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By Bella Caggiano

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The Norwood TONY (Ten Outstanding Norwood Youths) Awards were initiated over 40 years ago to recognize exceptional Norwood youths in grades 10-12 for their significant contributions that included their time, effort and talent with voluntary contributions to their church, community and other worthy causes. To be eligible, the students must be Norwood residents but can attend schools outside of town. A panel of five judges, one from the business community, one from the town clergy, one from town officers, one from the Women’s Community committee and one from the Masons, review their individual nomination where they must answer five questions and a 300-word essay on what community services means to them.
Through blind judging, each nominee is given a score and the top ten result in a TONY Award. The Norwood Masons, who acquired the program 18 years ago, hosts an annual awards banquet in honor of the award winners. The award includes a citation from Governor Patrick, a plaque from the lodge, a $1,000 savings bond and a gift card from Perk’s coffeehouse. Two supplementary awards include an additional $500 savings bond and a commemorative plaque.
Local Town Pages is proud to recognize and commend these admirable young adults with a profile of each student in our monthly newspaper. Ursuline Academy High School junior Minali Venkatesh is the third student profile in our 2014 TONY Award series.
A large part of Minali Venkatesh’s childhood and young adulthood has been spent helping struggling Norwood neighbors put food on their tables. Since she was 11 years old, she has been a volunteer at the Norwood Food Pantry. The initial inspiration came from her mother who wanted her to get more involved in the community, but as she grew older, she made the choice to maintain with this worthy cause.
“Before, it was something I was dragged to, but now I want to go there,” Venkatesh said. “I want to help people and I want to be involved there.”
On most Saturday mornings, if anyone is looking for Venkatesh, chances are she is as the Grace Episcopal Church, on Chapel St. carrying groceries, helping other volunteers and assisting in the flow of the busy center. She doesn’t do it for the glory or for school credit, she participates because she cares.
“It’s about being able to help people get food and stuff we would normally take for granted,” Venkatesh said. “When you see their faces, they are so grateful.”
In addition to Norwood’s pantry, Venkatesh has also contributed with the difficult course of feeding the hungry on a much larger scale at the Greater Boston Food Bank during her middle school years.
“It involved helping pack food for neighborhoods where children can’t get food every day or for the elderly who can’t go out and buy food,” Venkatesh said.
Venkatesh has also become involved in community service within Ursuline Academy and more specifically, as a member of the National Honor Society through communal projects, such as gathering toys for an animal shelter, tutoring programs and collecting clothes for Syrian refugees.
Somehow, this busy teenager finds time for extracurricular activities, and her passion is the theater. For the past five years, she has performed in almost all of the three productions held each year at her high school. Her joys are in both drama and musicals.
As a junior, ,Venkatesh still has some time to decide on her collegiate major and college choice, but two decisions have already been made: she will likely stay in the Northeast and continue her volunteering through high school, and beyond.

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