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Young Tallahassee Advocate Wins National Honors

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Special Education Summit-2016
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At the age of 11, a young Tallahasseean has been a fierce - and effective - advocate for visually-impaired kids like herself. Now those efforts have brought her national honors.

Paloma Rambana began working the corridors of power in Tallahassee at, shall we say, a pretty tender age.

“I was 9 ½,” she remembered, “and I started on spring break and we finally got time to meet with the (Florida) Legislature. That was the first time.”

And there have been other times since. During those meetings with lawmakers at the Capitol, Paloma said the reaction has always been positive.

“I think they liked me a lot. They were interested in what I had to say, so they wanted to hear me talk and I liked that.”

Paloma Rambana's issue is more state funding to support the needs of visually-challenged kids between the ages of 6 and 13. A message made perhaps more relevant and relatable to lawmakers because Paloma herself is legally blind.

“With my personal connection I think that it makes what I’m saying a stronger viewpoint,” she explained. “It’s a more valuable issue and something that they might want to consider caring about more because we’re appealing to their emotions.”

The young lobbyist founded www.palomasdream.org as a vehicle for her campaign. And after spearheading two Capitol rallies and multiple appearances before legislators, Paloma's plea to "fund the gap" was answered. Florida now has a Children's Program fueled by half-a-million dollars in recurring state dollars each year. For that effort, Paloma Rambana has just been named one of only 10 national recipients of the Hasbro Community Action Hero Award. Her mom, Tallahassee immigration attorney Elizabeth Ricci, broke the news as she drove Paloma home from her weekly physical therapy session.

“She basically told me that I’d won and, even though I was in the car, I had a 5-minute dance party and it was really awesome! And I screamed and was really happy!”

In a few months, Paloma and her family will be headed to New York City to accept the award during a very special event.

“(It’s) the Hasbro Toy Fair and it’s in February,” she said. “And I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve been to New York a couple of times, but not for something as special as this. So I’m nervous, but I’m also very pumped up and excited!”

Paloma said this won't simply be a nice trophy or gilded certificate.

“They’re going to give me a $1,000 educational scholarship and a $500 grant to a charity of my choice, which is the Lighthouse of the Big Bend.”

That’s all in keeping with the Hasbro Community Action Award's core theme of, "Be Fearless; Be Kind." And this isn't Paloma's only honor in recent weeks. On November 9th, she won the coveted "Youth in Philanthropy Award" from the Big Bend Chapter of Professional Fundraisers. But Ms. Rambana isn't one to rest on those considerable laurels. She's already getting on the calendar for Florida's 2017 lawmaking session.

“We’re going to ask for $3 million this year,” she said. “Hopefully; that’s what I’m wishing for. We have $500,000 recurring every year, but then if we could get another $1.25 million that would be great so we can keep on building on that platform.”

As for what lies even farther in the future, Paloma can see herself doing this sort of thing as possibly her life's work.

“I want to continue to do it,” she insisted, “until we get enough support for it and ‘fill the gap’ of it. And then after that I want to see if there are other organizations that need help. And if there are not, I’d like to go into politics or something else in that field.”

And who says kids these days have no worthy goals or aspirations?

Follow @flanigan_tom

Tom Flanigan has been with WFSU News since 2006, focusing on covering local personalities, issues, and organizations. He began his broadcast career more than 30 years before that and covered news for several radio stations in Florida, Texas, and his home state of Maryland.

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