DES MOINES, Iowa, Feb. 7, 2017 /PRNewswire/ -- Jennifer Jenks, 17, of Aurora and Aliza Woodford, 13, of Emmetsburg today were named Iowa'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, Jennifer and Aliza 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 Iowa's top youth volunteers of 2017:
High School State Honoree: Jennifer Jenks
Nominated by Linn-Mar High School in Marion
Jennifer, a senior at Linn-Mar High School, developed a program in which students from several high schools interview senior citizens in a residential care facility about their lives, and then write up their stories for portfolios that are presented to the families of the patients and shared with other residents, visitors and staff members. "After volunteering in Mercy Medical Center's gift shop for an extended period, I witnessed the debilitating effects of mental and degenerative ailments on individuals and their loved ones," said Jennifer. She wanted to do something to preserve the memories of elderly patients and share their unique experiences and perspectives with others.
After meeting with hospital staff members, Jennifer and a classmate created the idea of a writing-based therapy program they called, "Mercy Storytellers," but then it took nine months of weekly meetings and late-night work sessions to flesh out the details. Once the plan was in place, Jennifer began recruiting fellow high school students to interview the nursing home residents and prepare their life stories. When each story is completed, it's placed in a portfolio for the patient and his or her family. These stories are then featured in a collective "community story binder" for staff members and visitors to read. Jennifer hopes to expand her program to include more patients, more student volunteers and perhaps more hospitals in the future.
Middle Level State Honoree: Aliza Woodford
Nominated by Iowa State University Extension and Outreach: Palo Alto County in Emmetsburg
Aliza, an eighth-grader at Emmetsburg Catholic School, helped her local 4-H coordinator run an after-school program for about 50 elementary school kids twice a month throughout the school year. Aliza's school requires at least 15 hours of service work in order to earn a medal, but Aliza knew she could do more. Recalling that her mother had helped out when Aliza took part in the "Clover Kids" program years earlier, Aliza thought it would be fun for her to do the same.
During two-hour sessions every other week, Aliza passed out nametags to the kids in the program, prepared snacks, played games, supervised science experiments and craft projects, and watched the youngsters at recess "to make sure they didn't get into trouble," she said. After the kids had gone home, Aliza helped clean up by sweeping the floor and wiping off tables. The most challenging part of the job, said Aliza, was disciplining children who were not behaving. "I don't like being stern to kids. It makes me sad," she said.
The program judges also recognized four other Iowa students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are Iowa's Distinguished Finalists for 2017:
Courtney Brinkley, 18, of Burlington, Iowa, a senior at Burlington High School, is an active volunteer at school and in the community, participating in more than a dozen clubs and activities to support the student body, animals, people in need and other worthy causes. Currently president of her student council and vice president of her National Honor Society, Courtney has spent hundreds of hours working on ideas and activities to make a lasting positive impact on her school.
Sydney Conrad, 17, of Cedar Falls, Iowa, a junior at Janesville Junior-Senior High School, has spent many hours providing company and household help to a woman with multiple sclerosis, lending a hand with tasks ranging from yardwork to organizing the garage. Sydney, who connected with the woman through mutual acquaintances, has benefited from the life advice she's shared and plans to continue volunteering with her in the future.
Sean Griffen, 17, of Red Oak, Iowa, a senior at Red Oak High School, led an effort to replace and upgrade the trail signs at Viking Lake State Park, helping visitors navigate 5.83 miles of trail with 56 new, user-friendly signs. After noticing how often runners got lost in the park during cross-country practice, Sean gained plan approval from the park and donations from the community, gathered each component, then hosted several work days where 45 volunteers helped to assemble the signs.
Molly McCunn, 17, of Long Grove, Iowa, a senior at North Scott Senior High School, coordinated an engineering workshop for kids at her local library to increase their interest in the field and inspire them to take advantage of the engineering classes available to them in high school. Molly drew nearly 100 young participants to her event, which featured stations focused on different disciplines of engineering and a local aerospace engineer making water rockets.
"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