Friday, February 21, 2014
Katie Stagliano, 15, of Summerville and Isabella Hixenbaugh, 14, of Myrtle Beach have been named South Carolina’s top two youth volunteers of 2014 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism.
Stagliano was nominated by Pinewood Preparatory School in Summerville, and Hixenbaught was nominated by Forestbrook Middle School in Myrtle Beach. The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, now in its 19th year, is conducted by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).
Stagliano is a freshman at Pinewood Preparatory School. She established a nonprofit organization that has helped kids across the country create and maintain more than 60 vegetable gardens, which have yielded thousands of pounds of fresh produce to feed people in need.
Her gardening career began in third grade when she brought home from school a cabbage seedling that she had been given to plant.
“I tended to my cabbage and cared for it until it grew to an amazing 40 pounds,” Stagliano said.
She then took her cabbage to a local soup kitchen, where it helped feed 275 hungry people.
“I began to wonder: if one cabbage could feed 275 people, imagine how many people a whole garden could feed,” she said.
She planted a garden in her backyard, then asked her school’s administration if she could start a student-run garden there. Her school gave her a plot of land the length of a football field, and classmates pitched in to help. Realizing she needed to learn more about gardening, Stagliano contacted the master gardener at Clemson University, who took her under her wing. Before long the garden was supplying fresh produce to the soup kitchen and a local homeless shelter, which soon planted its own garden with Stagliano’s help.
Five years later, “Katie’s Krops” is a nonprofit organization that has raised almost $200,000 through a website and individual and corporate donations to provide grants for 9 to16-year-olds who want to grow vegetables to feed the hungry in their communities. Thanks to her efforts, 61 youth-run gardens are growing from Maine to Hawaii.
As for Stagliano’s first garden, it is still flourishing, producing over 3,000 pounds of produce last year for people in need. And when the local soup kitchen closed down three years ago, Katie began offering garden-to-table dinners that have provided a free, nutritious meal to more than 2,000 hungry people.
“I am proud to grow healthy food, prevent hunger and empower kids to grow a healthy end to hunger in their communities,” Stagliano said.
Hixenbaugh, an eighth grader at Forestbrook Middle School in Myrtle Beach, volunteers for a foundation that promotes the emotional healing of traumatized, neglected and abused children by teaching them to ride and take care of horses.
As State Honorees, Stagliano and Hixenbaugh will each receive $1,000, an engraved silver medallion and an all-expense-paid trip in early May to Washington, D.C., where they will join the top two honorees from each of the other states and the District of Columbia for four days of national recognition events. During the trip, 10 students will be named America’s top youth volunteers of 2014.
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