Spirit of Community
Sandanie Ambalangodage, 17, of Smithfield, RI, a senior at Lincoln School, has been named the top high school volunteer in Rhode Island by the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program, a youth recognition initiative based exclusively on community service. Sandanie is one of 102 students nationally—two from each state—who will receive one thousand dollars, an engraved silver medallion, and an all-expense paid trip Washington, DC. When she goes to Washington in May, Sandanie, along with the other honorees, will be celebrated at several events.
To win this distinguished award, Sandanie submitted an essay about her community service project. She raised money in both the United States and Sri Lanka to buy toys, towels, mosquito nets, and life-saving injections for young cancer patients at a hospital in Sri Lanka. Sandanie's mother took a reluctant Sandanie to visit the hospital several years ago on her birthday.
"I really did not want to be there," Sandanie said, “but I changed my mind as soon as I stepped into the children's ward. It was amazing to see children that could laugh and smile when they were in so much pain."
So when Sandanie got the chance to return to Sri Lanka in 2010, she knew that she wanted to do something for the hospitalized children.
Prior to her trip, Sandanie contacted the hospital to find out what the children needed. Based on their suggestions, she brought Beanie Babies and other soft toys, along with money she had raised by selling Sri Lankan food at a food stall. When she arrived in Sri Lanka, Sandanie conducted another fundraiser and used the proceeds to purchase more toys, towels, mosquito nets, and medications.
"My main focus, however, was on the toys," she said. "What these children really need are toys to comfort them during this terrible time."
While delivering her gifts, she spent as much time as she could playing with the children. In addition, Sandanie recruited students at a local school in Sri Lanka to make future deliveries with money she raises in the U.S.
"That moment when a child smiles because of something you did is the most rewarding moment a person can have, and I hope to have many more of those moments in the future," she said.
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program is the United States' largest youth recognition program based exclusively on volunteer community service. The program was created in 1995 by Prudential in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) to honor middle level and high school students for outstanding service to others at the local, state, and national level.