A member of the Michigan JAG program and recent Muskegon High School graduate Asia Hardeman's volunteer efforts attracted the attention of many people, including her peers, college scholarship boards and one other very distinguished individual: the President of the United States.
Eighteen year-old Asia, received the President's Volunteer Service Gold Award for completing more than 250 volunteer hours during the 2014-15 academic year. The award is the highest service honor given out by the White House and it is exceptionally rare for a young person to receive the honor. "I worked pretty hard for this, so to see all this hard work come to a great ending feels awesome," she said.
The administrators at Muskegon High School presented the award to Hardeman weeks before she graduated in May. Asia became a potential candidate for the honor after capturing the interest of a local college scholarship board, which was considering her for a $20,000 scholarship.
Hardeman's 2014 volunteer hours were just one component of her eligibility — since her freshman year in high school, Asia volunteered a significant amount of time with Therapy Dogs Inc., this included working side-by-side with therapy dogs and helping to train new teams. She also assisted in founding K-9 Care Crew on the Lakeshore, a therapy dog non-profit which ties into her goal of involving teenagers with dog-centered therapy teams.
Asia was not the recipient of the scholarship despite her various accomplishments. However, she came out of the experience believing she was given a far greater distinction. Hardeman's mentor and former teacher at Western Michigan Christian High School, Kim Wood, completely agrees. "She's such a point of light," Wood said. "She's become such a role model for kids who have volunteered because of her example."
For teacher Kim Wood, Asia Hardeman is not only unique in her skill with therapy dogs, but in her industrious and entrepreneurial spirit. "One of the things she didn't recognize right away that I did was her knack for interacting with people," Wood said. "As she volunteered more, Asia found out she was a natural for business."
Asia’s mother, Arlegra Long, hopes her daughter incorporates giving back in of any of her future endeavors. "I hope she keeps that side of her, or continues to volunteer in her free time," Long said. "I've always raised her to believe in herself and to give her time to others."
"The impact she's had on this community is tremendous," Wood said. "It is so easy to focus on the negativity our youth today. That always goes above the fold, and we need to spend more time seeking out the incredible kids like Asia who are out doing this every day."
Asia has decided to major in business management and development. She plans to attend classes at Muskegon Community College this fall.