By CAROL ROBIDOUX
Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY -- Here’s the thing about leadership: It’s not so much about being at the front of the conga line as it is about having the insight to assemble a posse of good people to keep you company while following in your footsteps.
That is part of what makes Pinkerton Academy sophomore Dylan Mahalingam an impressive leader.
Mahalingam, 16, will be in Atlanta on April 8 to pick up his 2011 Harris Wofford Service Award. His fellow honorees this year will be Google, the YMCA and first lady Michelle Obama.
Not too shabby.
His interest in community service began when most kids are still in need of adult supervision — he was only 9 when he co-founded Lil’ MDGs, which is based on the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, to educate, inspire and empower youth across the globe. Born with a gift for empathy and inspired by the philanthropy of his older sister, Mahalingam has since grown into the role of chief executive officer of his nonprofit outreach, taking responsibility for guiding the organization’s many fundraising endeavors.
Most recently, Mahalingam, with an assist from Pinkerton Academy junior Nate Dube, hosted an origami “Wish Upon a Crane” paper crane party at Pheasant Lane Mall to rally kids to fold the paper cranes to benefit quake victims in Japan.
The cultural significance of cranes comes from an ancient Japanese legend, which says anyone who folds a thousand origami cranes will be granted a wish for healing from a crane.
No stranger to inspiration, Mahalingam said he was doubly inspired to hold the event by his cousins, Nina and Agastya Mahalingam, both firstgraders who live in Nashua, as a way to help them gain a tangible lesson in doing what you can to help others in need.
Dube said it’s the trickledown effect that he appreciates most, coupled with the good feeling you can get from making a difference, even in a seemingly simple way.
“It was a really great experience,” said Dube. “It’s not often that I get the opportunity to help out with something like this, and I felt really good about it. It was fun to show the little kids how to fold the cranes, and I know that maybe for some of them it will leave a lasting impression. I was proud to be able to have helped with something as devastating as the disaster in Japan, and it’s an experience I’ll remember for a long time.”
Together, Dube, Mahalingam and friends created 321 cranes, which were added to the 26,904 cranes accounted for already.
The Bezos Family Foundation, a private charitable foundation, has pledged to donate $2 for every crane mailed in to support rebuilding a school in Japan, up to 100,000 cranes, or $200,000. The cranes will be crafted into a permanent art exhibition to be displayed at a school or other building, according to Students Rebuild, which is coordinating the nationwide effort for Bezos Family Foundation.
Students from 15 countries, including Haiti, Indonesia, India, SriLanka and even Japan have responded to Lil’ MDGs’ call to join the campaign.
“The turnout was impressive — more than 100 kids stopped by to make the cranes,” Mahalingam said. The group is planning another fundraiser, “Sing for Japan,” scheduled for April 26 at Tupelo Music Hall in Londonderry from 6 to 9 p.m., presented by a variety of singers and musicians from Pinkerton Academy.
Money raised will be sent to Architecture for Humanity for the reconstruction of a school in Japan.
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