We just can't help but use this space to highlight our wonderful Ahwatukee youths doing extraordinary things in these uncertain times we live in.

Emilie Hamlin, 10, a fifth-grader at Kyrene de los Lagos Elementary School, has been named the top fundraiser/walker in Arizona by the March of Dimes for raising more than $12,000 so far this year for the annual March for Babies walk every April in downtown Phoenix. She is the fifth highest youth fundraiser in the nation. Wow!

Emilie's mother, Jennie Hamlin, says this is the 10th year her daughter has been involved in helping the March for Babies, which, according to its national website, "gives hope to the more than half a million babies born too soon each year." The money raised supports programs in the local community that help moms have healthy, full-term pregnancies. The money also helps fund research to find answers to the problems that threaten babies. March for Babies has raised an incredible $2 billion to benefit all babies.

The walk itself has been around since 1970 and this local family has been there every step of the way.

"We've been involved with March of Dimes as a family forever because my mom thought is was important for every baby to have a healthy start in life," said Hamlin, adding that she and her husband both grew up in Tempe and graduated from Corona del Sol High School. "My mom got me involved when I was barely walking. There were five of us kids and she would pull us in a wagon while walking. We've continued that tradition as a fundraiser we do as a family each year."

Hamlin, herself, says the cause is near and dear to her heart after losing two children born prematurely in between having Emilie and her youngest child.

"We've been affected by their mission and feel strongly about the March of Dimes walk every April in downtown Phoenix," Hamlin said. "We start off by doing a family fundraiser in our Lakewood neighborhood where we get family and friends to donate $20 to walk to our neighborhood Jamba Juice and back to help us get started in raising the money toward our goal each year."

In the typical true community form often seen all around Ahwatukee, the Jamba Juice at Ray Road and Ranch Circle, at 4302 E. Ray Road, Suite 108, donates free smoothies to all participants of the Hamlin's walk on that day.

Jamba Juice General Manager Brandon Panuccio said his store often helps out local youth with fundraising endeavors.

"Everyone needs help one way or another and anything we can do to help out the community we always want to do," Panuccio said, adding that it brings energy to the store when Emilie's team comes in each year.

And Emilie is a go-getter when it comes to raising funds for March of Dimes and she continues to look for new ways to raise extra money for the annual walk.

"(Emilie) decided this year that she wanted to be one of the top walkers in the nation," Hamlin said. "So in addition to our neighborhood walk, she sets up several lemonade stands, we do two garage sales each year and she wants to start a recycling campaign at her school to help raise funds this year. It's little things but it all adds up and she has now raised just over $12,000 so far this year."

Well spoken for her young age, Emilie told me she just thought starting a recycling program at her Ahwatukee school this year made sense.

"It's a work in progress right now but I'm going to recycle cans and bottles and probably take them once a month to cash them in and put the money toward March of Dimes," Emilie said, adding that she picked the March of Babies because both the organization and her family inspired her to keep up the tradition.

Emilie noted that she has a good friend who helps her with her lemonade stands and also is part of her walking team called "The Bootie Brigade."

"I think she really enjoys it, too," Emilie said. "Everyone who comes by our lemonade stand tells us what a great thing we are doing and wishes us luck, so that's nice."

Always working for the cause, Emilie made sure to tell me to give you readers her website if you are interested in helping her raise funds. To donate, go to www.marchforbabies.org/ehamlin.

Jennie Hamlin said about 5,000 people participate in the April March of Dimes March for Babies walk in downtown Phoenix.

"We usually have 20 friends and family walking with us on that day as well, it's really a neat thing."

• Contact writer: (480) 898-7913 or kmixer@ahwatukee.com

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