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Illing Student Earns ‘Community Award’

Emily Christensen, a 13-year-old eighth-grader at Illing Middle School, has been named one of Connecticut's top two youth volunteers of 2016 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism.

Emily has raised more than $85,000 to benefit young cancer patients and their families by selling recycled crayons formed into interesting shapes and sizes.

The other winner was Alexandra Minutillo, 15, of Madison, a sophomore at Daniel Hand High School. Alexandra formed a nonprofit organization and school club that have raised more than $10,000 to buy gifts for teenage patients at Smilow Cancer Hospital.

As state honorees, Alexandra and Emily each will receive $1,000, an engraved silver medallion and an all-expense-paid trip in early May to Washington, D.C., where they will join the top two honorees from each of the other states and the District of Columbia for four days of national recognition events. During the trip, 10 students will be named America's top youth volunteers of 2016.

We wrote about Emily earlier this year, but to recap -- when she was 6 years old, Emily lost her 4-year-old friend TJ to cancer. Coincidentally, a few weeks later, her church challenged its members to do something to help someone in need. The very next day, the crossing guard at Emily's school handed her a bag of old crayons her children had outgrown. That sparked a memory of a craft project in preschool in which old crayons had been melted and poured into molds. "I had an idea of making crayons into different shapes and putting them into a cute little package to raise money," Emily said. "TJ was my best friend and I had to help him live on somehow."

With the help of her family, Emily began peeling crayons, melting them, and then placing them in different-shaped molds. Her initial goal was to raise $200 for a local hospital to help the families of young cancer patients pay for things insurance does not cover, such as hospital parking and meals, as well as to buy small gifts for the ill youngsters. Now, seven years later, "Crayons for Cancer" is a nonprofit organization that provides funds to assist families in several states. Although Emily still spends time every day making her wax creations, she has a cadre of volunteers from schools, clubs, churches and service organizations crafting and packaging her crayons, which she then sells through her website and at local events. She also has partnered with several businesses and frequently speaks in front of large groups to get the word out. Emily estimates that her group has helped at least 4,000 families over the years.

The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, now in its 21st year, is conducted by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).

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