Eighth-grader Jenell Theobald of Beaverton’s Whitford Middle School recently was honored by the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards as one of Oregon’s top youth volunteers.

Jenell worked to shine a spotlight on the special-needs summer camp that changed her life. Due to high-functioning autism, Jenell had to switch schools often, making it challenging to build friendships and social skills. But when she started attending Camp Meadowood Springs, things changed for her.

“Those summers were the happiest of my life,” says Jenell. “I was able to relate to and make friends with kids who were similar to me, and I felt like the counselors truly understood me.” Grateful for the experience, Jenell began volunteering to get Meadowood Springs the attention she felt it deserved. She authored a Wikipedia article for the camp, took its promotional fliers to seven school districts, gave speeches at various events, and recruited 35 volunteers to spend Memorial Day weekend helping the camp prepare for its next summer session.

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Jenell also started a charity called Let’s Peer Up to ensure that the needs of people with disabilities are not overlooked. One of its first successes was persuading the Beaverton City Council to reinstate a disabilities advisory board that had been disbanded years earlier. Jenell will receive a $2,500 scholarship, a silver medallion and an invitation to a virtual celebration that lets the youth winners from other states connect and share ideas.

Denise Castañon
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