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Lily Thrailkill isn't afraid to get her hands dirty as she cleans out Santa Rosa Creek.

Among the teens who volunteer doing creek restoration at Chop's, Thrailkill often is the first one to get into a pair of waders, venture into the creek and pull out a shopping cart that's been stuck in the ground for years, said Justin Atkinson, volunteer coordinator.

Thrailkill, a student at Willowside Middle School, sees the activity as the way to help make the community a little less polluted.

And the group puts a fun spin on the old junk they find by creating sculptures, including a witch they cobbled together out of an old traffic cone, wood scraps and bicycle parts.

"It just makes me feel like I'm actually making a difference, and it's really fun to hang out with other people who want to make the world a better place," Thrailkill said.

For a 13-year-old, Thrailkill has a busy schedule, and a grown-up way of deciding what's important.

She finds ways to make a difference wherever she goes, and doesn't always follow the prescribed mold.

She joined a coed flag football team, and was worried that she'd be the only girl on the field.

"I sort of thought the guys were going to push me around and say, 'She shouldn't be playing,' " Thrailkill said. "But then I saw other girls that I was going to try out with, and I felt very happy."

As a part of her school's oceanography program, Thrailkill and her classmates conducted experiments studying crab behavior. They placed the crustaceans in tanks, and noticed that smaller tanks encouraged more aggressive behavior as the crabs became territorial.

Eventually, one of the male crabs attacked a female crab, which was a bit shocking, Thrailkill said.

"He started playing rough and tough, and she was the innocent victim," Thrailkill said. "She got torn apart. Circle of life."

Beneath a tough exterior, Thrailkill is a sensitive girl who helps her classmates climb rock walls and makes sure her fellow volunteers don't throw out belongings found in homeless encampments along the creek, Atkinson said.

She gets along well with children, and as a volunteer at JX Wilson Elementary School makes an extra effort to help younger kids to feel like they belong, keeping them company when they're alone at recess.

"Growing up, I wasn't very popular, either, and I understand what it feels like to be alone and have no one to hang out with," Thrailkill said. "To have someone come up and say, 'Hey, do you want to hang out?' It helps because it makes them feel like they're going to have fun, and they're not alone."

Aside from her volunteer work, Thrailkill is passionate about volleyball and choir. Thrailkill made the volleyball team in fourth grade, younger than most members.

"It was like the happiest moment of my life," she said.

Being part of the choir is an opportunity for Thrailkill to express herself, she said.

"It's really fun because my friends are there and helping me out, and there's no judging, so I don't feel pressure," she said.

Now, she's hoping to find some odd jobs baby-sitting, walking dogs and doing housework to pay for a school trip to Washington, D.C.

Thrailkill says she draws inspiration from her mother.

"She was a single mom; she's been there through every hard time I've been through," Thrailkill said. "She's helped me through everything I've wanted to do, and helped me in figuring out what to do with my life."

"She's got her own motor, and she's got her own form of motivation, and it's not associated with getting that free soda or slice of pizza," Atkinson said of Thrailkill. "She just wants to do it."