Local teen earns distinguished service award

LONGWOOD | When Raquel was 12 she heard the word no one ever wants to hear – cancer. It was Pre-B Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, to be exact, that called for chemotherapy. The disease ultimately inspired Raquel, a student at Morning Star Catholic School with Down Syndrome, to start a charity. This month, Prudential Financial awarded her the Spirit of Community Award as a State Distinguished Finalist – the only one from central Florida.

Raquel’s charitable work started when battling for her life during her 886-day treatment. She lost a third of her body weight and became pale and gaunt. When her hair fell out, she struggled to see any beauty in the mirror. When other kids bullied her, she sunk in despair lower than ever before. Then she found out many children lose their hair during cancer treatment and for other medical reasons. Something changed. She knew it wasn’t right that people would make others feel bad because of their looks and she decided to do something about it.

Raquel started making custom inspirational jewelry with messages like “Be-YOU-tiful” or “Find Joy in the Journey.” Each piece of jewelry comes with a touching note she wrote herself. “You are beautiful!”, her notes most often say. Sometimes she writes about a child’s courage or reminds them they are amazing! Through every heartfelt message, she hopes to promote self-worth and value to those who receive them.

“Raquel’s commitment to philanthropy and her generous spirit makes her an excellent role model and an inspiration to others,” said Dr. Alicia Abbey, Morning Star Catholic School principal. “She has raised thousands of dollars for special needs organizations and donates her jewelry to charitable organizations throughout central Florida, such as Special Olympics, Best Buddies, and Down syndrome organizations. Her positive attitude and desire to make a difference is a wonderful testament to her character.”

By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic, February 24, 2021