Reilly Rudolph, 5-Year-Old, Wins 'Spirit Of Detroit' Award For Community Service Project

When 5-year-old Reilly Rudolph's curiosity got the best of her last October, her parents didn't expect her inquisitive, empathetic nature would earn her a prestigious award from Detroit City Council.

But at Tuesday morning's City Council meeting, Reilly stood shyly with her parents, David and Contessa, as Councilman James Tate presented her with the Spirit of Detroit award. She received the honor in recognition of her independently-created community service project that brought painted Halloween pumpkins to sick kids in Detroit's Children's Hospital.

"We've had a tough couple weeks as relates to our children in this city," Tate said. But he reiterated Reilly's achievement: "This is truly someone who embodies the spirit of Detroit."

Reilly is the youngest ever recipient of the award. David Rudolph, seemingly humbled, thanked Council on behalf of his wife and daughter, who stood quietly.

"Know that you have one family and a 5-year-old committed to ... being the best residents we can," he said.

The project began when Rudolph was driving his daughter home from school one day last fall and she asked him if sick kids in the hospital got to go trick-or-treating. When he said they probably didn't, Reilly said each sick child should get his or her own pumpkin. At first he brushed off his daughter's question, but Rudolph ended up discussing it with his wife.

"Reilly has all these profound thoughts she likes to share," he said.

The small idea took off, and the Rudolphs were able to use their contacts to get the project off the ground, starting with approval from the Detroit Medical Center Children's Hospital and some artistic consulting from Megan Heeres, the art curator at Compuware Corporation. They promised 50 painted pumpkins to the hospital.

Reilly's artistic flair kept her going throughout the project, and she painted several pumpkins with her parents each day. Classmates and teachers found out about her efforts, and her Dearborn school, St. Sebastian Catholic School, took up the challenge as well. In October, Reilly and friends donated more than 100 painted pumpkins to Children's Hospital.

"What she got out of it [is] a chance to do some good for some kids who otherwise wouldn't be able to trick-or-treat like she did," Rudolph said.

The Rudolphs, who are involved with non-profits and work with their church, have always impressed the importance of community service on their only daughter.

"She knows it's important to think outside of yourself," her father said. "She just has that kind of giving heart."

The family already plans to continue the project next fall and is thinking about ways to expand it. Rudolph worries some about whether the attention and the Spirit of Detroit award will go to Reilly's head, or overwhelm her, but he doesn't worry too much.

"It looks like she's setting her own high bar for her future," he said.