HOWLAND - Selena Rockenfelder saw several people walking in the cold one day and the 9-year-old said she knew "right then and there" she needed to do something to help. Selena drafted a letter to Santa Claus advising him that what she really wanted was for him "to get blankets for the children on the street." To her grandmother, Betty Strawderman of Howland, Selena wrote that she wanted the two of them to get blankets for the poor.
"I really felt bad and I wanted to help them," Selena said. "I had seen people out in the cold before, but it was really cold that day. They looked cold."
Selena made her 2012 Christmas wish well known - that instead of gifts for herself, she wanted to receive blankets that she could give to the poor. With the help of her family, friends and the community, she collected about 150 blankets to give away that first year.
She made the same wish in 2013. The number of blankets more than doubled and she is still collecting them.
"After 33 years and all the kids I've sheltered, I've never seen a letter like that to Santa. I've never known of any to make a wish like that. And she's done it now more than once. To sacrifice her own Christmas for others. I think that's pretty special," Strawderman said.
Because of her efforts, Selena has been named a Community Star by the Tribune Chronicle and Trumbull 100.
In its 13th year now, the program celebrates volunteers for their kindness, courage or devotion to community. Selena is a second generation Community Star. Strawderman, who nominated her granddaughter for the recognition, was a 2011 Community Star.
Selena, her grandmother and mother, Samantha Strawderman, set out to deliver the blankets to as many homeless people as possible. They went under bridges, looked in vacant houses and other buildings and drove around in search of people to help. When they spotted individuals they thought might be in need, they gave them blankets.
Strawderman, who is known as "a mother to many" said she believes Selena has seen the importance of helping people and the impact it can make in someone's life first-hand.
Selena, a fourth-grade student at Howland's North Road Intermediate School, has spent her entire life around the children her grandmother has taken into her home. Strawderman established Betty's Angels, a program that provides temporary housing for homeless children whose families are having financial and legal problems, more than 30 years ago. She now has 17 children living in her home.
"My grandma has always helped people. I want to help people," Selena said.
Selena has also made it a practice to give away blankets at the Warren Family Mission. She also donated some to the Rescue Mission in Youngstown.
Selena is also involved in gymnastics and Taekwondo. She takes horseback riding lessons, plays violin and is involved in swimming.
Her other activities include handing out cookies and singing Christmas carols at nursing homes. She rang the bell for the Salvation Army in Newton Falls. She also sang at the Hope Center "to be a voice for abused children," Strawderman said.
Selena said she intends to continue collecting blankets and handing them out to people who need them "as long as people need them."
"I'll keep doing it forever if I can," she said. "If people need them I want to help them. I won't ever stop."