OKLAHOMA CITY, Feb. 7, 2017 /PRNewswire/ -- Brooke Bollinger, 17, of Blanchard and Ellie Neidel, 14, of Oklahoma City today were named Oklahoma'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, Brooke and Ellie 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 Oklahoma's top youth volunteers of 2017:
High School State Honoree: Brooke Bollinger
Nominated by Oklahoma State University Extension 4-H in Purcell
Brooke, a senior at Bollinger Academy, organized a sewing day that produced 112 dresses for young girls in Africa and is now challenging 4-H members across Oklahoma to make dresses for African girls and trousers for boys. Community service has always been an important part of her life, said Brooke. But when she discovered information online about an international organization called "Little Dresses for Africa," her volunteerism really took off. "The moment I saw it, I knew I wanted to make a difference in these girls' lives," said Brooke. "It touched a soft spot in my heart."
Brooke recruited members of her county Oklahoma Home and Community Education group to help her make the first batch of dresses. After sending them to Africa, Brooke received a touching note of gratitude, which inspired her to do even more. She brainstormed with her parents and came up with the idea of creating a statewide challenge for all 4-H members in Oklahoma. With the approval of 4-H officials, Brooke made fliers and an information booth to publicize the challenge, promoted it on Facebook and Instagram, and offered a prize to the 4-Her who sews the most garments. Brooke's goal is to ultimately send 1,000 articles of clothing to impoverished African children.
Middle Level State Honoree: Ellie Neidel
Nominated by Highland East Junior High School in Moore
Ellie, an eighth-grader at Highland East Junior High School, volunteered last summer at the Infant Crisis Center in Oklahoma City, where a shortage of supplies prompted her to conduct a drive that yielded more than $1,000 worth of diapers, formula and other critically-needed items. Three years ago, Ellie and her mother visited the nonprofit center, which provides necessities to families with babies and young children, and were impressed by what they saw. "I knew right away that I wanted to be a part of it," said Ellie. However, she couldn't volunteer because she wasn't old enough. "But the second I turned 13, I was able to sign up for the summer volunteer program," she said.
As a summer volunteer, Ellie stocked warehouse shelves, sorted donated supplies, babysat children while their parents filled out paperwork, and arranged clothing and other supplies for clients to choose from. Upon seeing how quickly the supplies dwindled, Ellie organized a very successful supply drive, appealing to friends and family members for donations on Facebook. Since then, Ellie has been invited to sit on the center's Tween Board and will now help with a variety of fundraising activities. "I have learned that there is a tremendous need for necessities for babies and children here in Oklahoma," she said. "If their parents are going through hard times, then it's up to those of us who can help to provide any assistance that we are able!"
The program judges also recognized four other Oklahoma students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are Oklahoma's Distinguished Finalists for 2017:
Makenna Marchbanks, 16, of Blanchard, Okla., a sophomore at Blanchard High School, founded "Makenna's Sole Purpose," a program that collected nearly 1,000 pairs of shoes during its first collection drive for people in need. When someone replaced the shoes of a classmate whose only pair had fallen apart, Makenna was inspired to do the same for others; she partnered with the organization Soles4Souls, publicized her drive on Facebook and in the community, and recruited family and friends to help.
Stephanie Royer, 18, of Tulsa, Okla., a senior at Union High School, is the founder of "Music & Me," a nonprofit that has shared her passion for playing classical instruments with more than 2,000 students served by Tulsa-area early childhood education centers for kids in need. Most of Stephanie's programs teach the young participants the basics of piano and violin using cardboard cutouts, then introduce the actual instruments; she plans to establish a "Music & Me" program in a new town when she starts college next year.
John Sadler, 18, of Moore, Okla., a senior at Moore High School, has been an active volunteer for several years with Oklahoma Baptist Disaster Relief, working with the group to provide crucial hands-on assistance after Superstorm Sandy, a tornado in Moore, and a 2015 flood that affected Moore and South Oklahoma City. John has also volunteered with his church's Christmas basket outreach, providing holiday dinner baskets to local families in need.
Olivia Woodrich, 17, of Broken Arrow, Okla., a senior at Broken Arrow High School, is a youth ambassador for the Tourette Association of America and the creator of "Creating Awareness for Tourette Syndrome (CATS)," a nonprofit she started to educate the public about a widely-misunderstood disorder. Moved to help others by the challenges she encountered as a child with Tourette's, Olivia has worked to promote understanding by making presentations to lawmakers, schools and community organizations.
"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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