TOPEKA, Kan., Feb. 7, 2017 /PRNewswire/ -- Grace McGowan, 18, of Overland Park and Sydney Smith, 13, of Hiawatha today were named Kansas' 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 Sydney 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 Kansas' top youth volunteers of 2017:
High School State Honoree: Grace McGowan
Nominated by The Barstow School in Kansas City
Grace, a senior at The Barstow School, has conducted fundraisers and collection drives over the past five years that have yielded more than $30,000, 650 jars of peanut butter, and 834 books to help feed and educate kids in several orphanages in Haiti. Before embarking on a service trip to Haiti when she was in the eighth grade, "I wanted to do something meaningful for the people I would be meeting," said Grace. She put on a talent show and recruited friends to perform. That raised more than $8,000 to buy 800 chickens for the orphanages she was planning to visit.
Since that first trip, Grace founded a nonprofit organization to benefit Haitian orphans, and organized carnival-like events each year featuring games, entertainment, food and other attractions. Proceeds and donations from these events have gone to buy uniforms, textbooks and other school supplies in Haiti, and helped pay for teacher training and salaries. Grace also collected jars of peanut butter to provide orphans with badly-needed protein, and conducted school book drives that enabled her to create a library at one of the orphanages she is supporting. During the four trips that Grace has taken to Haiti so far, she has especially enjoyed spending time with the kids at the orphanages. "That's what makes all of my hard work worthwhile," she said. "They are full of joy despite living in poverty."
Middle Level State Honoree: Sydney Smith
Nominated by Hiawatha Middle School in Hiawatha
Sydney, a seventh-grader at Hiawatha Middle School, raised nearly $1,800 for diabetes research by soliciting donations and selling homemade crafts in conjunction with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) annual fundraising walk in Kansas City. Sydney has had Type 1 diabetes since she was 16 months old. "Currently, there is no cure," she said. "Forty thousand people are diagnosed each year. In my middle school alone, I am one of two Type 1 diabetics. So my reason for fundraising really hits home."
As the captain of a walk team in JDRF's One Walk in Kansas City, Sydney recruited friends and family members to participate in the walk and help with fundraising. To get people to donate, she shared her story about what it's like to live with diabetes. "To get results, you have to work hard," she said. "You have to show them why they should spend their money on your cause." Sydney also raised money by painting quotes on canvases and spraying designs on T-shirts, and selling those crafts at a flea market and a gift shop. "It really makes me feel good when I see articles on the news about new technological advances in the diabetes field, and I can think to myself, my fundraising helped make that happen," she said.
The program judges also recognized four other Kansas students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are Kansas' Distinguished Finalists for 2017:
Ann Hrdy, 17, of Olathe, Kan., a member of Girl Scouts of NE Kansas & NW Missouri and a senior at Olathe South High School, mobilized local middle and high school students to make more than 200 pillow case dresses for children in Africa – a sign to the child, and to would-be abductors, that someone is looking out for them. Ann made a video that explained the purpose of the project to the student dressmakers, and created a guide book so the project can continue in the future.
Hayley Nitz, 17, of Olathe, Kan., a senior at Olathe South High School, developed a workshop where local families could make toys to aid in the development of children at the Amani Baby Cottage orphanage in Africa. In addition to partnering with a local service organization to sustain the project in the future, Hayley collected donations, organized the workshop logistics and coordinated a weeklong trip to the orphanage to volunteer and deliver the toys.
Kaleigh Salzman, 18, of Falun, Kan., a member of McPherson County 4-H and a senior at Smoky Valley High, has been an active community volunteer since joining 4-H in 2005, whose service activities include dedicating more than 1,000 hours since 2013 to helping the Rolling Hills Zoo with camps, events and other activities. Kaleigh also organized a rabbit interaction area at the Kansas State Fair where she now volunteers 20-30 hours a year, and coordinated 80 volunteers to clean up the Coronado Heights park after an arson in 2009.
Fiona Tokach, 16, of Abilene, Kan., a member of Dickinson County 4-H and a junior at Abilene High School, has led fellow 4-Hers and others in the community to bring hope and comfort to people in need by sewing caps, teddy bears, dresses and other crafts. What started as a project to sew caps for one woman undergoing chemotherapy grew into an effort that provided 100 caps to the Tammy Walker Cancer Center; Fiona has since worked with several organizations to provide helpful resources through her group, "The 5th H."
"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