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State Honoree

Abigail Hardin

Mississippi

Abigail Hardin, 18, of Clinton, Miss., a senior at Jackson Academy in Jackson, wrote a book to teach children how to be sensitive to those who are different, and then used it to lead group discussions with nearly 2,000 schoolchildren across Mississippi. Abigail, who was born with a port-wine birthmark on her cheek, said, "I remember many nights of crying and begging for answers as to why I had this defect' on my face." As a result, she said, "I became more sensitive towards others' feelings as I did not want to hurt them in ways that I had been hurt."

Since she loved to write, Abigail decided to author a book that would encourage children to focus on the similarities among people rather than their differences. She consulted with 14 teachers and a child development specialist before writing her book, entitled "Look At Me, I Am Just Like You." She then found an illustrator and "tested" her manuscript on teachers and children of all ages. Abigail has read her book to children in schools all over the state, and led group discussions on the issues it raises. She also is coordinating a new volunteer program in which students at her school read the book to children in the waiting rooms of the state's largest children's hospital. In addition, Abigail has established a nonprofit foundation that has raised $4,000 to fund projects that promote character-development in children. "I believe if we can help children see each other's value at a young age, we will see less loneliness, racism, suicides and bullying in forthcoming generations," she said.