2017-02-17 / Front Page

MSK student lauded as top volunteer

By Wm. Duke Harrington Staff Writer

Bella Rossborough Bella Rossborough KENNEBUNK — The nation’s largest program designed to honor young people for their volunteer service has named a Kennebunk girl as its Maine middle school student of the year.

Bella Rossborough, 11, a sixth-grader at Middle School of the Kennebunks, was recognized in a Feb. 7 press release from the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards for her role in instigating and successfully campaigning for a ban on “single use” plastic shopping bags, an idea adopted by Kennebunk voters last June in a convincing 1,480-to-845 decision.

Rossborough launched her environmental crusade while still in Grade 4 at Sea Road Elementary School, by writing to then town manager Barry Tibbetts. Invited to speak before selectmen, Rossborough introduced the idea of banning plastic shopping bags.

“I wanted to protect the land and animals in my town, so I decided to see if I could make it so people used less plastic bags,” she said.

Referred to the town’s energy efficiency advisory committee, with a note of, “Good luck,” because the idea had been broached twice before without success, Rossborough followed through, attending every evening committee meeting for several months in hopes of getting her ideas drafted in ordinance form and placed on the ballot. Despite a committee detour into charging a fee for bags, a course taken in both in Portland and South Portland, Rossborough eventually won support for her original idea, a full-on bag ban.

Selectmen eventually put the ordinance update on the annual town meeting warrant, and Rossborough lobbied townfolk and business owners alike, drafting friends, parents and teachers to her cause, as she circulated information about reusable bags and sat for interviews with local media.

“I’m really happy that people in our town agreed that plastic bags are harmful and that there are better options,” she said.

“Bella is an exemplary student. I’m so proud that she has received this national recognition, as she dedicated her heart and soul, for countless hours, into making our community a better place,” said Jan Gibson, Rossborough’s classroom teacher in both fourth and fifth grade, who helped shepherd her interest in activism.

“There’s no doubt that her hard work and her successes have empowered other students to pursue their dreams of making a difference, and I’m confident that Bella will continue to make this world a better place,” Gibson said.

“When our staff began conversations about our annual leadership award, Bella’s name quickly rose to the top,” said Sea Road School principal Stephen Marquis. “She has been viewed by our collective school community as someone who places service before self, not only in the plastic bag ban initiative, but also in her daily life.”

Now in its 22nd year, the Prudential Spirit of Community Award is managed by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals. Annual nominations are open to all public and private middle and high schools in the U.S., as well as all Girl Scout Councils, 4-H organizations, American Red Cross chapters, YMCAs, and HandsOn Network affiliates.

Local honorees are reviewed by an independent judging panel, which selects state award winners, as well as “distinguished finalists,” based on a set of criteria that includes “personal initiative, effort, impact, and personal growth.”

“Bella learned so much from working to get the plastic bag ban passed, it was a wonderful experience for her,” said Rossborough’s mother, Edie, Rossborough. “To receive the Prudential Spirit of Community Award makes it even more special.”

As a state honoree, Rossborough will receive $1,000 from Prudential, as well as an engraved silver medallion.

She and 101 of her fellow award winners — including one middle school student and one high school student from all 50 states and the District of Columbia, will also enjoy an all-expenses paid trip to the nation’s capitol in May, for four days of recognition events for their accomplishments. During the trip, 10 students will be named America’s top youth volunteers for 2017.

“I was really surprised and happy when I got the package saying I had been selected as a winner,” Rossborough said. “I’m excited to go to Washington and meet kids from other states who won. I just wish I could share the experience with people like Mrs. Gibson and my friend Tucker, who helped me get the ban passed.”

Joining Rossborough in Washington, D. C. will be Kathleen Waeldner, 18, of Yarmouth High School, who worked with area nonprofits to create and expand a summer meals program for local at-risk children.

Maine’s distinguished finalists included Kate Newman, 17, of Houlton High School, and Max Pushaw, 18, of Camden Hills Regional High School, both of whom, like Waeldner, championed hunger awareness programs.

Staff Writer Duke Harrington can be reached at news@kennebunkpost.com.

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