Left to right: Vince Stango, COO of the National Constitution Center; Carter Jimenez-Jenkins; Rebecca Rutherfurd, Sr. Manager of National Programs at the Alliance

Last week was a busy week for Carter Jimenez-Jenkins. But it’s always a busy week, it seems.

On Monday, September 17, he and his mom flew to Philadelphia to celebrate the 225th anniversary of the U.S. Constitution at the National Constitution Center. He is patriotic, but that’s not why he attended the special ceremony commemorating the addition of an essay about influential American and former first lady Betty Ford to the American National Tree exhibit. Carter flew from coast-to-coast because he wrote the essay about Ms. Ford, which earned him a $1,000 scholarship and the 2012 M.R. Robinson National Constitution Center American National Tree Award! You can read the essay here.

To apply for the American National Tree Award, teens who had earned a 2012 National Writing Award were invited to select one of five constitutionally-relevant Americans and capture them in a 250-500 word biographical essay. Choices for this year included: Al Smith, Betty Ford, Frances Perkins, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein (in a single entry), or Alexander Haig. Why did Carter choose Betty Ford from this group?

“She was colorful and interesting,” Carter told us, adding, “She made mistakes and had life experiences that allowed her to relate to everyday people and their problems.” Ms. Ford also had the courage to take controversial political positions that sometimes differed from her husband’s and their political party.

“Betty Ford was a first lady who had her own opinions and voice,” says Carter, “and that is something I respect.”

The sixteen-year old is already developing his own strong opinions and a public voice to match. In 2010, he founded Students for Safe Water, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing drinkable water sources and waste water systems to developing countries.

Since its founding, it has raised more than $34,000 for safe water systems worldwide, and recently raised $5,000 to donate a well to a Honduran village. His mom, Jeffrie Jimenez Jenkins, has also reached out to businesses for help, and this year the organization landed a $20,000 matching donation from Pepsi!

Carter explains, “We are raising funds to build an electric water pump project in Petaquilla, Nicaragua, where we have already built latrines.” The matching fund will definitely help, as will the Tree Award.

“I am confident that we will meet our goal and bring safe, clean water to the nearly 400 people living in the village,” Carter asserts. But that’s not his only goal.

In addition to the award-winning essay he wrote, Carter earned a National Medal for a science-fiction piece, The Room, which will appear in The Best Teen Writing of 2012.

In his spare time, he reports, “I am working on a book that I hope will help students pursue their creative dreams.”

He also plans to submit a few stories to the 2013 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards — which we think is a great place to start!

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