ATLANTA, Feb. 7, 2017 /PRNewswire/ -- Amal Bhatnagar, 17, of Duluth and Kelsey Norris, 13, of Bonaire today were named Georgia'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, Amal and Kelsey 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 Georgia's top youth volunteers of 2017:
High School State Honoree: Amal Bhatnagar
Nominated by Northview High School in Johns Creek
Amal, 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. While volunteering at local hospitals three summers ago, Amal saw patients whose innocuous bruises had progressed into infected lacerations because they did not have basic first-aid supplies. "I realized that a bandage, such a trivial healthcare supply, was so effective and yet so elusive for under-served, powerless populations," he said.
The following year, Amal set out to address the inequality in access to quality healthcare by distributing first-aid kits. After recruiting a few friends to join him, collecting donations from family members and acquaintances, and raising more than $1,000 with the help of the Atlanta Braves baseball team, Amal distributed over 300 first-aid kits in Atlanta and Athens, Ga. He then organized mission trips to India and Jamaica, and delivered first-aid kits and other medical supplies to poverty-stricken areas of those countries. Since then, Amal's nonprofit, called "First Aid for All," has attracted hundreds of middle and high school students from schools across Georgia and Alabama, who raise funds, sort and package medical supplies, make public presentations, and participate in a variety of health-related volunteer projects. Amal estimates that his initiative has improved access to healthcare for more than 1,100 people so far.
Middle Level State Honoree: Kelsey Norris
Nominated by Bonaire Middle School in Bonaire
Kelsey, 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. Kelsey was less than a year old when she was found in a Russian orphanage, and was later diagnosed with autism. But by the time she was 6, she was visiting schools and early childhood centers to read to kids and share her story with them. Several years later, her volunteering really took off when she began participating in pageants with the platform "special needs means special abilities."
Since then, Kelsey has won more than 50 pageant titles and devoted over a thousand hours to community service activities. She has collected more than 700 cans and boxes of food to feed students in need on weekends. In addition, she gathered more than 3,000 pounds of dog food for a Humane Society facility. She is currently serving as the local coordinator of a program that provides bags of hygiene and other personal items to displaced children. She also is a "special needs ambassador" and advocate for a group working to expand healthcare access in several rural counties. In addition, Kelsey has raised more than $20,000 for organizations such as the Children's Miracle Network, Shriners Children's Hospitals and St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.
The program judges also recognized seven other Georgia students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are Georgia's Distinguished Finalists for 2017:
Andrew Benson, 17, of Savannah, Ga., a junior at Savannah Christian Preparatory School, organized a community-wide river and beach cleanup in collaboration with the environmental advocacy group Ocean Conservancy, an effort that collected debris from tires to a kitchen sink and mobilized 50 volunteers to collect data for the conservancy's ocean trash index. Andrew, who solicited donated supplies and support from local businesses, has since gone on to get recycling canisters set up at a community boat ramp.
Srija Dutta, 17, of Atlanta, Ga., a senior at Lakeside High School, has been working since May 2016 with young refugees living in the Willow Branch apartment complex, first as a volunteer at its summer camp and now by helping with homework and other activities at its after-school program. Motivated to do her part to help with the refugee crisis, Srija has tried to teach herself Arabic to communicate with the children, and works to empower them by instilling a sense of gratitude and self-worth.
Anne Hardin, 18, of Atlanta, Ga., a member of Girl Scouts of Greater Atlanta and a senior at Lovett School, created "Scam Savvy Seniors," a series of presentations and related resources to help senior citizens identify and avoid schemes designed to steal their money. Anne, who started her project after her grandmother was targeted by a scam, worked with a team of 20 professionals and youth volunteers to develop and carry out the program; one senior living organization will continue to use her curriculum in the future.
Katie Lowenstein, 17, of Duluth, Ga., a junior at Peachtree Ridge High School, coordinates an annual summer service project that mobilizes volunteers to deliver free ice cream to all the Boys and Girls Clubs in metro Atlanta, this year raising enough money to deliver 2,500 ice cream treats. Katie, a longtime volunteer for kids in need who recently started the youth service company "Project 410 LLC," worked with 25 friends this year to deliver the treats in five ice cream trucks.
Lauren Seroyer, 17, of Lawrenceville, Ga., a junior at Peachtree Ridge High School, founded the "Community Assistance & Resource Effort (CARE) Closet" mobile food pantry to serve students in need at her school, and then expanded the concept to five other high schools over the next nine months. Lauren was moved to act when she learned that one of her classmates wasn't getting enough to eat at home, and won $25,000 in a United Way competition to bring her nonprofit idea to life.
Nitish Sood, 17, of Alpharetta, Ga., a senior at Alpharetta High School, founded "Working Together for Change," a student-led nonprofit that has mobilized more than 600 volunteers to provide food, clothing, medical support, skills training and scholarships to the homeless. Nitish has also led volunteers in efforts to raise awareness of homelessness by organizing sleep-outs, making presentations at colleges around the country, and coordinating two humanitarian summits.
"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