HELENA, Mont., Feb. 7, 2017 /PRNewswire/ -- Sophia Skwarchuk, 18, of Kalispell and Hannah Halvorson, 13, of Laurel today were named Montana'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, Sophia and Hannah 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 Montana's top youth volunteers of 2017:
High School State Honoree: Sophia Skwarchuk
Nominated by Flathead High School in Kalispell
Sophia, a senior at Flathead High School, created "MontanaEats," a smartphone application she spent months coding to give low income people easy access to information about all of the food pantries, food banks and emergency assistance resources in Montana. As a member of the Governor's Youth Leadership Council for Childhood Hunger, Sophia learned that her city had the highest rate of homelessness and food insecurity in the entire state. But knowing where to go for help was often a challenge for those who needed it. Sophia decided she could make things easier for them by building a comprehensive database that could be accessed through an app on Android phones. "In this technological age, we are all used to having information at the tips of our fingers," she said. "Why should the resources we target towards solving community issues be any different?"
With an interest in application coding but no expertise, Sophia read every book she could find on the subject. Once she learned what she needed to know, she spent three months creating an application called "MontanaEats." She decided to code the app for the Android operating system because it's more common on the less expensive phones that low income people are more likely to have. The free app, available on Google Play, has been endorsed by Montana's governor and is now being used by food agencies throughout Montana to assist their clientele. In the future, Sophia plans to include information from other states in her app, and develop a version for Apple iPhones.
Middle Level State Honoree: Hannah Halvorson
Nominated by Laurel Middle School in Laurel
Hannah, an eighth-grader at Laurel Middle School, has volunteered at a local nursing home for the past two summers, brightening the days of its 48 residents, many of whom don't have family members nearby to visit them. Hannah said she decided she wanted to make a difference after observing that there weren't many volunteers at the nursing home. "I know there are a lot of charities out there, but let's not forget about our senior citizens," Hannah said.
As a nursing home volunteer, Hannah's duties included reading to residents, helping with craft projects, assisting with music and exercise classes, and giving manicures. She has also purchased gifts for every resident by making and selling bookmarks. An important part of her job, she said, was just spending time on a one-on-one basis with many of the residents. She was amazed to hear them speak about things they had done in their lives, such as serving in World War II. Hannah said she hopes to continue volunteering at the nursing home and is encouraging her classmates to think about volunteering in the community. "Doing a simple act of kindness like opening the door for someone makes people have a better day and makes them want to help someone in return," she said.
The program judges also recognized two other Montana students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are Montana's Distinguished Finalists for 2017:
Natalie Bova, 18, of Frenchtown, Mont., a senior at Frenchtown High School, has helped recruit hundreds of blood donors since becoming the leader of her school's American Red Cross blood drive freshman year, and by the end of high school will have coordinated nine blood drives. Unable to give blood herself due to her juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, Natalie got involved by recruiting donors, ensuring the drive ran smoothly, and educating her peers on the importance of donating blood.
Colin Norick, 17, of Columbia Falls, Mont., a senior at Columbia Falls High School, created a club called "Teen Leaders in the Community (TLC)" to introduce students to the benefits of volunteer service, and coordinated a student-run community dinner that served 60 meals each month to people in need throughout the school year. Inspired by the kindness his older brother and a friend showed him as a child, when autism made it hard to play with other kids, Colin also coordinated a Community Kitchen meal as the president of his 4-H club.
"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