A second-grader's passion for cleaning up York landed him a spot as one of four candidates for the Sprout channel's "Kindest Kid" award.

Mateo Maldonado, 7, was chosen from applicants across the country to compete for the award, sponsored by the channel that airs children's programming. Voting takes place on the Sprout website, and the winner will be featured on Sprout's programming in early 2014.

Mateo's mother, Meranda Rodenhaber, said she and Mateo's father, Chris Maldonado, nominated their son after seeing an advertisement on Sprout for the award that talked about children who go out of their way to care for others.

"Right away it just clicked, and it was like, 'That's Mateo,'" Rodenhaber said.

Rodenhaber said she was still shocked when the family was notified about Mateo's being in the top four candidates nationwide.

Litter Critters: Mateo first gained attention from the York community when he started a group to clean up litter around York, an interest that started when he was in pre-school and attended an event to clean up a local park.

Mateo, now in second grade at Devers Elementary in the York City School District, formed Mateo's Litter Critters, a group of volunteers clad in lime green T-shirts that works throughout the warmer months to rid York neighborhoods of trash.

Rodenhaber said Mateo's most recent clean-up effort in October included 42 volunteers, who in two hours collected about 370 pounds of trash in downtown York.

Rodenhaber said her son's passion for cleaning up York is contagious and is a goal Mateo for which makes no apologies.

She remembers just a few weeks ago when one of Mateo's friends threw a piece of paper from the backseat of her car onto the ground outside.

"Hey buddy, we don't do that here," was Mateo's admonishment to his friend, followed by his explanation that his goal is to clean up the trash on the earth, not add to it.

National attention: Rodenhaber said the short video on Sprout's website about Mateo's work, and a promotion on NBC's "Today" show, has garnered national attention. The family has received emails from viewers across the state and as far as North Carolina, asking for Mateo's lime green shirts to start a litter clean-up group of their own.

Mateo said his message to everyone he meets is the same: "Don't litter."

Mateo said he would like to continue doing things to keep York clean, including an appreciation day for the city's trash collectors. He said he isn't sure what form that could take next year, but thought about organizing a picnic for them.

Rodenhaber said she is glad to see her son getting recognized for something that he does so naturally.

"Mateo does it because he likes to," she said. "He doesn't do it because he has to."

Rodenhaber said Sprout will donate $5,000 to charity in Mateo's name if he is the winner in December, and could also be on the "Today" show after Sprout's broadcast.

As for voting, Rodenhaber has been spreading the word. She posts daily on her Facebook page and Mateo's Litter Critters page to remind friends and family to cast their daily votes.

But as for Mateo continuing to keep York and other people as a priority, she's not worried.

"There's no stopping this kid," she said.

To vote for Mateo and see the other candidates, go here.

-- Staff photographer John Pavoncello contributed to this report. Reach Nikelle Snader at nsnader@yorkdispatch.com.