HARTFORD, Conn., Feb. 7, 2017 /PRNewswire/ -- Isha Dalal, 17 and Rachel Weintraub, 13, both of Trumbull, today were named Connecticut'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, Isha and Rachel 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 Connecticut's top youth volunteers of 2017:
High School State Honoree: Isha Dalal
Nominated by Trumbull High School in Trumbull
Isha, a senior at Trumbull High School, founded an organization of 60 students from across Connecticut called "Voice" that seeks to propose and promote state legislation addressing educational inequality and other important issues. A self-described "book nerd," Isha began volunteering two years ago at a local literacy center and quickly saw that many children did not have the educational opportunities she took for granted. One little boy told her his mother worked three jobs and struggled to get him extra help with reading. "That's when I decided I would do everything in my power to provide equal opportunities in education for all students," she said.
Isha envisioned an organization in which students could share opinions and ideas about a variety of societal problems, and then work to advance legislative solutions in the state capital. The group has focused initially on increasing childhood literacy rates in Connecticut by organizing legislative workshops, lobbying state officials, and conducting book drives and reading events. Isha sees her group tackling other issues in the future, including cyberbullying and school climate.
Middle Level State Honoree: Rachel Weintraub
Nominated by Hillcrest Middle School in Trumbull
Rachel, an eighth-grader at Hillcrest Middle School, started an anti-bullying initiative to draw attention to the plight of bullied children in her community through speeches, special events, and the arts. Like so many kids today, Rachel was once the victim of a bully. "I didn't know what to do," she said. "But I came to find out that many of my friends had been bullied as well." Rachel wanted to put a stop to this kind of behavior at school and give voice to all students who are afraid to talk about what is happening to them, so she came up with the "Words Can Soar" initiative.
Rachel began by speaking in classrooms about the issue. She then created flyers and recruited volunteers to help spread the word, organized anti-bullying events, solicited corporate donations, painted an anti-bullying mural at her school, and even wrote a song about bullying. Her biggest event was a cabaret in New York City that featured fellow Broadway actors and raised more than $5,000 for anti-bullying efforts. In addition, Rachel has made public service announcements denouncing bullying, sought coverage by news media, and appeared at numerous venues to raise awareness and funds to fight this pervasive problem.
The program judges also recognized four other Connecticut students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are Connecticut's Distinguished Finalists for 2017:
Sivani Arvapalli, 12, of South Windsor, Conn., a seventh-grader at Timothy Edwards School, is an active member of the youth service group Power of Peace, and has helped the group raise $72,000 over the past three years for a variety of charitable causes by holding talent shows and charity dinner events. Sivani has also held tutoring sessions over the past three summers to help younger kids prepare for the upcoming school year.
Nicole Cennamo, 17, of New Fairfield, Conn., a senior at New Fairfield High School, is the founder and president of "The PEACE Project" at her school, working with six student officers to coordinate events to support human rights and the well-being of minorities. Nicole's group, which started in August 2015 and now draws around 40 regular volunteers, has coordinated initiatives including an LGBT+ Pride Month and an annual "Culture Shock Day" that celebrates ethnic diversity through food, art and music.
Cynthia Dias, 17, of Wolcott, Conn., a senior at Wolcott High School, is a dedicated literacy advocate who spends more than 20 hours a month promoting reading, and established a children's literacy program in 2014 that now draws 30 young participants a month. In addition to tutoring, reading and donating books to the kids in her "Reading is Succeeding" program, Cynthia has collaborated with and coordinated book drives for several local literacy organizations.
Jack Kealey, 13, of Bethany, Conn., an eighth-grader at Hopkins School, has been a citizen lobbyist for the past six years focused on environmental and animal protection, raising awareness with Connecticut lawmakers of how proposed legislation affects kids and the community. Jack has also organized school field trips to the state Capitol to teach his peers about the legislative process, and recently volunteered for a state legislator and the insurance and real estate committee.
"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