By LEAH TATE
NEW ALBANY —
In 1972, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Sen. Robert Taft Jr. and Sam Beard founded the Jefferson Awards for Public Service to establish a Nobel Prize for public and community service. On Sept 7, at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, New Albany, the youth-run and non-profit organization Miles for Merry Miracles was selected out of 27 other groups reviewed at a national level to receive the Jefferson Award for their participation in The Salvation Army Angel Tree program.
Although Miles for Merry Miracles is one of the youngest organizations in its sixth year, it hit the ground running with adopting about 100 angels in 2008 to nearly 750 anticipated for this year.
The Miles for Merry Miracles organization began in 2008, when Nick Hebert proposed the idea as an Eagle Scout project to have a 5k run/walk that benefited The Salvation Army Angel Tree program. Nick’s idea was to have the 5k run/walk participants adopt an angel instead of paying a registration fee for the event. Thus, the organization implemented an online adoption program that allowed 5k run/walk participants to provide local Angel Tree children in need with Christmas gifts. Participants register online at m4mm.org for the organization’s 5k run/walk event by adopting an angel. The Walmart along Grant Line Road in New Albany, hosts a shopping day where Miles for Merry Miracles members go shopping for items on the angel’s wish list and then the organization hosts a dinner where they secretly provide gifts to parents while their children are distracted with games.
Roxanne Haley, business manager with The Salvation Army, said when Hebert pitched the idea to her in 2008, she said “sure, will give it a try.” Haley said she never realized how successful Miles for Merry Miracles would be.
“The organization has made a huge difference and we are truly grateful,” Haley said. “It’s a blessing to us.”
Haley said there are about 4,600 angels that are in need of adoption every year and Miles for Merry Miracles has helped put a big dent in that number with adopting more than 1,750 angels since the organization’s existence.
Teresa Hebert, mother of Nick Hebert and Miles for Merry Miracles Adult Advisory Board member, said although 750 angels may seem like a rather large goal to strive for this year, she said each year the organization increases its quota by about 30 percent and meets or exceeds that number.
Miles for Merry Miracles has 40 youth serving on the leadership board and also has an Adult Advisory Board to provide guidance. The organization is composed of youth at various ages, as young as 5 years old, and represents about 12 schools in the New Albany-Floyd County School Consolidated School Corp., West Clark School Corp., North Harrison School Corp. and Greater Clark County Schools Corp. Currently, the majority of its members are Floyd Central High School students as Hebert is a graduate of the school. Since the Miles for Merry Miracles organization is youth-run, its members facilitate board meetings, fundraising, marketing, finance and public relations.
Silver Creek High School student and Miles for Merry Miracles Media Correspondent Olivia Pacciano, 18, said she is new to the organization as her high school was just recently introduced to the program, but quickly knew this organization was something she wanted to be involved in.
“If I don’t help, who will,” Pacciano said. “I'm all for doing something to make someone else’s life a little easier.”
Floyd Central High School freshman Bailey Roney, 14, has been a Miles for Merry Miracles member for the past four years and said her favorite event is the dinner where they hand out angel tree gifts to the parents.
“I like seeing all the smiling faces,” Roney said.
Sen. Ron Grooms along with Amanda Johnson, regional director for the Jefferson Awards for Public Service, commended the Miles for Merry Miracles organization during the award ceremony. Hebert also congratulated the organization via a video message.
“This layer of education is difficult to receive in classrooms,” Sen. Grooms said. “As Gandhi stated, ‘In a gently way, you can shake the world.’”
The 2013 Miles for Merry Miracles 5k fun run and walk will be held Nov. 30, with the shopping day being held on Dec. 7 and the dinner to follow on Dec. 14. Participants can register for the 5k by adopting an angel online at m4mm.org.