Michael Bendok is on a mission to give back to the community. Last month, the junior at Phoenix Country Day School was named a State Honoree for the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, which is the country’s most extensive youth recognition program based solely on volunteer community service.
Michael stands out for his commitment to community work, having co-founded Kidz 4 Causes in January 2016, an organization that focuses on raising money for rare disease research. It’s a cause near and dear to Michael’s heart, having suffered from a rare blood disorder called severe chronic neutropenia throughout his childhood.
Michael has helped upwards of 20 families find treatments for their children. His volunteer work captured the attention of the judging panel for the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, and he’s incredibly grateful. “The recognition of the hard work my friends and I have put in over the past four and a half years is rewarding,” Michael said.
As a State Honoree, Michael will receive a $1,000 scholarship, an engraved silver medallion and an all-expenses-paid trip with a parent or guardian to Washington, D.C. for national recognition events, where he looks forward to sharing his message with hundreds of fellow volunteers. For Michael, the more people who know about rare diseases and are willing to work toward improved treatments and preventive measures, the better.
Although Michael made a full recovery, he often wonders what could have happened if it had not disappeared, or if he was born with a less benign disease. Watching his best friend’s younger brother suffer from bronchitis obliterans spurred him into action.
Michael was surprised to learn that despite approximately 25 million Americans suffering from one of 7,000 documented rare diseases in the U.S., there’s still a lack of treatment available for many patients. “In light of this, I saw an opportunity to raise money and awareness for a cause I am passionate about – rare disease treatments,” Michael said.
Michael and his friends have organized many coin drives, community runs, restaurant fundraisers and school presentations. These Kidz 4 Causes fundraising efforts have raised more than $141,000 for treatments benefitting the Translational Genomics Research Institute’s Center for Rare Childhood Disorders.
Seeing his dedication and determination pay off positively means a lot to Michael, who truly embodies a community spirit, not only with his work with Kidz 4 Causes but in many other initiatives as well.
For Michael, the recognition for his hours spent volunteering is appreciated, and while he was overjoyed about the Prudential’s Spirit of Community Awards, that’s not why he does it. His motivation comes from knowing he made a difference. “There is nothing that makes me happier than making a positive impact in the lives of others,” Michael said. “I try to encourage others to volunteer with me and adopt this mindset because selfless acts are humbling, fulfilling, and above all, improve the communities we all call home.”
For more: kidz-4-causes.org.