When Gracie Ekberg was in elementary school, she was mesmerized by Salvation Army Bell Ringers, who graced the entrances of a variety of stores in Independence.

“I don’t know what it was about them, but I just loved to look at them and listen to their bells,” said Ekberg, a senior member of the Truman softball team. “I wanted to be a bell ringer, and I got the opportunity to ring bells for the Salvation Army when I was a little kid and I’ve been doing it ever since.”

She’s also a frequent volunteer at Harvester’s Food Network in downtown Kansas City and has logged more than 165 hours of volunteer work at the Great Plains Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Independence.

So, when Truman activities director Eric Holm received a nomination form for the Third and Long Neil Smith Community Service Award, he immediately thought of the Truman third baseman and humanitarian.

“There were two requirements,” Holm said, “first, you had to nominate a young lady and second, she had to be involved with sports and her community. Gracie gave a touching talk at the softball team’s banquet about her work with the SPCA and she talked about her other charitable activities.

“This is really one of the parts of my job that I really enjoy. We get so many letters, so many requests to nominate students from something like an All-American Award (which were presented to Truman graduates Lexi Hart in volleyball and Paige Parker in softball) to honors like the one we all hope Gracie wins.

“She’s such a great kid, and a great representative of Truman High School. Not a lot of kids get out into the community and volunteer like Gracie does. And it was so neat when I told her about her nomination because she said, ‘I just do it because I enjoy it and I like to help.’ She certainly didn’t do it to receive any special recognition.”

She grins when asked about receiving the good news from the Truman activities director.

“Mr. Holm came to my third hour and said he needed to talk to me,” she said, “and told me about being nominated. I was really surprised, because I didn’t know anything about the award.

“People are always asking me why I do so much volunteer work, and I just tell them that I enjoy it.”

She and her family have a rescue cat from the Great Plains SPCA and that set the wheels turning for her many hours of volunteer service.

“I work with the cats there and help them get adjusted to being in the shelter and getting used to being with people again,” she said. “We have a rescue cat and I love our cat so much. I work there about four hours a week and really like working with the high-strung cats, getting them used to being around people so they can get adopted.”

She also finds time after school to ring the Salvation Army bells and work for Harvester’s Food Network.

“They’re all so special to me,” she explained. “They’re kind of like my softball team and teammates. We all work for each other to make the team successful and more like a family than a team. That’s how I feel about working for the SPCA, Harvester’s and ringing the bells – they’re like my family too, and I love to be around those people and help out.

“It just makes me feel good.”