When most Americans head down to Jamaica, the idea is to escape the responsibilities and concerns of the "real world" for a while. But for Munster High School sophomore Jill Osterhus, a family vacation to the popular resort island a few years back meant stumbling upon a whole new calling in her young life.
We first profiled Jill and her charitable organization Educate Jamaica back in August; since then, her continuing efforts to ship books and school supplies to needy children in Jamaica have garnered more notice and recognition than she ever expected.
On November 4, Jill was honored as one of just four statewide winners of the 2011 Power of Children Award in a ceremony at the Children's Museum of Indianapolis.
Now in its seventh year, the Power of Children program aims to recognize Indiana youths who have made a significant impact on the lives of others, demonstrated selflessness, and exhibited a commitment to service and the betterment of society. The award includes recognition on the Museum's "Making a Difference" wall, a scholarship for a participating Indiana-based institution of higher learning and a $2,000 grant to be used toward furthering the student's philanthropic project.
Surprised by winning the award, Jill seemed happiest about the possibilities for the grant money destined for Educate Jamaica.
"It was an honor to be recognized as one of the Power of Children winners after hearing that there were so many entries," she said. "I am so grateful, and the children from Churchill Primary will finally be able to have the library they have been wanting for so long."
The Power of Children award is just one more note of recognition for what has developed from humble beginnings into a thriving philanthropic endeavor for the 15-year-old. What started out as an end-of-year locker cleanout project back in 2009 is now drawing interest and donations from all around the area.
"I recently received a donation from a gentleman in Cedar Lake, and friends and neighbors have continued to drop off supplies for my project and I thank them so much for what they do," Jill said.
Despite the suddenly higher profile of her project, Jill continues to pursue it humbly. She is currently gathering books and supplies for another shipment to Jamaica (while seeking help with the shipping part of the equation), and looking forward to another trip to the island with her family in January to see the results of her work in person. As for notoriety, Jill simply hopes that her experience can be an inspiration to other kids who might have a desire to help others, but may not know just how to get started.
"Find your passion and use that to help others in need," she explains. "I love reading and children, so I decided to help out a Jamaican school. It definitely does not have to be as drastic as starting a new organization, but the smallest acts of kindness around your community can make the biggest difference."