2012 Community Service Award winners recognized
The 2012 Community Service Awards were presented to Shlagha Kargee and Ben Okonow at the Club's June 20th meeting. The Exchange Club's Community Service Awards were created two years ago to recognize Needham
High School freshmen, sophomores or juniors who have demonstrated a commitment to community service through clubs or
organizations that serve our community.
Youth Committee member Michael Greis introduces 2012 Awardees Shlagha Karjee (L) and Ben Okonow (R) at the June 7th club meeting.
Shlagha Karjee founded and is the leader of the Needham High School Kiva Club, an organization that now has over 20 students involved. Kiva is an online micro-finance site that connects internet users with low income entrepreneurs around the world. The loans can be for as little as $25 and are paid back in installments. NHS Kiva members raise capital by doing odd jobs and donating their earnings to the club account. The club then evaluates where its loans should be made and monitors the progress of their borrowers.
Shlagha introduced to the concept of microfinancing – the essence of the Kiva Club – by Jacqueline Novogratz’s book, “The Blue Sweater.” Jacqueline founded the Acumen Fund. Demonstrating the curiosity and commitment to learning that characterizes Needham High School students, Shlagha observed, "A lot of ideas related to microcredit may be complex, such as the economics behind what makes a successful business and how overseas transactions work, but I aim to find answers as a club."
Ben Okonow began working with the Belmont Blue Devils, a Massachusetts Special Olympics men's basketball team, as a barmitzvah project. Ben is now in his fourth year of coaching the team, made up of men 20 - 40 years old. The team has won three gold medals in the state tournament. Ben is in charge of running practice every Monday evening during the season and chaperoning the team on its road trips to tournaments throughout Massachusetts.
Ben's advisor, Sue Weiner of the Massachusetts Special Olympics, takes special pride in Ben's achievements. She marvels at the level of respect Ben has earned from his team, noting that when she talks to the team about something, they will invariably ask her, "well, what does Coach say about that?".
In addition to recognizing and thanking the students for their commitment, the Needham Exchange Club is also proud to support their work by making $750 cash donations to both the Needham High School Kiva Club and the Massachusetts Special Olympics. The donation to the Kiva club will enable them to increase the support they can provide through micro-finance loans to entrepreneurs. The donation to the Massachusetts Special Olympics will help the Belmont Blue Devils defray the costs of traveling to tournaments.