PHOENIX, Feb. 7, 2017 /PRNewswire/ -- Emery Miller, 18 and Lauren Basye, 13, both of Gilbert, today were named Arizona's top two youth volunteers of 2017 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism. As State Honorees, Emery and Lauren each will receive $1,000, an engraved silver medallion and an all-expense-paid trip in early May to Washington, D.C., where they will join the top two honorees from each of the other states and the District of Columbia for four days of national recognition events. During the trip, 10 students will be named America's top youth volunteers of 2017.
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, now in its 22nd year, is conducted by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).
These are Arizona's top youth volunteers of 2017:
High School State Honoree: Emery Miller
Nominated by Perry High School in Gilbert
Emery, a senior at Perry High School, launched an annual holiday drive that collected more than 17,000 teddy bears in six years for hospitalized children in seven states. Emery understands what it's like to be a kid stuck in the hospital because he underwent four open-heart surgeries by age 7 to correct a hole in his heart. So, when he and his fellow church-goers were challenged by their pastor one December morning to give more than they receive at Christmas, Emery decided to give teddy bears to young patients at Phoenix Children's Hospital.
Emery's mother posted his idea on Facebook, and within minutes people began volunteering to help him collect bears. The first year, he and his "Team Emery" provided more than enough stuffed bears for every patient at the hospital. As word spread about Emery's drive, it attracted an army of supporters over the next several years, collected more and more bears, and expanded to more than 20 hospitals. Emery says he is "constantly running like a chicken with my head cut off" during the holiday season, raising funds, coordinating volunteers, speaking to schools and community groups, and acquiring and sorting bears. "It's absolutely priceless walking into the hospital wearing our matching red Team Emery shirts with Santa hats, watching the faces of sick patients and their families light up with excitement," said Emery.
Middle Level State Honoree: Lauren Basye
Nominated by ASU Preparatory STEM Academy in Mesa
Lauren, a seventh-grader at ASU Preparatory STEM Academy, led a small group of students in turning an old storage room at their school into a much-needed library. A year ago, Lauren joined her school's golf team and was told to store her golf clubs in a storage room during school hours. She soon realized the room could be used for much more than storage. Because she loves to read, and because her school at the time had only a few shelves of library books, Lauren persuaded several friends that they could work together to turn the storage room into a real walk-in library where students could check out books, do homework, or just hang out.
Lauren's small team first surveyed their school's homerooms to gauge interest in the idea, then submitted a proposal to their principal, who loved the plan. Since then, they've been working mornings, lunch hours and free periods to clean out the room, gather and sort donated books, and develop operating procedures. Lauren believes the reason a lot of young people don't read many books these days is that they haven't been exposed to a quality library. "The new library we are starting is taking great steps in the right direction," she said, "and will hopefully impact students' grades, study skills and reading ability."
The program judges also recognized six other Arizona students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are Arizona's Distinguished Finalists for 2017:
Brandon Barkwell, 18, of Scottsdale, Ariz., a senior at Chaparral High School, is a longtime volunteer, advocate and fundraiser for causes related to Alzheimer's disease in honor of his late father, who died when Brandon was 16 after living with the disease for many years. In addition to raising $20,000 by leading a walk team for the annual Phoenix Walk to End Alzheimer's, Brandon has created a fundraising and advocacy website, spoken at events and started a high school Alzheimer's advocacy club.
Makenna Breading-Goodrich, 13, of Surprise, Ariz., an eighth-grader at Canyon Ridge School, has collected more than 1,200 coats and nearly 7,000 bottles of water through her "Makenna's Coats for a Cause," to help ensure that the homeless stay warm on chilly nights and hydrated during Arizona's scorching summers. She is now working on starting a "caring closet" at school to provide toiletries, school supplies and other essentials to students in need.
Yixue Cheng, 17, of Chandler, Ariz., a senior at Basis Chandler School, has raised public awareness of torture and the humanitarian laws of warfare by starting her region's first International Humanitarian Law Action Campaign as president of her school's Red Cross club. After learning that the campaign would lose its official support after 2016, Yixue worked with a local chapter official to restructure the campaign and expand it to additional chapters on the West Coast.
Erika Gustafson, 17, of Prescott, Ariz., a senior at Basis Prescott School, has provided leadership and guidance to a nonprofit teen center, The Launch Pad, for several years, first as a member of its board of directors and, later, also as a member of its finance committee. In addition to participating in monthly meetings, Erika has used her connections in the community to support the organization's work, created budgets, helped to create bylaws and procedures, and stayed up-to-date with laws impacting nonprofit organizations.
Joshua Kaplan, 18, of Phoenix, Ariz., a senior at Rancho Solano Preparatory School, created "Giving Opportunities to All Who Love Soccer (GOALS)," a program that hosts twice-monthly soccer events inclusive of students with disabilities. Motivated to support kids with special needs by his own experience overcoming a stutter, Joshua finds peer buddies for players with disabilities, manages game logistics and provides mentoring and coaching.
Victoria Lily Sheahan, 17, of Phoenix, Ariz., a senior at Sandra Day O'Connor High School, led an initiative to host a prom for special education students, recruiting volunteers and soliciting donations of food, decorations and supplies to bring her idea to life. Victoria, inspired to create a prom experience for a close friend with a cognitive disability, also talked to professionals and conducted other research to plan appropriate activities and meet the prom-goers' needs.
"Prudential is honored to recognize these young volunteers for their exemplary service," said Prudential Chairman and CEO John Strangfeld. "We hope that their stories inspire others to consider how they, too, can volunteer their time and talents to improve their communities."
"These service-minded young people have brought meaningful change to communities at home and abroad, and it's a privilege to celebrate their work," said JoAnn Bartoletti, executive director of NASSP. "Congratulations to an exceptional group of middle level and high school students."
About The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards represents the United States' largest youth recognition program based solely on volunteer service. All public and private middle level and high schools in the country, as well as all Girl Scout councils, county 4-H organizations, American Red Cross chapters, YMCAs and HandsOn Network affiliates, were eligible to select a student or member for a local Prudential Spirit of Community Award. These Local Honorees were then reviewed by an independent judging panel, which selected State Honorees and Distinguished Finalists based on criteria including personal initiative, effort, impact and personal growth.
While in Washington, D.C., the 102 State Honorees – one middle level and one high school student from each state and the District of Columbia – will tour the capital's landmarks, meet top youth volunteers from other parts of the world, attend a gala awards ceremony at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, and visit their congressional representatives on Capitol Hill. On May 8, 10 of the State Honorees – five middle level and five high school students – will be named America's top youth volunteers of 2017. These National Honorees will receive additional $5,000 awards, gold medallions, crystal trophies and $5,000 grants from The Prudential Foundation for nonprofit charitable organizations of their choice.
Since the program began in 1995, more than 115,000 young volunteers have been honored at the local, state and national level. The program also is conducted by Prudential subsidiaries in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Ireland, India, China and Brazil. In addition to granting its own awards, The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program also distributes President's Volunteer Service Awards to qualifying Local Honorees.
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
Prudential Financial, Inc. (NYSE: PRU), a financial services leader, has operations in the United States, Asia, Europe, and Latin America. Prudential's diverse and talented employees are committed to helping individual and institutional customers grow and protect their wealth through a variety of products and services, including life insurance, annuities, retirement-related services, mutual funds and investment management. In the U.S., Prudential's iconic Rock symbol has stood for strength, stability, expertise and innovation for more than a century. For more information, please visit www.news.prudential.com.
For Spirit of Community Awards program logo and medallion graphics, please visit https://spirit.prudential.com/resources/media
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SOURCE Prudential Insurance