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Praise from the Pentagon

New Jersey teen receives Defense medal for organizing a "freedom walk" in his hometown

By Madison Hartke-Weber | May 22 , 2008
Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Robert T. Hastings, left, presents the certificate for the Defense Medal for Exceptional Public Service to Joey Rizzolo at the Pentagon, May 6, 2008. (Photo: Defense Department photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Molly A.Burgess)
Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Robert T. Hastings, left, presents the certificate for the Defense Medal for Exceptional Public Service to Joey Rizzolo at the Pentagon, May 6, 2008. (Photo: Defense Department photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Molly A.Burgess)

Seventh-grader Joey Rizzolo has walked his way into quite an award. On May 6, the 13-year-old was honored with the Office of the Secretary of Defense Medal for Exceptional Public Service. He received the award for organizing a "freedom walk" in his hometown of Paramus, New Jersey.

Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Robert T. Hastings called Joey a "great American" as he presented the award. "The tireless accomplishments of Mr. Rizzolo and his dedication to the United States Military reflect great credit upon himself and the Department of Defense."

Joey talked to Scholastic News after the awards ceremony at the Pentagon in Washington, DC.

"A freedom walk is a walk where you get your community to honor those who died in 9/11 and the veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan," he explained.

Joey first learned about freedom walks from the America Supports You (ASY) Web site.

Paramus is only 10 miles from New York City, and the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center were devastating for that New Jersey town. The mother of one of Joey's friends died in the attack, so he decided that he wanted to organize a freedom walk in her honor.

Joey first presented the idea to his teacher Jane Cosco. "When Joey told me about his idea of organizing a freedom walk, I knew that this would be a very ambitious project," she said. "I didn't know if he could handle it."

However, Joey turned out to be a very good organizer. He started by speaking to his school's principal, who loved his idea and sent him to speak to the school superintendent. The superintendent then arranged a meeting for Joey and the Mayor of Paramus.

The Mayor approved his idea, so Joey, along with Mrs. Cosco, set up a committee of students from his school to help organize the September 2007 freedom walk. It was a major success, with more than 500 residents participating.

Along the way, Joey realized that other kids might be interested in organizing freedom walks in their communities. So he decided to write a book explaining the entire process he underwent to make the walk happen. He called it 20 Steps to a Freedom Walk.

"It feels great having my own book published because a lot of kids are going to read it and hopefully will try to organize their own freedom walk," said Joey.

Some proceeds from the book's sales will be donated to support the second annual Paramus Freedom Walk, which will take place this September.

Joey is also donating a portion of the book sales to Operation Goody Bag, a school project organized by his teacher Mrs. Cosco.

Operation Goody Bag ships paper lunch bags—hand-colored with patriotic designs—to firefighters, rescue workers, police officers, and ambulance crews, as well as to soldiers stationed overseas.

The bags are filled with letters, poetry, and puzzles written by students from East Brook Middle School, along with a supply of candy and gum.

The Department of Defense is not alone in recognizing Joey for his efforts. He was also named one of America's top-ten youth volunteers for 2008, receiving the Prudential Spirit of Community Award for outstanding achievements in community service.

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About the Author

Madison Hartke-Weber is a member of the Scholastic Kids Press Corps.

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