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Young Humanitarians Recognized

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Published:   |   Updated: March 27, 2013 at 10:07 AM

TAMPA - The Bay area is making a name for itself as a producer of humanitarian children. This week, a Palm Harbor boy was named CNN's Viewers' Choice winner, and a Valrico child is waiting to hear whether he has won a Butterfly Award.

Each accolade includes a $25,000 paycheck.

Pat Pedraja, a 12-year-old from Palm Harbor, won the Viewers' Choice Young Wonders Award handed out by the CNN Heroes contest. The presentation was made at a nationally telecast ceremony in New York on Thursday night.

Pat's mission was to sign up 2,007 bone marrow donors this year from across the nation. He signed up more than 5,000. Pat, who also is being treated for leukemia, was among about 7,000 people entered in the contest from nearly 100 countries.

His charitable effort landed him in more than 30 cities across the nation and raised more than $100,000 to pay for donor tissue tests.

To raise money, Pat sold advertising on his donated motor home and on his head, which was bald because of chemotherapy.

On his Web site, Pat says he heard about the shortage of bone marrow donors, particularly for minorities, after a friend died because she couldn't get a bone marrow match.

"That made me so sad and I want to do something to help," he wrote on his Web page. "I am part Hispanic and am scared that if I need a bone marrow transplant one day there may not be a match available for me."

Pat's mother, Claudine Andrews, said her son could not come to the phone Friday afternoon because he was feeling ill from a chemotherapy treatment Wednesday.

She said her family was leaving New York on Friday afternoon, eager to get home.

"He won the CNN Viewers' Choice award," she gushed. "It's a big deal." She said 35 other nominees were featured on television and online and voted on by viewers for two months. About 250,000 votes were cast, she said.

"This is such a great honor," Andrews said. "A lot of people have been inspired by him."

The drive to register bone marrow donors is just gaining momentum, she said, and plans call for an international push to get people signed up.

"Worldwide, there is a critical need for donors," she said, "particularly minority donors. We've been inundated with requests to come to different countries around the world to drive for donors."

Across the Bay, in eastern Hillsborough County, Zach Bonner is a semifinalist for the Butterfly Award, offered through the Volvo for Life foundation.

Zach turned 10 years old on his long walk from Seffner to Tallahassee last month, a march to raise money for homeless children. The trip was 280 miles and began on Nov. 3. It ended the Monday before Thanksgiving.

Through heat and some cold, the hardest part, he said, was in the pouring rain. Undeterred, he donned his rain suit and kept walking, he said.

His determination to help worthy causes has earned him a shot at the Butterfly Award. Zach is asking for votes on his Web site, www.littleredwagonfoundation.com. He says the money will "fund our projects. I could do so much good with that money."

Each year, the award is given to an "exceptional child hero," according to the Volvo for Life Web site. It is open to children younger than 16. The winner and a guest will attend the awards ceremony in New York on March 19. Zach is one of 10 semifinalists. If he makes it into the finals, he will be assured a $10,000 award. To vote, log on to www.volvoforlifeawards.com. Voting is open until Jan. 7.

Zach got the idea for his walk about a year ago after watching a documentary about Mildred Norman Ryder, the "Peace Pilgrim," who walked more than 25,000 miles over nearly three decades. But it was a resolution that Congress passed in August making November the nation's National Homeless Youth Awareness Month that pushed Zach toward the walk to Tallahassee.

Zach's walk raised awareness of youth homelessness along with about $25,000 in donations and supplies.

"It was hard, but it was worth it," he said on Friday afternoon. "It was neat, and I got to meet a lot of neat people and all that."

Florida has 33,155 homeless youngsters, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, which reports there are more than a million homeless youths nationwide.

At 10, Zach is a veteran of charity work. He volunteered at age 6 to collect donations of food and other supplies after Hurricane Charley. Last year he organized a holiday party in Louisiana for child victims of Hurricane Katrina, a project he hopes will become an annual event.

Zach said that next week he is planning to go to Louisiana to help out at the second annual holiday party for Katrina victims. Then it's back here for another charitable function in St. Petersburg.

He's already planning next November's walk for homeless children.

"We'll probably do another walk, probably from the Florida state line to Atlanta," he said.

As for the Butterfly Award, "I don't know how I got nominated for that," he said.


Reporter Keith Morelli can be reached at (813) 259-7760 or kmorelli@tampatrib.com.

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