Even at an early age, Rhian Hardee seemed destined to care for children, and it was these innate caring qualities that brought her a 2010 Justin Perkins Sandlot Award when she graduated last year from Monta Vista High School. Tonight at 7 p.m. at Monta Vista High School, the nonprofit organization that recognizes area youth for their community contributions will announce the 2011 awards.
Hardee’s story is rooted in her so-called "mother's helper" service at age 9, when she began watching younger children for busy moms in the neighborhood while the moms were doing household chores.
Just finishing her college freshman year, parents with little ones in her neighborhood are happy she’s home for summer break, Hardee says—they know they can trust her with their children.
The Sandlot award judges were especially impressed by a special project, "How Can We Lend a Helping Hand," Hardee did in a Regnart Elementary School kindergarten class taught by Hardee’s own former kindergarten teacher, Shelly Toohey.
Hardee, who volunteered as a teaching assistant, designed the project to inspire children to think about how they could help others. She had each child make a hand print on a sheet of paper as a pledge, and write a phrase beside it to promise doing something nice for others.
Hardee patched the pledges together and made a poster which she keeps on the wall of her bedroom.
"Children at an impressionable age pick up things fast. You see the impact you are having on them right away," Hardee says. "Also, at a young age, they don't hide their emotions. You see how you make them happy. It's very rewarding."
Hardee said she knew she was cut out for child care as early as age 5 or 6, when she began helping her mother take care of her younger siblings. Though only three years older than her brother and five years older than her sister, Hardee was mature beyond her age and became more of a mother's assistant, more than just an older child.
Growing up Hardee says she found it easy to take on more and more responsibilities such as housework and babysitting to help her working mother, an art teacher.
That children naturally bond with her made Hardee realize she’s a role model and needs to be careful in her own behavior.
"Before I do anything, I think about setting an example for my younger siblings and other kids," she said.
Michelle Koontz, a neighborhood mom who used Hardee’s babysitting services, says she’s grateful her children have Hardee as a role model. She is less apprehensive of her children’s teenage years knowing they've had Hardee as an example.
"Rhian has shown them that working hard in school, saving money, driving responsibly, and respecting and loving her parents is the way a teen should behave," says Koontz in the recommendation letter she submitted on behalf of Hardee.
Using her own abilities to influence children, and her double major in psychology and speech language pathology at the University of the Pacific, Hardee has her sights set on a career in child development.
"Psychology will enable me to help kids on the behavior side, and speech language pathology will get me to work on problems with children's language development," she said.
John Loiacono, a 1979 Monta Vista graduate, will make this year’s Justin Perkins Sandlot Award Winners presentation in the Monta Vista gym at 7 p.m. For more about the Justin Perkins Sandlot Award Winners go to Sandlot Hero
Something to think about ...