5/21/2005 2:37:07 AM
BOSSIER CITY – Amanda Pittmon knows too well what it’s like to be in a hospital and not have a lot to smile about. But she’s using her personal experiences and what she is learning as an LSU AgCenter 4-H Club member to help others.
Pittmon, an eighth grader at Cope Middle School, was born with physical problems. Counting the surgery she had earlier this month (May 10), Pittmon has undergone 62 surgeries to correct these problems.
But she found opportunities to spread "sunshine" to others during her hospital stays. To occupy her time, Pittmon started making pieces of jewelry, which some have dubbed "Beads of Sunshine," and giving them to other patients.
That thoughtfulness earned her a Prudential Spirit of Community Award from the Prudential Insurance Co. of America. She and her mother, Renee Starret, joined other award winners in Washington, D.C., recently for a banquet honoring the winners.
"I didn’t even know I had been nominated," Pittmon said, explaining she was nominated by her principal, Judy Grooms.
LSU AgCenter agent Joe Barrett, who works with Pittmon in the 4-H program, said she is a "fine young lady" who deserves to be recognized for her accomplishments.
"Amanda is always thinking of other people," Barrett said. "She is very involved in 4-H and does lots of things in the community to help others."
4-H is the youth development and outreach program of the nation’s land-grant university system. It is operated in Louisiana by the LSU AgCenter and is designed to provide skills and knowledge that will benefit young people throughout their lives.
Terril Faul, who heads the LSU AgCenter’s 4-H Youth Development program, said Pittmon’s actions are what 4-H is all about.
"Volunteerism and community involvement are two of the skills young people learn by being involved in 4-H," Faul said. "4-H teaches young people skills that will follow them into adulthood. We are very proud of Amanda."
Dr. Paul Coreil, LSU AgCenter vice chancellor for extension, agrees that developing a sense of community involvement and service is what faculty members and volunteers try to teach 4-H members.
"What Amanda is doing is just one example of what young people who join 4-H can do," Coreil said. "The 4-H youth development program is diverse, experiential and youth-focused.
"The volunteer and community service ethic is instilled in 4-H members beginning with their first year of involvement," Coreil said, continuing, "Teens in the program are encouraged to develop their leadership skills and become involved in providing service to their communities."
Pittmon’s mother is a 4-H sponsor/volunteer leader at Benton Middle School. Starret said her daughter has greatly benefited from being involved in 4-H.
"4-H has taught her a lot about community involvement and volunteerism," Starret said. "She really enjoys the activities and projects she does as a 4-H member, and it gives her time to be with other people."
Other people are what Pittmon thinks of when she makes her jewelry and other beaded trinkets. When she first started making her creations, they caught everyone’s attention, and pretty soon she began giving the bracelets, necklaces and key chains away.
"I would load up my IV pole with bracelets, necklaces and key chains," Pittmon said. "Then, I would deliver them to as many rooms as possible. It’s like I’m bringing sunshine to people and they smile. I like making people smile."
She especially remembers a visit she had with one elderly man she met during one of her hospital stays.
"I went to his room to give him some of my jewelry so he would smile," Pittmon said. "He started crying and said that if I could walk down the hall to his room with all of the stuff on my IV pole and see him, then he could get better."
Now, even when she’s not hospitalized, Pittmon visits area hospitals with her mother to give away her jewelry. Although she never asks for money, she often receives "tips," which she, in turn, donates to "Water For Life," an organization that provides clean drinking water for children in Africa.
Since she began making "Amanda’s Creations" about eight years ago, Pittmon has donated more than $2,500 to the organization.
"I think everyone should have clean water," Pittmon said. "By doing this, I’m doing something to make a difference and let people know that I care."
In addition to making jewelry to give away, Pittmon’s involvement in 4-H also includes cooking and making birdhouses. She even entered a B-B gun shooting contest at the State Fair in Shreveport.
"My daddy helped me," she explained.
Pittmon’s leadership and community service activities include: participating in Walk for Education and the Special Olympics, making Valentine cards for veterans, making Christmas cards for servicemen and servicewomen at war, sending gift boxes to children in other countries for Operation Christmas Child and raising money for Tsunami victims. She also has volunteered at her church’s Fall Fest and Easter Eggstravaganza, delivered goodies to nursing homes at Christmas and Thanksgiving, and donated stuffed animals to the Bossier Sheriff’s Department.
To find out more about 4-H and how you can get involved, visit www.lsuagcenter.com and click on the 4-H clover.
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards honor young people in middle-level and high-school grades for outstanding volunteer service to their communities. More than 20,000 young people across the United States, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico were nominated for the award, but only 104 received it. Pittmon was the middle-school student from Louisiana to receive the award.