Whether organizing a kids' charity golf tournament for a local hospital or creating a library half a world away, these winning families have worked tirelessly to change lives -- and in turn, they've changed their own. "Volunteering has introduced a whole new way of thinking into my brain," explains Charlsie Doan, 11, one of our winners. "I think about other people more and really want to help them."
With so many powerful entries to choose from, we were delighted to partner with Disney Friends for Change and generationOn, who helped us with the judging. Our four grand-prize winners (each received $5,000 for the charity of their choice from The Walt Disney Company) and five first-place winners (awarded $1,000 for their chosen charity) wowed us with their energy, compassion, and results. Here are their stories.
The Art of Possibility
The Konkel Family
Melrose Park, Illinois
About five years ago, curiosity drove Shawn Konkel to visit the Maywood Fine Arts building, where the Illinois mom was thrilled to find a kids' tumbling class in full swing. She learned that for 15 years the MFA has offered affordable classes in dance, art, music, drama, and karate to the kids of Maywood, a struggling town outside of Chicago. Students have gone on to positions with the New York City Ballet and the Rockettes. Shawn, who studied dance for 15 years, volunteered on the spot. "From that moment, everything changed in my life," says Shawn. "I realized one place could bring so much good into the world."
The founder of a promotional-product business, Shawn prints and sells clothing with the MFA logo, giving 100 percent of proceeds to the center. With the help of her family, she also plans, promotes, and staffs the Pumpkin Patch Parade, an annual showcase of MFA's students. Shawn's eldest kids, Joe, 20, and Nellie, 18, lend a hand with recitals, concerts, and rehearsals. J.D., 10, and Margueritte, 9, take classes at MFA and help sell the clothing Shawn prints, while husband Don pitches in on handyman jobs. Jack, 5, and Jett, 3, assist with event setup and cleanup.
Since a fire damaged Maywood's dance studio in 2010, the Konkels have devoted themselves to raising funds for the reconstruction. (The rest of the school remains open, and dance classes are held in a nearby church.) The family recently held a benefit show with dancers from 20 other Chicago-area dance schools.
"[The MFA] is good for the town because it's a happy place to go to," says J.D. "And the teachers are awesome! They tell you that you can do anything you want."
Prize Money Plans: Maywood Fine Arts Association