The Times photo by Betsy Reason
Connor Reiff and his sister, Maddie, and their parents, Sarah and Adam Reiff, celebrate Connor’s two volunteer service awards, including a U.S. President’s Volunteer award signed by President Donald J. Trump. Connor was presented the award on Wednesday at Noblesville City Hall during a year-end celebration for Options Charter School in Noblesville.
The Times photo by Betsy Reason Connor Reiff and his sister, Maddie, and their parents, Sarah and Adam Reiff, celebrate Connor’s two volunteer service awards, including a U.S. President’s Volunteer award signed by President Donald J. Trump. Connor was presented the award on Wednesday at Noblesville City Hall during a year-end celebration for Options Charter School in Noblesville.
A Noblesville teen who started a service project, with the help of his sister -- to provide can openers to food pantry recipients -- has earned the 15-year-old a President’s Volunteer Service Award from the White House, including a formal gold-embossed letter signed by President Donald J. Trump.
Connor Reiff, a freshman at Options Charter School in Noblesville, accepted the President’s award in front of his classmates, teachers, friends and family, on Wednesday at Noblesville City Hall Council Chambers.
He admitted that he couldn’t have done it alone. He asked his sister, Maddie Reiff, 12, a sixth-grader at Options, to come up and join him to celebrate his award.
“She helped me set up everything, find the can openers, set up a table when I started giving them out, recommended a storage place, she gave me boxes. Without her, I wouldn’t have been able to find everything I needed,” said Connor Reiff, who admitted he was both “excited” and “nervous” when he learned of the award.
“I just like doing my part. I’m not going to let the award get to my head,” he said. “I’m going to continue volunteering. I’m going to continue doing my part for the community.”
He also received the Prudential Spirit of Community Award on Wednesday at City Hall, where more awards would follow for the school’s graduating seniors.
Harry Riley, manager of financial services at Prudential Financial, usually finds himself presenting the Prudential award to a senior. “To be able to honor a freshman is pretty special to me,” said Riley. The award recognizes outstanding middle and high school volunteers and is presented annually and granted to the Top 10 percent of Prudential Spirit of Community applicants in each state. The award recognizes those who volunteer significant amounts of their time to serve their communities and their country, Riley said.
The can opener service project was originally started to provide access to food after the siblings noticed that White River Christian Church food pantry recipients were not taking the canned food. Connor and Maddie Reiff wanted to know why. When they found out that the reason was because some people didn’t own a can opener, they decided they needed to help. And the service project was born. While discussing the issue over dinner with their mom, they came up with the slogan, “Can’t Open it? We Can Help!”
The siblings solicit donations of new can openers and give the can openers to food pantry recipients. They started the project more than three years ago, in February 2016. They applied for and received a $650 grant from the Youth as Resources through United Way of Central Indiana. Then, that spring, the siblings manned a lemonade stand at New Hope Presbyterian Church, earning $265. They spoke at Trinity Wesleyan Church in Indianapolis, sharing their idea and concern about people not being able to open canned foods, and received more can opener donations.
The project took work, time, presentations, public speaking and marketing their idea to the community. They set up a booth during open hours at WRCC food pantry. They made presentations to their teachers and school classes. They spoke in front of church congregations and crafted decorated donation boxes for donations at Noblesville Schools’ Educational Services Building and at the WRCC office. Donations may also be dropped off at Options Charter School in Noblesville. They asked White River Elementary, where Maddie, was then a fifth-grader, to add can openers to the list of sought-after donation items during the holiday food drive. They also expanded to the Noblesville Schools’ food storage program and have provided can openers for the No Hunger Summer Feeding program.
The siblings purchase good durable manual can openers ($8-10) and electric can openers, the latter of which are given to those who have difficulty using manual can openers due to arthritis or hand disabilities. Their goal was for this to be an ongoing project to meet the needs of families in our county and schools.
Besides the “Can’t Open It” can opener project, Connor volunteers at the food pantry, where he sorts foods, brings out eggs, unloads trucks and more. “We have a lot of kids who I wish had his motivation... He’s such of a shining example of what they should be doing there,” said Marc Hamilton, 62, Noblesville, who volunteers with youth in the food pantry and teaches Sunday school at WRCC.
Deb Diaz, WRCC’s food pantry team leader, said, “I’m just proud of Connor, because he took an idea and ran with it, saw it through to completion, and provided a great service to the community.”
She said Connor’s among 220 volunteers, about 30 of whom are youth, who help at the food pantry.
Joshua Curry, social studies teacher at Options Charter School in Noblesville, spoke Wednesday on Connor’s behalf. “He’s very civically minded. He carries a lot of character traits. He’s a very good student, very proactive…. He’s very keen to his intellect in serving others and in making a pathway to do it.”
Curry sees good things ahead for his student, who he said has a solid foundation.
Connor’s parents, Sarah and Adam Reiff support their children’s efforts and are proud.
“I think it’s really important, because kids need to see that sports are important, academics are important and so is community service,” Sarah Reiff said. “Being a part of that community is so important.”
She said, “I’m very proud of him. It was a lot of work. They put a lot of dedication into it. It set the standard and the stage for them for a lifelong ability of serving a community.”
-Contact Betsy Reason at betsy@thetimes24-7.com.