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State Honoree

Kara Houppert

New York

Kara Houppert, 12, of Webster, N.Y., a seventh-grader at Willink Middle School, has collected more than 70,000 returnable bottles and cans over the past two years and redeemed them for more than $3,500 to purchase items for two children's hospitals, a local Special Olympics team, and other organizations. Kara was a Special Olympics volunteer until her coach discovered that she was under the minimum age requirement. "I was very upset and wanted to do something that could still help them," Kara said. At first, Kara pulled her little red wagon around her block, collecting redeemable bottles and cans from neighbors. Then she wrote an article about her project for her school newspaper, and asked local businesses to save their containers for her. Her campaign really took off after she was featured in an article in her city newspaper, and people began to drop off their cans and bottles at her house.

Once she collects her items, Kara sorts and delivers them to a recycling company with the help of her parents. She set up a "Kara's Kans" account with the company, so that anyone who drops off cans and bottles can contribute their proceeds to her project. So far, Kara has used her money to buy several items for Golisano Children's Hospital and the pediatric unit of Rochester General Hospital, as well as books about special-needs kids for her former elementary school, sweatshirts for her community's Special Olympics team, and necessities for families in need. She just finished working to help a local woman pay for breast cancer treatments, and is now helping to raise money or a young boy who may need a heart transplant. "I hope and plan to continue doing this and would like to expand to other fund-raising ideas," Kara said. "There are always people who need help."