Rebecca Mader celebrated her 15th birthday in February, a month when the nation celebrates two great leaders, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Mader already shows signs of superior leadership in her own corner of the world - Rosedale, Queens.
Mader is the Queens winner of the second annual Governor's Youth Recognition Award. The award, established in 2000, recognizes one young person from each of New York State's 62 counties who have shown leadership and a deep commitment to his or her neighborhood. The honor is considered one of the highest tributes to the youth of New York State.
When speaking of the honor, Mader is still ecstatic. "About a month after I mailed in the application, I got a letter of congratulations from the governor. The letter also said I'd be receiving a laptop computer. I was flipping out! I was really proud that I'd won, and I can surely use the laptop!"
Mader is a well-spoken teen who speaks of her accomplishments proudly but not at all boastfully. She is an eager volunteer at the Cornucopia Society, where she helps in the food pantry, distributing food to the needy in her community. Mader also helps out in the Society's effort to clean up local parks: Rosedale's Veteran's Square, the Rosedale Vietnam Memorial Park, and Twin Ponds. She also joins in the Society's Adopt-A-Highway efforts to clean up a mile-long stretch of Sunrise Highway.
When Frederick J. Kress, executive director of the Cornucopia Society, first heard about the Governor's Award, he knew that he had the perfect nominee in Mader. "I've known Rebecca and her family a long time," says Kress. "Rebecca started coming to the food pantry with her mother and helped pack food. Now she helps with everything, from the Twin Ponds cleanup to planting daffodils in the park. It's all very physical work, but Rebecca is always willing to help. She also helps out at the civic association meetings and in her church. Plus, she's a good student. I knew she had what it takes to win this award."
A sophomore at Martin Van Buren High School in Bellerose, Mader is selflessly devoted to her community. "I make sure I do all of my weekend homework on Friday afternoons, so I have the weekends free to help out," she says.
Paul and Dolores Mader know that their daughter (on eof four children) is not over-scheduling herself. "Her school work doesn't suffer at all," her mother remarks. "She's very motivated. She schedules her activities very well, and she can fit everything in. She's not the type of kid to sit around and watch TV. She wants to do this volunteer work."
Her father couldn't agree more. "Rebecca is never bored. She is able to keep her work on a schedule where everything is spaced out very well. Yet she always has time for her church work, the food pantry, and the civic association."
Indeed, Mader's leadership work doesn't end with the Cornucopia Society. She is very involved in her church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Christ, in Rosedale. She is in the adult choir and she also leads the recently resurrected "cherub" choir, a group of 4- to 7-year-old singers. Years ago there was a choir for the youngsters, but it disappeared. When Mader heard about that, she put her mind to getting it going again. She started with just a few children in the choir; now she teaches 12 youngsters.
"We meet once a week and I teach them camp songs, songs that are fun and repetitious," she says. "Even the children who can't read get the hang of the songs easily enough." The choir's first performance was on Thanksgiving Eve, last year; now, the youngsters sing once a month at church services.
But all the scheduling in the world couldn't prepare the Mader family for the horrific events of 9-11. The six-page application was due in mid-September, 2001, but, like the rest of the country, everything stopped for the Maders on 9-11. When they looked at the application again, they were afraid that they would miss the deadline, but a call to the committee assured them that the date had been extended. Mader needed letters of recommendation for her community service, which she received from Kress; Rosedale Civic Association vice-president Jim English; and from the Pioneer Girls, a Christian-based scouting group where Mader is a leader's helper (she also finds time to work with younger children at Pioneer Girls two hours every Friday night).
The letter of congratulations arrived before Christmas, and Rebecca and her parents made plans to attend the ceremony in Albany. In mid-January, Mader and the other five dozen recipients were called up to the podium to receive their awards from Gov. George Pataki. The New York State Youth Bureaus also donated laptop computers to all of the award winners.
Although Dolores Mader doesn't know how many other Queens teens were nominated for this award, she knows that the competition must have been tough. "I'm a teacher in a private school, and we got the literature asking for nominees. Other teachers and principals I know in other schools got the same literature, so I'm pretty sure all the schools got this notice," she says. "Paul and I are so proud of Rebecca for what she does with her time and talents, and I'm really thrilled that she got this recognition."
Rebecca Mader is still young, but she knows that she wants her college work to focus on early childhood education and hopes to teach second-graders some day. We applaud her!