For the third year in a row, Minooka Community High School freshman Alex Caraynoff was given a Prudential Spirit of Community Award for his ongoing benefits for Ronald McDonald House Charities.
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards is the largest youth recognition program in the U.S. based exclusively on volunteer community service.
With his quiet demeanor, Alex, 14, humbly accepted the award at Minooka High School’s Board of Education meeting on May 17.
Board members and staff shook his hand and praised the teen, who successfully collected 2.5 tons of pop can tabs between May and October 2011 and donated the proceeds to Ronald McDonald House. United Scrap Metal gave Alex 50 cents per pound of aluminum last year.
His involvement with Ronald McDonald House began when his older sister, Kaitlyn, now 16, sustained a brain injury from a bike accident at 10 years old. The injury left her with a pseudo brain tumor – although she doesn’t actually have a tumor, her body responds as if she does.
Kaitlyn has had 57 surgeries to date to relieve symptoms, such as headaches, vision problems and seizures that crop up when fluid builds up on her brain, her mother, Kelly, said.
While Kaitlyn receives treatment, the family stays at Ronald McDonald House in Milwaukee, Wis. The last stay was for more than six weeks during all of December and most of January, Kelly said. Their next stay is planned for July.
“We are there for weeks at a time,” Kelly said. “Part of why Alex does this is he wants other families to have the same (living) options.”
Alex’s initial project to benefit the charity was personal hygiene bags. During the family’s first stay at Ronald’s McDonald House, they came without the toiletries they needed and had to go to the store.
“It sucks when you are not near home, your kid is not well and you have to go buy things,” Kelly said.
Alex took it upon himself to collect things, like toothpaste, toothbrushes, deodorant, shampoo and cheap razors, from local hotels and businesses. He put each kit together in a brown paper bag, decorated each one by hand and gave them to the house to distribute. He was in seventh grade at the time.
Last year was his first Pop Tab Dump Day. To get the community excited to collect the tabs, he created Pop Tab Pandemonium, asking businesses and organizations to donate.
The largest amount of tabs collected for the charity has been 6 tons, so, of course, Alex’s goal is 6.1 tons.
This year, Alex’s charity has picked up a sponsor, Rexam, a global consumer packaging company.
Rexam will present Alex with a $1,000 donation on June 15 for Ronald McDonald Charities, because he has recycled the most aluminum in the state for charity. He is also ninth in the nation, according to the Can Manufacturer’s Institute, Kelly said.
“It’s a pretty big deal for a 14-year old boy,” she said.
Alex is taking all the accolades in stride.
“I guess it’s nice that people know what I am doing, but it’s not for the award,” he said. “It’s to help my sister and the Ronald McDonald House.”
But mom is a bit more vocal about her son.
“I am really proud,” said Kelly. “He gets slighted a lot of times because of his sister, so I am proud he has taken the initiative to help someone else.”
This year ,pop tab dump day is scheduled for Sept. 22 at Lions Park in Minooka. People and businesses can bring their tab donations and drop them in the dumpster.
Last year, United Scrap Metal brought one dumpster that was nearly filled. Over 6 tons would require three dumpsters. To help fill them up, Rexam has provided containers that will be at local business for donations.
A storage shed has also been donated to house pop cans.
Among his friends, Alex is referred to as the pop tab boy. He doesn’t really mind because it helps him with his cause.
“I find pop tabs in my locker (at school) every few days,” he said.