Meet a Young Recipient of the Presidential Service Award

by | Jul 2024

Malachi Esala puts a service spin on his walks to and from school.

Malachi Esala puts a service spin on his walks to and from school. Photos: Chris Emeott

Student honored for his quest to beautify his neighborhood—one step at a time.

Most people aspire to be good citizens, but Malachi Esala, 9, was only in second grade when he decided to make a difference in his community. Inspired by Blippi’s (a children’s educational entertainer) message to protect rivers, lakes and streams, Malachi set forth to beautify the neighborhoods around him. “I picked up trash to help the environment because I want this town and world to be a better place for everybody,” he says—and that includes wildlife, too. “I don’t want any squirrel or bird or cardinal to get hurt,” says the incoming fourth grader at Groveland Elementary.

Malachi and his mom, Kelly Esala, started with the basics, noticing and picking up litter along their walk to and from school. “We walk to Groveland every day, so naturally it started there,” Esala says, “Each month, we’d go to a new spot in the area, too.”

They added in elements of fun to make the clean ups as enjoyable as possible and maintain their momentum. “He’s in Spanish immersion, so we’d see how high he could count, or we’d make it a math exercise,” Esala says. The bonding time together certainly sweetened the deal, too. With a tally counter in hand, the duo collected 1,000 pieces of trash over the span of 30 volunteer hours.

Malachi isn’t the only resident who has been inspired to serve the community. Minnetonka Public Schools prides itself on inspiring students to serve the greater good. Tonka Serves is a district-wide program that started in 2002 and partners with over 30 local nonprofit organizations to equip citizens to give back. Opportunities are based on age and category, which range widely from addressing food insecurity, animal assistance and more. Whether as an individual or a group, Minnetonka residents have endless options to lend a helping hand.

Community service specialist Sarah Johnson is at the forefront of these efforts by managing relationships with nonprofits and creating resources for volunteers, driven by the knowledge of the importance of volunteering. “The benefits are vast,” Johnson says. “People who volunteer feel a greater sense of community, learn new skills and are healthier both mentally and physically.” (Research also shows kids who
volunteer perform better in school.)

To support the efforts, volunteers and their families gather at the Celebration of Service event where over 300 U.S. President’s Volunteer Service Awards are presented to honor those who inspire others to serve. This year, the 15th annual Celebration of Service will take place in November.

Malachi was one of five students from his school to be awarded the bronze tier of the Presidential Service Award. “I’ve never been more proud,” Esala says. But their work doesn’t stop there, the duo plan to continue their route to make a dent in litter as they make their way to school. “We live here, we play here … we want to hang around and be a part of the community,” Esala says. “If we don’t do it, who will?”

Cause for Applause

Minnetonka High School students, who have earned a varsity letter in community service, are also honored at the Celebration of Service event. “Our students are volunteering significant hours of their time to a cause they are passionate about, and Minnetonka sees that dedication as worthy of this honor,” Sarah Johnson says.

Minnetonka Public Schools
Facebook: Minnetonka Schools
Instagram: @mntkaschools
X: @TonkaSchools


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