Seventeen honors Wake Forest freshman

(U-WIRE) WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – When Wake Forest freshman Melissa Poe did not hear back from President George Bush, she took matters into her own hands. Nine years later, she has helped thousands of people work toward her original goal – a cleaner environment.

Recently, Poe was recognized for her efforts. She went to Washington to receive a Seventeen/Cover Girl Volunteerism Award, for which she won first place in the 18-21 age group out of thousands of entries. The March 16 award ceremony featured speeches by First Lady Hillary Clinton and Attorney General Janet Reno. Poe received a $10,000 scholarship and another $10,000 was given to her club.

At the age of 9 she decided to write to the president asking him to save the environment. Poe said she believed the president had the most power, therefore he should solve the problem.

“I expected him to get on TV and say, `Stop polluting,’ and people would stop,” Poe said.

However, it took the president 12 weeks to write back, and when he did respond it was only a form letter that didn’t relate to the environment.

“That’s when I realized that if you want to stop a problem, you can’t wait for others to solve it; you have to do it yourself,” Poe said.

She raised $50 in a yard sale to rent a billboard to display her letter, but the company did it for free.

Poe said the company agreed to place one in Washington in addition to the one in Nashville so the president would see it. Eventually 250 billboards were placed around the country.

She also founded Kids For A Clean Environment, which began with six members. Membership blossomed, however, after she wrote to “The Today Show,” which agreed to have her on the show; she received thousands of letters from interested children.

Kids FACE now has 300,000 members worldwide, and its newsletter, which is sponsored by Wal-Mart, reaches more than two million.

Since “The Today Show,” Poe has appeared on such television shows as “Good Morning America” and “CBS This Morning,” and in such magazines as Glamour, Seventeen, Good Housekeeping and Time.

In addition to her television appearances, Poe has given numerous speeches at different environmental gatherings and met several celebrities, such as Bill and Hillary Clinton, Whoopi Goldberg and Michael Stipe.

“After you meet them, you realize that they’re just people, and you respect them for what they’ve done,” she said.

Poe has stepped down as CEO of Kids FACE so the club may remain in the control of the youth, but she remains active with the club and helping the environment. She said she is considering joining the Peace Corps for two years after college and then possibly running for political office. She said she hopes the work she has done through Kids FACE and other projects will make it easier for other people to get involved.

-by Brad Gunton, Old Gold and Black

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