ALBANY, N.Y., Feb. 7, 2017 /PRNewswire/ -- Ariana Demattei, 16, of Center Moriches and Victoria Bonavita, 13, of North Babylon today were named New York'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, Ariana and Victoria 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 New York's top youth volunteers of 2017:
High School State Honoree: Ariana Demattei
Nominated by Westhampton Beach High School in Westhampton Beach
Ariana, a junior at Westhampton Beach High School, has raised over $100,000 to provide more than 1,000 new backpacks filled with school supplies for local elementary students through an organization she founded in 2012 called "Backpacks for Fellow Students." "As a 12-year old I never really understood how a family's economic situation would affect their child's ability to start off the school year prepared and ready to learn," Ariana said. But one day while at the checkout stand buying her own school supplies, she was astonished to see how much the total bill was. The thought occurred to her that there were students in her community whose families couldn't afford to spend that much. She wanted to help.
To buy her backpacks and school supplies, Ariana has organized numerous fundraising events, including a "polar bear plunge," 5k races, movie nights, bake sales and an annual appeal. She publicized her events by writing press releases, arranging media interviews, and using social media. In addition, Ariana spends time writing appeal letters, applying for grants, soliciting sponsors, recruiting volunteers, ordering supplies, and packing and distributing her backpacks to children whose family incomes qualify them to receive free or reduced-price school lunches. "My hope is to create a level playing field in the classroom, no matter what the socioeconomic status is, and maximize a child's opportunity for educational success," Ariana said.
Middle Level State Honoree: Victoria Bonavita
Nominated by Robert Moses Middle School in West Babylon
Victoria, an eighth-grader at Robert Moses Middle School, has shared her love of animals with hundreds of thousands of people through oral presentations, homemade videos and articles in online publications. When Victoria was little, her grandfather introduced her to pigeons and chickens. "Since then, I've always been interested in animals and in helping to teach others about them," she said.
She began by bringing her chickens and pigeons to school one day and making a presentation about them to the entire fifth grade. Since then, she has educated people about birds and other animals through talks at schools, libraries, nature and senior centers, and other venues in New York and other states. She also has created 22 educational videos for her own YouTube channel called "Victoria's Amazing World," many of which feature interviews with celebrities. In addition, Victoria writes articles for two online papers. "It requires a lot of work, but I've been able to reach and educate nearly a million people," conveying important information about animal protection, adoption, and rehabilitation, she said. Victoria's efforts were recently recognized when she was invited to speak at her state capital on Animal Advocacy Day.
The program judges also recognized eight other New York students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are New York's Distinguished Finalists for 2017:
Sophie Kartzman, 13, of Big Flats, N.Y., an eighth-grader at Horseheads Middle School, has led an effort that's collected and delivered tens of thousands of cards for military members and veterans, first through the Red Cross Holiday for Heroes program and then on her own, with the community's help. Working with schools, businesses and other organizations, Sophie has surpassed her card collection goal every year, and started a website to encourage other kids to volunteer.
Elizabeth Klosky, 17, of Cornwall-On-Hudson, N.Y., a member of Girl Scouts Heart of the Hudson and a senior at Cornwall Central High School, has reached more than 14,000 people with "NY is a Great Place to BEE!," an extensive lobbying and public engagement campaign to address the worldwide decline in the bee population. Deploying a team of volunteers to help further her goals – to educate, legislate, populate – Elizabeth has promoted her cause with activities ranging from workshops to a Change.org petition.
Sarah Moelis, 18, of Hewlett, N.Y., a senior at Lynbrook High School, led a team of programmers to create "The Magic Arrows," a computer application designed to help people with fragile X syndrome navigate the difficult transition between activities. Sarah helped come up with the concept to help a friend diagnosed with fragile X, and donates the proceeds to a foundation his family started; after refining the app with help from 80 volunteers, she shared her findings at the National Fragile X Foundation's 2016 conference.
Truth Muller, 16, of Rock Hill, N.Y., a member of Orange County 4-H and a home-schooled senior, has conducted a one-person campaign since 2011 to raise awareness of the environmental importance of bats, reaching an estimated 3 million people through public presentations, event booths, social media and features in publications. Truth was moved to speak out when he learned that most of New York's bats, including the local ones that mesmerized him as a child, were wiped out by white-nose syndrome in 2007.
Jothi Ramaswamy, 15, of Mohegan Lake, N.Y., a sophomore at Lakeland High School, founded "ThinkSTEAM," a nonprofit that works with corporations and organizations to host free technology workshops and a STEM mentoring program for girls. Jothi, whose mother is a software engineer, wanted to bridge the gender gap after hearing that her brother's coding class had 33 boys and no girls; her program has since conducted nine workshops and reached more than 120 girls in three states.
Christian Ranieri, 17, of Northport, N.Y., a senior at Northport High School, has worked since age 12 to raise awareness of how autism affects him and others, serving with several statewide groups including the New York State Education Department's youth advisory panel. Christian started taking local speaking opportunities in seventh grade to give a voice to children who couldn't communicate, and went on to speak at conferences and events to raise greater awareness of the needs of kids with autism.
Rebecca Reich, 17, of New York, N.Y., a junior at Poly Prep Country Day School, has worked since she was 14 to empower girls and raise money for the Greater Chinatown Community Association through "Empowerment through Fashion," a runway show, silent auction and career advice panel featuring professional women. Rebecca also serves as an ambassador for the female empowerment network GenHERation, and has hosted an event to raise awareness of sex trafficking and money for agencies that aid the victims.
Matthew Taboni, 17, of Tonawanda, N.Y., a senior at Canisius High School, organized a benefit gala that raised more than $10,000 toward the construction of a new handicap-accessible playground at a Heritage Center school for kids with disabilities. Matthew, who wanted to help the students he met on a school service trip to the organization, managed all gala logistics from selling raffle tickets to making cannoli and recruited a committee of classmates to help.
"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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