For community service initiatives that range from leading a youth mental health initiative to collecting books for kids across the country, 10 students were named America’s top youth volunteers of 2019 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a national program sponsored by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).
These National Honorees, named during the program’s 24th annual national award ceremony at Union Station’s East Hall, range in age from 11 to 17. They were selected first from a field of more than 29,000 middle level and high school youth volunteers nationwide, and then from 102 State Honorees, based on their initiative, effort, impact, and the personal growth demonstrated in the course of their volunteer service. The National Honorees each received $5,000 personal awards, engraved gold medallions, crystal trophies for their schools, and $5,000 grants from The Prudential Foundation for charities of their choice.
The ceremony was part of a four-day celebration that brought each state’s top two youth volunteers of 2019 to Washington, D.C., for sightseeing and special recognition events. These State Honorees – one middle level and one high school student from each state and the District of Columbia – were personally congratulated by award-winning actress Viola Davis last night at a gala dinner reception at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. Each State Honoree received a $1,000 award.
These are the 10 National Honorees named:
Alexander Fultz, 13, of Pineville, North Carolina, an eighth-grader at Metrolina Regional Scholars Academy, created a nonprofit organization that has donated thousands of toys and clothing items to hospitals in several states to brighten the days of hospitalized patients.
Samaia A. Goodrich, 11, of Syracuse, New York, a sixth-grader at Expeditionary Learning Middle School, organizes projects in her community to encourage inner-city youth to make a difference, including an effort to raise money to buy Christmas presents, clothes and household goods for families who moved from Puerto Rico to Syracuse after Hurricane Maria devastated their homeland.
Aja Capel, 15, of Urbana, Illinois, a member of Champaign County 4-H and a junior at Urbana High School, serves as the lead robotics instructor at a local science museum and has launched an initiative to give minority students more opportunities to learn about science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
Grace Beal, 17, of New Castle, Pennsylvania, a junior at Neshannock Senior High School, organized an annual basketball-based fundraising event that has raised more than $100,000 since 2014 for Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, where her sister was treated before she died of congenital heart failure.
Caleb Oh, 14, of Gambrills, Maryland, an eighth-grader at Crofton Middle School, has spent more than 1,000 hours volunteering in many ways over the past seven years to aid people who are homeless, hungry or have other needs.
Hannah Karanick, 13, of Anaheim, California, an eighth-grader at Orangeview Junior High School, established a “closet” at her former elementary school that provides new clothing, laundry products, toiletries, quilts and school supplies to students there whose families can’t afford to buy such necessities.
Caragan Olles, 16, of De Pere, Wisconsin, a junior at Notre Dame Academy, co-founded a nonprofit organization in 2013 that has raised more than $160,000 to provide special tutoring for students with dyslexia, create dyslexia resource centers in three public library systems, and educate teachers and parents about this learning disability.
Vance Tomasi, 13, of Tampa, Florida, a seventh-grader at Farnell Middle School, has worked with a friend to collect and donate more than 90,000 books to families, schools, group homes, hospitals and libraries over the past two years.
Allison Tu, 17, of Louisville, Kentucky, a senior at duPont Manual High School, launched a youth-driven initiative to raise awareness of student mental health issues and find ways to combat the alarmingly high rates of depression, anxiety and suicide among young people in Kentucky.
Joseph Voynik, 17, of Flowood, Mississippi, a senior at Jackson Preparatory School, worked for four years and raised more than $600,000 to construct a fully accessible baseball field so that children with disabilities could experience the joy of playing America’s national pastime.
“We’re impressed and inspired by the way these honorees have identified problems facing their communities and stepped up to the challenge to make a difference,” said Charles Lowrey, chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial, Inc. “It’s a privilege to celebrate their leadership and compassion, and we look forward to seeing the great things they accomplish in the future.”
“These students have not only done important work in support of people in need – they’ve also shown their peers that young people can, and do, create meaningful change,” said Christine Handy, president of NASSP. “We commend each of these young volunteers for all they’ve contributed to their communities.”
The distinguished selection committee that chose the National Honorees was chaired by Lowrey and included Handy of NASSP; Andrea Bastiani Archibald, chief girl and family engagement officer for Girl Scouts of the USA; Heidi Brasher, senior director of product line cohorts, strategy and innovation at YMCA of the USA; Brian Coleman, department chair for the Jones College Prep counseling team in Chicago, Illinois and the American School Counselor Association’s 2019 National School Counselor of the Year; Larissa Hatch, national youth engagement associate with the American Red Cross; Natalye Paquin, president and chief executive officer of Points of Light; Tony Shivers, a member representative with the National PTA Board of Directors; Rhonda Taylor, director of partnerships and program engagement for the Corporation for National and Community Service; Will Waidelich, executive director of the Association for Middle Level Education (AMLE); and two 2018 National Honorees: Michelle Qin, a senior at Dos Pueblos High School in Santa Barbara, California, and Helena Zimmerman, a senior at Rye Country Day School in Rye, New York.
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards was created in 1995 to identify and recognize young people for outstanding volunteer service – and, in so doing, inspire others to volunteer, too. In the past 24 years, the program has honored more than 125,000 young volunteers at the local, state and national level.
For more information about The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards and this year’s honorees, visit http://spirit.prudential.com