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Delaware’s Community Spirit Soars

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Natalie Onesi (left) and Julia Murphy display the medallions they won for being named the state’s top youth volunteers.

Julia Murphy and Natalie Onesi are only teenagers, but they’ve already experienced the joy that comes from helping others. As a result, they’ve been named Delaware’s top two youth volunteers of 2014 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, which honors young people for acts of volunteerism.

During the 2012-13 school year, Murphy, a 17-year-old junior at Newark High School, helped organize a statewide drive that provided sleeping bags to more than 1,000 homeless children in Delaware. 

“Before I got involved in this project,” she says, “I thought of homelessness as an adult statistic. There’s often not much children can do about being homeless. I wanted them to have something they could call their own that would also keep them warm.”

This year, she and other Delaware high school volunteers collected cold weather clothing in addition to sleeping bags. In all, she estimates that she has devoted nearly 150 hours to the project over the past two years.

Onesi, a 14-year-old eighth-grader at Ursuline Academy, two years ago joined students from across the country on a religious retreat devoted to repairing homes for people with injuries or disabilities. During the summer retreat week, she got up at 6 a.m. and spent the day painting, roofing, installing siding—whatever work was needed. 

Onesi has seen her efforts make a difference. As she and her coworkers were driving away from a repaired house, she remembers the homeowner’s big smile. “I saw him kiss his wife on the head and turn around to stare at his ‘new’ house. Then I saw him waving and crying.”

Both Murphy and Onesi will receive $1,000, an engraved silver medallion, and an all-expense-paid trip this month to Washington, D.C., where they will join honorees from other states and the District of Columbia for four days of events.

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