INDIANAPOLIS, Feb. 7, 2017 /PRNewswire/ -- Grace Zhang, 18, of Carmel and Tara Harmon, 14, of Zionsville today were named Indiana'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, Grace and Tara 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 Indiana's top youth volunteers of 2017:
High School State Honoree: Grace Zhang
Nominated by Carmel High School in Carmel
Grace, a senior at Carmel High School, organized a one-day "street store" in Indianapolis last year that enabled more than 200 struggling families to obtain free, gently-used clothing. A couple of winters ago, Grace watched as a homeless man tripped on his baggy pants and fell to the sidewalk. "No one helped him," she said. "I watched as his dog licked the tears off his face." That sad image stuck with Grace and prompted her to begin researching organizations that help the poor. She came across Street Store, an international project started in South Africa to give the homeless and people in need a dignified shopping experience. After obtaining instructions and materials from the organization, Grace went to work.
She enlisted the help of fellow students in her high school club, contacted local organizations that serve the poor, solicited clothing donations at schools and in the community, and lined up sponsors. The week before her event, Grace was devastated to learn that her beloved grandfather in China was dying. She had a choice: cancel the Street Store or risk never seeing him again. "I knew my grandfather wouldn't have wanted his illness to impede on charity for the homeless," she said. So she proceeded to set up her store, and welcomed needy shoppers to choose from among 16,000 articles of donated clothing. Sadly, Grace's grandfather died without hearing about her successful event. "But I saw my grandfather in every shopper," she said.
Middle Level State Honoree: Tara Harmon
Nominated by Zionsville Community Schools in Whitestown
Tara, an eighth-grader at Zionsville West Middle School, secured $4,000 in grants and donations over the past three years to provide weekend meals, healthy snacks and school uniforms for inner-city kids in her community. While walking around downtown Indianapolis with her family, Tara frequently encountered homeless people, and it broke her heart. But after seeing a homeless mother and son sleeping on the street, "I went home and thought long and hard," she said. With encouragement from her parents, Tara began researching ways to help.
Through an online search, Tara identified an elementary school with a high rate of free and reduced-price lunches, and while visiting the school, learned about its desperate need for uniforms. She then sought a grant from the Indianapolis Colts and a donation from Walmart; the result was 200 new uniforms for the school. Tara also learned that without subsidized lunches at school, many students go hungry over the summer. She responded by securing another grant and more store donations, and used the money to provide 100 weekend meal packages to summer campers. To encourage healthy eating, Tara also planted a vegetable garden that yielded 600 pounds of produce for an inner-city summer camp. Tara estimates more than 500 kids in need have benefited from her activities.
The program judges also recognized six other Indiana students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are Indiana's Distinguished Finalists for 2017:
Katherine Dorsey, 17, of Huntertown, Ind., a senior at Carroll High School, has given out more than 8,500 books to children in need, working with a number of community organizations to share the pleasure of reading with kids who may not have books of their own. Katherine collects books by visiting garage sales with her mom and asking for leftover books, and she further supported her efforts by securing a $500 grant and partnering with a half-price bookstore.
Emily Greggs, 18, of Sullivan, Ind., a senior at Sullivan High School, organized "Run For Those Who Can't," a 5K run that raised $2,800 for the ALS Foundation and a scholarship named for her late uncle, who was diagnosed with ALS her freshman year. An active community volunteer, Emily has also co-chaired a high-heeled race for men that raised $2,000 for the Sullivan County Community Kitchen, and worked with her HOBY group to organize activities for children in need.
Elayna Hasty, 15, of Angola, Ind., a freshman at Angola High School, leads "Girls Against Bullying (G.A.B.) Girls," a program she started at 9 years old to help its young participants feel strong and confident. Elayna, whose best friend was bullied so badly that she became home-schooled, was moved to develop a program with three main workshops: "Princess Within Me" for girls 5-8; "Stand Up and Speak Out" for boys and girls, and "Free to Be Uniquely Me," encouraging girls to stand together.
Isabelle Hemenway, 13, of Boonville, Ind., a seventh-grader at Boonville Middle School, has mobilized her community to support several charitable causes through "Just a Girl on a Mission," an effort that's collected 700 books, 100 items for animal shelters and more. After being provided with a flimsy comb during a hospitalization, Isabelle put out a call for hair product donations for young patients, and when she was able to deliver 300 of them to the hospital's pediatric unit, she decided to make her collections a regular event.
Rachel Kent, 17, of Indianapolis, Ind., a senior at Cathedral High School, runs a charitable business creating and selling friendship bracelets, and donating 100% of her proceeds to a charity helping people in developing countries and making an identical bracelet for a child served by the charity for every one she sells. Rachel has raised more than $1,000 through her "Knot Your Average Bracelets" shop on Etsy, and provided bracelets to children from India to Uganda.
Phillip Yang, 18, of Granger, Ind., a senior at Culver Academies, is the head of the Culver Diversity Council promoting respect and inclusion on campus, and recently spent more than five months organizing a diversity day that brought the school community together for a day of celebration and unity. Phillip collaborated with the club advisor, peers and alumni to coordinate the event, which drew more than 800 students to a multicultural fair, student-facilitated workshops, a concert and more.
"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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