complete a leadership volunteer project, meeting specific guidelines, in order to receive her Girl Scout’s Gold Award. She won the award last year, the highest award the Girl Scouts offers, because of her dedication to helping animals. When her former Girl Scout council in San Diego heard about the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, it immediately thought of Fields and sent the application to her new home in Burke.
At a ceremony at Lake Braddock, Michelle received her certificate in hopes of motivating other children to follow the same path, said Vicki Emery, Lake Braddock spokesperson.
"We're absolutely thrilled," said Emery. "We always try to highlight the positive things with our students."
According to Scott Peterson, executive director of the Spirit of Community Awards at Prudential Financial, the program is the largest recognition for young people based on volunteer service.
"It really is intended to recognize the very idea of spirit and caring and giving back to the community," said Peterson.
FOR MICHELLE, giving back to the community meant helping its dogs. She put in many hours collecting dog items and passing them out to those in need. She made flyers advertising her efforts, and said she received more items than she knew what to do with. Even through a lot of stress came along with her volunteering efforts, Michelle said it was worth it in the end.
"I felt like at least I'm doing something, I'm not just feeling sympathy for people," said Michelle. "It felt great."
Beverly Fields, Michelle's mother, said her daughter has loved dogs and other animals every since she was a little girl. She said she's proud of her daughter for standing up and doing something she believes in.
"It's how we have a stronger world," said Beverly Fields. "By people helping people."
Michelle recently started working as a veterinary assistant, and said she hasn't had much time for volunteering lately. She's taking the skills she learned from volunteering and putting them toward her new job helping animals.
"Just because you're not getting paid doesn't mean you shouldn't do it," said Michelle. "It doesn't mean it isn't rewarding for the community."