State Honoree, National Honoree
Samaia A. Goodrich, 11, of Syracuse, New York, a sixth-grader at Expeditionary Learning Middle School, organizes projects in her community to encourage inner-city youth to make a difference, including an effort to raise money to buy Christmas presents, clothes and household goods for families who moved from Puerto Rico to Syracuse after Hurricane Maria devastated their homeland. “My parents say that I used to write the word ‘love’ all over the house,” said Samaia. “I have always loved to help and give to others.” When she was in elementary school, Samaia started the “Let Our Voices Echo (LOVE) Project — Syracuse.” Her first initiative was collecting bottles to recycle and then purchasing LOVE Project T-shirts for her classmates to wear as they helped clean up their school grounds and a park. Other service projects followed.
Like everyone, Samaia was saddened to see the effects of Hurricane Maria on the news. Then she heard that some families with children were moving to her community. “I knew I had to do something to help the kids and families who lost everything,” she said. She came up with a plan to give Christmas presents to the new arrivals and make it their “best Christmas ever.” She shared her idea with her parents and recruited friends, school officials and her student council to help. Samaia then sought donations of food, clothing, gift cards and new toys by distributing a promotional flier, sending letters to businesses and setting up donation boxes. A TV interview also helped get the word out. With the help of 60 volunteers, Samaia ended up collecting more than $5,000 worth of donations to make Christmas bright for the families of seven students in her grade. The gifts were presented at a bilingual Christmas celebration proudly hosted by Samaia.