Dowagiac Union High School student named top youth volunteer

Published 9:05 am Tuesday, February 12, 2019

DOWAGIAC — One Dowagiac Union High School senior was recently recognized for outstanding acts of volunteerism by a national organization.

Last week, Emily Potter, 17, of Dowagiac, was named one of Michigan’s top youth volunteers by the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. She shares the title with Emma Eimers, 13, of New Haven.

As state honorees, Potter and Eimers 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 2019.

Now in its 24th year, the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards is a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism and represents the United States’ largest youth recognition program based solely on volunteer service. All public and private middle and high schools in the country, as well as all Girl Scout councils, county 4-H organizations, American Red Cross chapters, YMCAs and affiliates of Points of Light’s HandsOn Network, were eligible to select a student or member for a local Prudential Spirit of Community Award. Local honorees were then reviewed by an independent judging panel, which selected state honorees and distinguished finalists based on criteria including personal initiative, effort, impact and personal growth.

“It almost feels surreal,” Potter said of being chosen as a state level honoree. “It feels crazy to be honest. … I didn’t do anything big. I didn’t start a nonprofit or anything like that. I just do little things to help make people happier.”

The most significant volunteer effort Potter is involved in is through the Youth Council for the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians. Since joining the council in 2016, she has had the opportunity to play a leading role in addressing several tribal issues. Examples include coordinating a project to provide every newborn in the tribe with a new handmade blanket, giving up Saturdays to clean a highway the tribe adopted and promoting sustainable farmland management and healthy eating choices among tribal members.

She also has been volunteering as a camp counselor for three weeks every summer, serving as a leader, mentor and role model for girls 7 to 14 years old. On duty 20 hours a day, seven days a week, Potter supervised group projects such as crafts and rope activities and worked with her campers one-on-one to tackle challenges from overcoming homesickness to tying shoelaces.

She has also volunteered with various blood drives and food drives at her school.

Potter said she had been inspired to volunteer because she enjoys the feeling she gets when she helps others.

“I don’t do anything for the fame or recognition,” she said. “I just like helping other people. It gives you a warm feeling in your stomach. It makes me happy to make other people happy.”

Having been named one of Michigan’s top youth volunteers, Potter said she is excited to meet other top volunteers from around the country when she visits Washington D.C. in May. But mostly, she said she is excited to represent her home town as a top youth volunteer and hopes to show other young people that they can make a difference through volunteerism.

“Volunteering might not change the world, but it could change one person’s day or life,” she said.