LIMA — Bella Etzkorn has always loved helping others.
The Shawnee Middle School student, 13, said she created the online platform Bella’s Buddies to encourage others to give back to their community as much as they can — like her and her family. Etzkorn is one of 10 winners of this year’s Jefferson Awards for Public Service.
Etzkorn said she started the platform, which is on Facebook and Instagram, in 2021 when many people were still isolated due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Not a whole lot of people were doing stuff in their communities and we (Etzkorn and her mother) figured that if we created something, we could get more people involved in doing that, and doing it together,” Etzkorn said.
The platform’s motto is “Do good. Together,” and Etzkorn uses it to post encouragement, challenges, events, call-outs to help community members and more.
Julia Etzkorn, the teen’s mother, said her daughter understands that the smallest acts of kindness can have a big impact. Bella Etzkorn demonstrated this last Halloween when she put together a costume drive and gifted them to children whose families could not afford to participate in the tradition.
“When you see kids smile because they get a Halloween costume, that’s amazing,” Julia Etzkorn said. “And that’s literally all we did, was give them a Halloween costume. And yet it made their whole month.”
Bella’s Buddies has hosted fundraisers for the local animal shelter, made tie blankets for local children in need, held a “Socks and Stuff” drive through the teen’s school to collect socks and hygiene products for Family Promise of Lima-Allen County and more.
The teen uses her personal experiences to inform her advocacy work as well; Bella’s Buddies partners with Miles for Migraine to raise research funds and awareness for the disability, she said. She said she’s had migraines since she was in the second grade and has noticed throughout her life a lack of understanding for the condition, which can affect every aspect of a person’s life.
“Not a whole lot of adults know that kids can get migraines and that they can be as bad an average adult’s migraine,” Bella Etzkorn said.
The teen met virtually with U.S. senators Sherrod Brown and J.D. Vance, and Representative Jim Jordan as part of Headache on the Hill to share her experiences to inspire solutions for barriers migraine-sufferers face, Julia Etzkorn said.
“I talked about my experience with migraines throughout the years and how it affects me in the school environment,” the teen said. ”I get hot very easily and it’s one of the things that causes my migraines, and my school does not have air conditioning. I talked about sometimes being able to go down to the (air-conditioned) library … and doing classwork from there, but it’s still kind of a challenge.”
Bella Etzkorn said she hopes to continue growing Bella’s Buddies and get sponsors so she can give more to the community. She plans to continue her work as long as she has the time.
“It’s just really surprising I think for people to see somebody so young so dedicated and committed to something especially when she could be spending that time doing something else,” Julia Etzkorn said. “… That would be the biggest win from all of this, is just to get more people doing good.”
The Jefferson Awards honor 10 individuals for their community service. There will be an awards ceremony at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 28, at the City Club in downtown Lima. At the ceremony, one of the winners will be selected to represent the region at the national Jefferson Awards dinner in Washington, D.C. Read about other winners at LimaOhio.com/tag/jefferson.