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Originally published Sunday, June 7, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Class of 2009 | Rachel Bervell, Kamiak High: volunteer extraordinaire

Rachel Bervell, graduating from Kamiak High School, is a volunteer extraordinaire who rounded up almost 1,500 stuffed bears to take to Ghana and rounded up fellow teens to volunteer at a local homeless shelter.

Times Snohomish County Reporter

When Rachel Bervell planned to visit her parents' homeland of Ghana in the summer of 2007, the sophomore at Mukilteo's Kamiak High School thought she would bring some teddy bears for children in hospitals and an orphanage there.

With the help of classmates, Bervell collected almost 1,500 stuffed animals.

Her parents supported the plan until they got to the airport. The cost for the additional "luggage" came to $1,500. Rachel pleaded and promised to pay them back.

Now she has, with more than $50,000 in college scholarships and a generous financial-aid package from Harvard University, which she will attend in fall. Her teachers say the numerous awards recognize her exceptional leadership and community service.

"It's hard to find someone who's done more," said Bryan Stelling, a Kamiak counselor.

Bervell personally distributed the stuffed animals to children in Ghana, where, she said, they marveled: "I can keep this?" The nurses were less impressed. They told her, "Next time you come, bring thermometers and blankets."

In her father's small village, she noticed that the students had no books or paper and the teacher only a chalkboard. When she returned to Mukilteo, Bervell created a nonprofit, HUGS for Ghana, that raised $500 and collected school supplies. She also helped create a program that has Kamiak students volunteering at Everett-area homeless shelters.

She had hoped to return to Ghana to deliver the school supplies this summer, but finances postponed the trip. Her younger brother, who will attend Kamiak next year, plans to continue to collect school supplies and sports equipment, and hopes to deliver them himself.

"Students can't do too much community service," Rachel Bervell said.

In addition to her volunteer work, Bervell has maintained a 3.9 GPA and works part-time as a tutor — and she's only just turned 17. She hopes to become a pediatric neurologist and work for a world health organization. There's still a hospital in Ghana with pressing needs.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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