May 06, 2014

Manchin Congratulates West Virginia's Top Youth Volunteers

Katie Cowie, 17, of Milton and Olivia Smith, 14, of Belleville earn the Prudential Spirit of Community Award

Washington, D.C. —  U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) today congratulated Katie Cowie, 17, of Milton and Olivia Smith, 14, of Belleville, for being selected as West Virginia’s state honorees and the top two youth volunteers in the 19th annual Prudential Spirit of Community Award. The nationwide program honors middle school and high school students for their exceptional service to others and their community at the local, state and national levels. 

“I am proud to congratulate Katie and Olivia today for their incredibly inspirational volunteer services that has been recognized at the national level,” Senator Manchin said. “These two young leaders have set an extraordinary example to all West Virginians, and their actions should inspire us all to make a difference in our own communities. I applaud Katie and Olivia on their accomplishments and I look forward to the many great things that they will continue to achieve in the future."

Each state honoree receives $1,000, an engraved silver medallion, and a trip to Washington, D.C. for the program’s national recognition events, where the students meet with the top two honorees from each state and the District of Columbia for several days.

From the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards website:

Katie Cowie, 17, of Milton, W. Va., a senior at Cabell Midland High School, has raised money for a variety of causes by making and selling “tie-knot” blankets through a nonprofit organization she created. Katie’s project grew out of a church retreat that focused on making a difference. “It was here I realized I was focusing too much on myself and not enough on others,” she said. During the retreat, the group discussed ways in which individuals could volunteer. But none of the ideas appealed to Katie.
When she got back home, she did some brainstorming and decided to make blankets to sell. Her nonprofit, “Blossom,” was born. With $100 of her own money, Katie filed the necessary paperwork for nonprofit status, purchased fabric and went to work on her first blanket. Her blanket sales have enabled her to support causes including providing shelter for homeless families and helping women quit prostitution. When she was in the 11th grade, Katie went to a local laundromat one Saturday a month to pay for customers’ laundry. She also organized a “hat day” for the elementary schools in her county to raise funds for the American Cancer Society. “Spending time on other people instead of myself is better than anything I could have experienced in high school,” said Katie. “I cannot explain the love I now feel for those in my community.” 
Olivia Smith, 14, of Belleville, W.Va., a member of the Wood County 4-H and an eighth-grader at Blennerhassett Junior High School, is a dedicated advocate for youth and adults with disabilities in her community, helping them participate in social and recreational activities, serving as a mentor and teacher, and encouraging others to use respectful language when referring to people with disabilities. Olivia’s sister has Down syndrome, her aunt uses a wheelchair, and her mother is the director of The Arc of West Virginia, which provides programs and services for people with disabilities. “Having them in my life and watching what they have to overcome has inspired me to help others,” she said.
One of the wrongs that Olivia set out to right was the use of insensitive and even derogatory words some people use when referring to people with intellectual disabilities. So she started a campaign urging people to reject the “R” word and replace it with more sensitive words. She also met with elected officials and legislators to raise awareness of disability-related issues, and mentored 36 teens with disabilities to speak up and be their own advocates. Olivia has assisted at many social and recreational events -- coordinating logistics, serving snacks, playing games, conducting arts and craft projects, and helping with sports. She also shopped for and wrapped gifts for a Christmas project, helped process donations to The Arc’s thrift shop, and taught children with disabilities how to groom and show their animals for competition. “I’ve been around people with disabilities all my life and seen that they are treated differently,” said Olivia. “People shouldn’t be judged by their disability but should be recognized as a person just like everyone else.”

Caption: Senator Manchin met with Prudential Spirit of Community Award honorees Katie Cowie (left) and Olivia Smith (right). They had a great conversation about the importance of helping others in their communities.