(EDITOR’S NOTE: Today the Sun-Gazette continues its sixth annual Person of the Year series. Each day will shine a spotlight on each of the six finalists. On Saturday, the Sun-Gazette will name its 2016 Person of the Year.)
Refusing to let anything, including her age, keep her from making a difference in her community, Madison Wertz, 11, of Loyalsock Township, has spent the past six months trying to help victims of rape.
She started a petition to collect signatures. The petition asks to provide a separate recyclable collection container for people to donate their own recyclables. Instead of just throwing away items in the trash, the money raised from the recycling could go to help pay for untested rape kits.
She’s collected about 700 signatures so far, and she plans to take the petition to state Rep. Garth D. Everett, R-Muncy, after she collects over 1,500 signatures.
How did an 11-year old girl get an idea that more help was needed for funding for rape kits?
She was watching television one day with her father, Michael Wertz, when she happened to catch an episode of a crime show that focused about the state of Michigan being unable to solve rape crimes due to lack of funding to test the rape kits.
It bothered Madison that victims went through trauma and did everything they could to seek justice only to be faced with a lack of funds to get those rape kits tested. The television show even featured the long backlog of rape kits with unknown results, waiting years for tests to go through.
While the episode may have been set in Michigan, the issue has been a problem in Pennsylvania too.
This fall, the state auditor general’s office reported more than 3,000 untested rape kits, with more than 1,850 kits having gone more than a year without being tested.
That just didn’t seem right to Madison.
She said when kits are not tested to prove rape, those rapists are free in the community.
“They could hurt other people,” Madison said.
She asked her father what she could do to help, and she’s been trying to help ever since.
“I really wanted to do this so that other people can enjoy their life. The police can help the people,” she said. “I just really like helping other people because I feel really bad for the people going through this. The victims need help.”
She said that her age doesn’t mean she can’t help because no one is too young to do what they can for other people in need, and Madison wants to do her part.
“I’m very impressed she’s taken the initiative and is doing something at a young age,” Everett recently told the Sun-Gazette. “She saw something important, and she’s doing something about it. We do have an issue and we even addressed it last session.”
Everett said petitions like Madison’s can help bring extra funding for more resources to fight the backlog issue.
“Petitions like this could help us do what we can,” he said. “It’s amazing how sometimes young people can spur us to do good things in Harrisburg … Maybe we might even have a ‘Madison’s Law’ someday.”
He said he’s looking forward to reading the petition when Madison turns it in.
“I’m just so proud of her,” Michael Wertz said. “I saw how passionate about it she was. I’m just so proud … I knew I needed to let her run with it.”
He goes with Madison whenever she wants to go out to get signatures so that she isn’t meeting strangers alone.
He said that Madison is an “internet nut” who loves to be on the computer, but whenever she has time to go get signatures, she’s happy to turn off the computer and get going.
“Other kids aren’t about doing that,” Michael Wertz said. “She’s the most determined about doing something that’s just so cool. I’m just in awe. I’m in awe of her.”