LINCOLN, Neb., Feb. 7, 2017 /PRNewswire/ -- Mary Degraff, 17, of Plattsmouth and Ella Alberts, 12, of Omaha today were named Nebraska'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, Mary and Ella 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 Nebraska's top youth volunteers of 2017:
High School State Honoree: Mary Degraff
Nominated by Cass County 4-H in Weeping Water
Mary, a senior at Plattsmouth High School, is raising money to procure a "pet disaster relief trailer" for her county so that residents will have a safe place to house their pets when tornadoes, floods and other natural disasters occur. "The American Red Cross helps people in these situations, but there are not many who help with pets," said Mary, who owns two horses, three dogs and three cats. So when she learned that the American Kennel Club makes pet disaster relief trailers available to local communities, she thought her county should have one.
After the local Humane Society officer and emergency management director agreed with her idea, Mary drafted a proposal to acquire a trailer, with goals and objectives, a budget and a timetable. She made a poster board illustrating her proposal and began making presentations to church and community groups, and at the county fair and other local events. She explains that the trailer will come stocked with essential supplies to house at least 65 pets for the critical first few days after a disaster is declared. So far, she has collected donations of $2,000, and hopes to reach the $12,000 needed for a trailer by next fall. "I believe that getting this trailer for Cass County will help with disaster situations long into the future," said Mary.
Middle Level State Honoree: Ella Alberts
Nominated by Westside Middle School in Omaha
Ella, a seventh-grader at Westside Middle School, has collected more than $1,300 along with hundreds of supplies over the past four years for animal shelters in the Midwest by operating an annual one-day lemonade stand. When Ella visited a local animal shelter five years ago, one dog in particular grabbed her attention: a small, aging dachshund with no eyes, no teeth and a tumor. "I decided I needed to do something to help her and other dogs like her," said Ella. Since she had set up lemonade stands before with her friends just for fun, she thought: why not sell lemonade to help orphaned dogs?
Ella persuaded a busy gas station to let her set up a stand out front on a hot summer day, collected donations from local businesses, poured lots of lemonade, and ended up with $600. She has repeated her project every year since. She typically finds at least five volunteers to help; uses posters, fliers and social media to advertise her lemonade; seeks donated supplies; and usually has a "spokesdog" or two on hand to greet customers. Ella chooses a different charity each year to receive her sale proceeds, which have totaled more than $1,300. She also has donated dog food, dog beds, laundry detergent and many other items needed by animal shelters.
The program judges also recognized two other Nebraska students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are Nebraska's Distinguished Finalists for 2017:
Linda Kennedy, 18, of Omaha, Neb., a senior at Bellevue East Senior High School, is an instructor and co-president for the nonprofit CHERISH Riding Association, a free children's horse riding group that helped her endure a difficult period living in foster care as a child. Linda recently committed more than 150 hours to running the group's annual fireworks stand, helping the group fund its work teaching kids how to ride and care for horses and do different kinds of farm work.
Ryan Woitalewicz, 17, of Wood River, Neb., a senior at Wood River Rural High School, has been volunteering since eighth grade with his school's after-school program for elementary students, providing daily help with homework and physical education activities. After serving thousands of hours with the program, he was offered an opportunity to expand his mentorship role as a paid employee in the fall of his junior year.
"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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