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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — All week long, we’re highlighting Hoosiers who pay it forward in our community. Today, we meet a sixth grade student from Fishers who spends her time helping families, as their children are treated at the hospital.

Vani Sharma is only 11 years old, but she’s already a veteran volunteer at Ronald McDonald House, as she’s helped to serve meals to the families of hospitalized children there for almost six years now.

“She started in kindergarten. A lot of kids are mastering the ABC’s and learning how to read, and she was volunteering with her family serving a meal,” said Michelle Study-Campbell, CEO of Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Indiana.

Vani’s volunteer efforts were inspired by her family’s own stay at Ronald McDonald House, when her sister was in the hospital.

“She was dealing with brain surgery. She had to get a surgery for about a month. At that time, we couldn’t go out of the hospital. We went to Riley Hospital’s Ronald McDonald House and they served us meals and we were very thankful for that,” Sharma said.

“It meant a lot because they motivated us and told us, ‘it’s okay you can keep going,’ and it made us feel at home,” Sharma said.

After her sister was able to leave, Vani felt it was time to give back and help other families. She and her family shop for groceries and make food for the guests. Vani helps serve the meals and even provides entertainment with her sister.

“We started this group where we play our instruments, she plays the flute and I play the clarinet,” Sharma said.

Vani was recently recognized for her service in our area and accepted the Prudential Spirit of Community Award in Washington D.C.

“I was like, wow this is so cool, I wasn’t expecting that. I was very surprised and also very thankful,” Sharma said.

As for the families and staff at Ronald McDonald House — they’re thankful for Vani, and for all the volunteers who give their time.

“Without the love and care from these volunteers, we don’t exist,” Study-Campbell said.

“Ronald McDonald House gives a home away from home. Bringing smiles to others faces when we serve is so nice to see,” Sharma said.

Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Indiana has been around for 35 years, helping more than 5,000 families a year. For more information, click here.