W.Va. teen wins national Earth Day competition
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Last week, 16-year-old Rachel Pence won a national Earth Day competition for her project to design affordable T-shirts and raise money for endangered species.
The Earth Day 2013 Award, funded by the National Society of High School Scholars, honors 10 high school students who have acted as environmental stewards for their communities.
Pence first stumbled across the idea for her project last spring while watching Whale Wars, an Animal Plant TV show about whalers off the coast of Antarctica.
While watching the program, she started to wonder why people no longer wore "Save the Whales" shirts. She spent the next few days searching online for clothing that highlights how people can protect endangered animals and the environment.
But she returned empty-handed. She had only been able to find expensive shirts that required a hefty $50 donation.
Pence decided that she could create cheaper shirts to raise money for animal protection.
"I've always loved animals and helping them," Pence said. "I wanted to do something for them."
Rachel has always had a natural love for animals, said her mother, Lisa Pence.
"So many young girls love animals, so many want to be veterinarians," Lisa Pence said. "She was just a typical young girl like that."
One day, a retired coal miner stopped by the bookstore where Lisa Pence works and mentioned that he had a fabric printer for sale.
"It just worked out perfectly," Lisa Pence said.
The family bought the equipment and Rachel began to create her shirts.
She created six original patterns. For the front, she designed a simple outline of an endangered animal like a rhinoceros, whale, sea turtle, or elephant. On the back, she printed information about how to protect that animal.
At the time, Rachel's father had been hospitalized for a bone marrow transplant at Duke University.
While her parents and grandparents moved between Durham and Charleston, Rachel continued to work on the T-shirts.
"She spent a lot of time working on this with her dad sick and away," Lisa Pence said.
Meanwhile, Rachel received an email about a competition for environmental projects created by high school students.
Her mother immediately encouraged her to apply. Rachel quickly submitted the two-page essay and artistic supplement and only a few weeks later, she received an email to inform her that she had won the competition.
"I was really excited," Rachel said. "I knew that it would spread more awareness of these animals."
Last week, she traveled to St. Louis to attend the awards ceremony.
"It was kind of nerve-wracking, but everyone was so nice," she said.
The founder of the National Society of High School Scholars, Claes Nobel, who belongs to the same family that funds the Nobel Prizes, presented Rachel with the award and a check for $500 to continue her project.
Rachel Pence said that she intends to expand the business next year. She and her family have already begun searching for art shows where she can begin to sell the shirts for about $20.
She plans to continue the business when she goes away to college two years from now.
"I would like to make it a permanent job or something that I'll always do," she said.
Rachel hopes to attend West Virginia University to study marine biology. She has also considered transferring to Duke University for her junior and senior years.Reach Laura Reston at email@example.com or 304-348-5100.