WASHINGTON, May 8, 2017 /PRNewswire/ -- Ariana DeMattei, 16, of Center Moriches, N.Y., was named one of America's top 10 youth volunteers of 2017 today by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards during the program's 22nd annual national award ceremony at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium. Selected from a field of more than 31,000 youth volunteers from across the country, Ariana has earned the title of National Honoree, along with a personal award of $5,000, an engraved gold medallion, a crystal trophy for her school, and a $5,000 grant from The Prudential Foundation for a nonprofit charitable organization of her choice.
Also honored this week in Washington, D.C., was Victoria Bonavita, 13, of North Babylon, N.Y. Ariana and Victoria were named New York's top youth volunteers in February, and were officially recognized last night at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History along with the top two youth volunteers in each other state and the District of Columbia. At that event, each of the 102 State Honorees for 2017 received $1,000 awards as well as personal congratulations from Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps. The honorees each also received engraved silver medallions and all-expense-paid trips with a parent to Washington, D.C., for this week's recognition events.
Ariana, a junior at Westhampton Beach High School, has raised over $100,000 to provide more than 1,000 new backpacks filled with school supplies for local elementary students through an organization she founded in 2012 called "Backpacks for Fellow Students." "As a 12-year-old I never really understood how a family's economic situation would affect their child's ability to start off the school year prepared and ready to learn," Ariana said. But one day while at the checkout stand buying her own school supplies, she was astonished to see how much the total bill was. The thought occurred to her that there were students in her community whose families couldn't afford to spend that much. She wanted to help.
To buy her backpacks and school supplies, Ariana has organized numerous fundraising events, including a "polar bear plunge," 5K races, movie nights, bake sales and an annual appeal. She publicized her events by writing press releases, arranging media interviews and using social media. In addition, Ariana spends time writing appeal letters, applying for grants, soliciting sponsors, recruiting volunteers, ordering supplies, and packing and distributing her backpacks to children whose family incomes qualify them to receive free or reduced-price school lunches. "My hope is to create a level playing field in the classroom, no matter what the socioeconomic status is, and maximize a child's opportunity for educational success," Ariana said.
Victoria, an eighth-grader at Robert Moses Middle School, has shared her love of animals with hundreds of thousands of people through oral presentations, homemade videos and articles in online and print publications. When Victoria was little, her grandfather Michael introduced her to pigeons and chickens. "Since then, I've always been interested in animals and in helping to teach others about them," she said.
She began by bringing her chickens and pigeons to school one day and making a presentation about them to the entire fifth grade. Since then, she has educated people about birds and other animals through talks at schools, libraries, nature and senior centers, and other venues in New York and other states. She also has created 22 educational videos for her own YouTube channel called "Victoria's Amazing World," many of which feature interviews with celebrities. In addition, Victoria writes articles for two online and print papers. "It requires a lot of work, but I've been able to reach and educate nearly a million people," conveying important information about animal protection, adoption, and rehabilitation, she said. Victoria's efforts were recently recognized when she was invited to speak at her state capital on Animal Advocacy Day.
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards is a national youth recognition program sponsored by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).
"These honorees have done exemplary work to contribute to the health and vitality of their communities, and we look forward to seeing the great things they achieve in the future," said John Strangfeld, chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial, Inc. "Congratulations to each of these extraordinary young volunteers."
"It's a privilege to celebrate these students not only for outstanding volunteer service, but for the example they've set for their peers," said Jayne Ellspermann, president of NASSP. "These honorees prove that one person truly can make a difference."
In addition to Ariana, these are the other 2017 National Honorees:
Amal Bhatnagar, 18, of Duluth, Ga., a senior at Northview High School, created a student organization that has provided more than a thousand first-aid kits to people in the U.S. and overseas who lack access to basic healthcare.
Riley Callen, 14, of Pawlet, Vt., an eighth-grader at Dorset Elementary School, founded an annual "hike-a-thon" in the hills of Vermont that has raised more than $250,000 to help find a cure for brain tumors, like the ones that have affected her since she was 8 years old.
Sarah (Katie) Eder, 17, of Shorewood, Wis., a junior at Shorewood High School, developed a creative writing workshop for children in need that is now being taught by 120 teens in seven states and five other countries.
Bradley Ferguson, 16, of Northfield, N.J., a sophomore at Mainland Regional High School, started a service-learning club that over the past three years has supported veterans and people in need by refurbishing an American Legion post, collecting food for a community food bank, making lunches for homeless people, and growing fresh produce at several community gardens.
Harmonie Frederick, 11, of Columbia, S.C., a fifth-grader at Polo Road Elementary School, sold lemonade to raise money and awareness to fight cancer, conducted a coat drive to keep those less fortunate warm in the winter, and volunteers at a local nursing home.
Lorelei McIntyre-Brewer, 11, of Duncannon, Pa., a sixth-grader at The Cove School, built a volunteer network that has provided more than 12,000 special pillows for children around the world undergoing heart surgery.
Kelsey Norris, 13, of Bonaire, Ga., a sixth-grader at Bonaire Middle School, overcame a challenging start in life to provide more than 1,000 volunteer hours and raise more than $20,000 for a wide variety of causes aiding children and others in difficult situations.
Kenan Pala, 13, of San Diego, Calif., a seventh-grader at Francis Parker Middle School, launched an initiative to benefit homeless people by raising money for local shelters, coordinating meals each quarter at shelter kitchens, and organizing a record-setting cereal donation event.
Meghana Reddy, 18, of La Mesa, Calif., a senior at Francis Parker School in San Diego, uses 3D printing technology to produce artificial hands for children and adults in several countries who cannot afford commercial prostheses.
The distinguished selection committee that chose the National Honorees was chaired by Strangfeld and included Ellspermann of NASSP; Andrea Bastiani Archibald, chief girl expert for Girl Scouts of the USA;
Kristofer Bolz with the national headquarters volunteer services team at the American Red Cross; Tracy Hoover, president of Points of Light; Peggy McLeod, deputy vice president of education and workforce development at the National Council of La Raza; Frederick J. Riley, national director of urban and youth development at YMCA of the USA; Linda Shiller, at-large member on the National PTA Board of Directors; Rhonda Taylor, acting deputy director of strategic communications and director of partnerships and program engagement for the Corporation for National and Community Service; Dru Tomlin, director of middle level services for the Association for Middle Level Education; and two 2016 National Honorees: Connor Archer, a freshman at Husson University in Bangor, Maine, and Alisha Zhao, a senior at Lincoln High School in Portland, Ore.
Youth volunteers in grades 5-12 were invited to apply for 2017 Prudential Spirit of Community Awards last fall through schools, Girl Scout councils, county 4-H organizations, American Red Cross chapters, YMCAs and affiliates of the HandsOn Network.
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program 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 22 years, the program has honored more than 120,000 young volunteers at the local, state and national level.
The National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) is the leading organization of and voice for middle level and high school principals, assistant principals, and school leaders from across the United States. The association connects and engages school leaders through advocacy, research, education, and student programs. NASSP advocates on behalf of all school leaders to ensure the success of each student and strengthens school leadership practices through the design and delivery of high quality professional learning experiences. Reflecting its long-standing commitment to student leadership development, NASSP administers the National Honor Society, National Junior Honor Society, National Elementary Honor Society, and National Association of Student Councils. For more information about NASSP, located in Reston, VA, visit www.nassp.org.
About Prudential Financial
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Editors: For pictures of the Spirit of Community Awards program logo and medallions, visit https://spirit.prudential.com/resources/media
For B-roll of New York's honorees at the 2017 national recognition events, contact Prudential's Harold Banks at (973) 216-4833 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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