FREMONT, OH (WTOL) - Fremont student Parker Inks has been named one of Ohio's Top Youth Volunteers for 2016.
"Creating something great to help others is possible with just a little bit of faith and effort," Parker said in an interview with WTOL last January.
The 17-year-old junior at St. Joseph Central Catholic High School helped start a foundation eight years ago and has raised $150,000 through an annual dinner and auction to help families burdened by the high cost of caring for children with disabilities.
Parker, who was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy when he was a baby and uses a power wheelchair to get around, was hospitalized in 2008 with severe pneumonia. It was a terrible time for his family - not only was Parker sick, but his mother was undergoing chemotherapy and his father was not working.
One day, Parker had a visit from his school's football coach.
"He and my dad told me that I have a purpose," said Parker. "I thought these were just words of encouragement, but the older I get, the more I understand that I truly do have a purpose."
After that visit, the coach organized several fundraisers to ease the family's financial situation.
Overwhelmed by the community's generosity, Parker and his family wanted to "pay it forward" and founded a nonprofit organization, "Parker's Purpose," to help pay bills and purchase medical equipment for families of children with disabilities.
As one of five members of the foundation's executive committee, Parker attends monthly meetings to review grant requests.
To raise money, Parker came up with the idea of having an annual dinner and auction. Every year, Parker helps spread the word and is the spokesperson for the event. He weighs in on the choice of venue, the entertainment, and which celebrities will be asked to attend. The money the event has raised has helped more than 200 families over the years, Parker said, and he plans to keep going.
"One day, I hope I can look in the mirror and say that I have made an impact on others' lives!" said Parker.
Parker was selected from among thousands of applicants from across the U.S. in the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, the nation's largest national youth volunteer awards program – now celebrating its 21st Anniversary – honoring middle and high school students for their outstanding acts of volunteerism.
As a state winner, Parker who is among 102 winners from across the nation, will receive $1,000, engraved silver medallions and an all-expense-paid trip in early May to Washington, D.C., where he will join the top two honorees from each state and the District of Columbia for four days of national recognition events. During the trip, 10 students will be named America's top youth volunteers of 2016.
Read about the other finalists here.