Saturday, December 1, 2012

Westerly, Rhode Island student, teammates to be feted by CNN for their 'heroic' efforts

Westerly - At 14, Cassandra Lin has an impressive resume.

Four years ago she founded the project TGIF, which stands for "Turn Grease Into Fuel" and does as much. Lin's organization, which she created with seven of her friends, cooperates with area restaurants that donate their leftover cooking grease to be converted into fuel by Newport Biodiesel. Lin said the oil is then distributed by Westerly-based Guardian Fuel & Energy to the homes of needy families around the Westerly area.

"We really wanted to help the environment and the community at the same time," Lin said.

And that was just fifth grade. Now Lin, a freshman at the Williams School in New London, is set to be featured with her teammates from her community service team, the Westerly Innovations Network, on CNN's Heroes All-Star Tribute Sunday night as part of their "Young Wonders" segment.

The tribute, hosted by Anderson Cooper, features a cast of celebrities who will honor 10 adults who have made their names in feats of selflessness, from educating girls in rural Afghanistan to helping war veterans train their own service dogs, according to CNN's website.

Today, TGIF has 118 local restaurants participating, along with 10 public receptacles - mostly town transfer stations - where residents can donate their own grease from their homes. About $81,000 and 21,000 gallons of biodiesel heating oil and 210 homes later, Lin said her team's work is hardly done.

"Our long-term goal is to expand to all six New England states in the next five years," she said. "We're working city by city."

Lin is no stranger to fame. She and her team have won a slew of awards for their efforts, including the President's Environmental Youth award in 2010. She was named one of the top 10 youth volunteers in the country at the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards for volunteer service in Washington, D.C., and she presented her project this past summer at a TEDx event - programs run in the spirit of TEDGlobal conferences at the local level - in New York City.

But Lin is particularly excited about this latest accolade.

"It's really an honor," she said. "I am so excited to see like all the top CNN heroes. They're just amazing people who are truly inspiring. To be even in the same place as them and even be recognized is mind-blowing, really."

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