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National Youth Hero: Jayla Pedersen is youngest recipient of award

One of the youngest recipients of the National American Legion Auxiliary Youth Hero Award, Jayla Pedersen of Park Rapids was all smiles after she received her medal and certificate from Park Rapids American Legion Auxiliary first vice president Pat Cadreau. Lorie Skarpness/Enterprise.

There is no age requirement for heroes.

Jayla Pedersen is a second grader at Century Elementary in Park Rapids. She woke her grandma, Janelle Pedersen, when she smelled smoke early in the morning on Sept. 2, 2018. Janelle looked outside and saw her neighbor's house was on fire.

A story on the front page of the Enterprise that told how Jayla's actions resulted in two elderly neighbors being rescued from the fire was submitted by the American Legion Auxiliary for the National Youth Hero Award this fall.

Jayla was selected for the award, which was presented at a ceremony at the Park Rapids American Legion Tuesday evening.

Jayla was accompanied to the Legion by Janelle, little brother Nodin, aunt Shanna Lee and adopted grandparents Rich and Paula Hunter. All came to see Jayla receive her award, but kept it a secret from her until Legion Auxiliary first vice president Pat Cadreau called her up to the front of the room to put the medal around her neck and give her the certificate recognizing her as a young hero.

"I nominated Jayla for her quick thinking and her concern for their elderly neighbors," Cadreau said. "If she had not woken up her grandma, those neighbors would probably not have made it out of their burning home."

Cadreau said Jayla is one of the youngest recipients to receive the National Young Hero Award.

"If we lived in a world where we all thought about each other like she does, what a better world it would be," Cadreau added.

When Cadreau asked her if she knew why she was a hero, Jayla said, "Because if I didn't tell grandma so they could get out, they might die."

Cadreau told Janelle that she and her son, Josh, are heroes, too, for helping the older couple escape from their residence and alerting others in the neighborhood.

"I am very proud of Jayla," Janelle said. "She was so excited and took her award to school the next day. She feels pretty special. I told her she'll understand this more when she gets older, and that this award will follow her the rest of her life on job applications and is something to be proud of."

Janelle has already ordered a shadow box where the newspaper clippings, award and ribbon can be displayed in Jayla's room as a special keepsake.

She said the neighbors who escaped the fire are doing well and staying with their daughter. "We're going over there this weekend so Jayla can show them her award," she said.

The National Youth Hero award recognizes youth making a positive difference in their communities. The American Legion Auxiliary created the award to remind everyone in the community of the power of one person to make a difference.

Nominations are accepted by auxiliary units. Anyone who knows someone deserving of one of these awards can download the Youth Hero/Good Deed award form on the organization's website.

Created in 2002 by the National Children and Youth Committee, these awards are presented annually to recognize the heroism and helpfulness of youth under 18.

In the past three years, more than 250 Youth Hero and Good Deed awards have been presented to deserving youth throughout the country.