WASHINGTON, May 8, 2017 /PRNewswire/ -- Riley Callen, 14, of Pawlet, Vt., was named one of America's top 10 youth volunteers of 2017 today by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards during the program's 22nd annual national award ceremony at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium. Selected from a field of more than 31,000 youth volunteers from across the country, Riley has earned the title of National Honoree, along with a personal award of $5,000, an engraved gold medallion, a crystal trophy for her school, and a $5,000 grant from The Prudential Foundation for a nonprofit charitable organization of her choice.
Also honored this week in Washington, D.C., was Gabrielle Metz, 17, of St. Albans, Vt. Gabrielle and Riley were named Vermont's top youth volunteers in February, and were officially recognized last night at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History along with the top two youth volunteers in each other state and the District of Columbia. At that event, each of the 102 State Honorees for 2017 received $1,000 awards as well as personal congratulations from Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps. The honorees each also received engraved silver medallions and all-expense-paid trips with a parent to Washington, D.C., for this week's recognition events.
Riley, an eighth-grader at Dorset Elementary School, founded an annual "hike-a-thon" in the hills of Vermont that has raised more than $250,000 to help find a cure for brain tumors, like the ones that have affected her since she was 8 years old. It took two major surgeries to remove the first benign tumor in Riley's brainstem, and another to extract a second tumor three years later. While recovering in the hospital, Riley told her mother she wanted to focus not on her own problems, but on how she could turn her experience into something positive. "I wanted to help find a cure, not just for myself, but for everyone out there like me," she said.
Because hiking is particularly popular in Vermont, Riley, along with her mother and a former babysitter who also had a brain tumor, decided to stage a hike-a-thon to raise money for tumor research. They spent the summer planning the event, asked relatives and friends to help, set up a website to publicize the fundraiser and sold raffle tickets for a "basket bonanza." More than 500 people came to the first "Be Brave for Life" hike-a- thon, which raised over $100,000. The following year, a scavenger hunt, silent auction, and an everyday-heroes nomination initiative were added to the event, and $165,000 more was raised to support research programs at hospitals in Boston and Phoenix. "It makes me feel good to be a part of something that is bigger than just me," said Riley.
Gabrielle, a senior at Bellows Free Academy, helps people with disabilities compete in five sports throughout the year through the Unified Sports Program of Special Olympics Vermont. When her teacher suggested that she would excel at working with Special Olympics athletes, Gabrielle agreed to give it a try, but she was nervous. "I had no experience at all and I doubted the role I could play," she said. But she was also excited by the prospect of exploring a new opportunity to serve others, something she had been doing in different ways for many years.
It turned out her teacher was right: Gabrielle found that she was well-suited to be a Unified Sports "partner." In this role, she serves as a leader, coach and friend to Special Olympics athletes, encouraging, supporting and guiding them as they compete in soccer, floor hockey, basketball, snowshoeing and bocce. "When I play with the athletes during practices and tournaments, I get back so much more than I give," said Gabrielle. "I love to see them compete and realize their potential, to feel the joy that sports can bring." Gabrielle also has personally secured grants to buy brand-new equipment to replace the donated and borrowed sports gear the teams had been using.
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards is a national youth recognition program sponsored by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).
"These honorees have done exemplary work to contribute to the health and vitality of their communities, and we look forward to seeing the great things they achieve in the future," said John Strangfeld, chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial, Inc. "Congratulations to each of these extraordinary young volunteers."
"It's a privilege to celebrate these students not only for outstanding volunteer service, but for the example they've set for their peers," said Jayne Ellspermann, president of NASSP. "These honorees prove that one person truly can make a difference."
In addition to Riley, these are the other 2017 National Honorees:
Amal Bhatnagar, 18, of Duluth, Ga., a senior at Northview High School, created a student organization that has provided more than a thousand first-aid kits to people in the U.S. and overseas who lack access to basic healthcare.
Ariana DeMattei, 16, of Center Moriches, N.Y., 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."
Sarah (Katie) Eder, 17, of Shorewood, Wis., a junior at Shorewood High School, developed a creative writing workshop for children in need that is now being taught by 120 teens in seven states and five other countries.
Bradley Ferguson, 16, of Northfield, N.J., a sophomore at Mainland Regional High School, started a service-learning club that over the past three years has supported veterans and people in need by refurbishing an American Legion post, collecting food for a community food bank, making lunches for homeless people, and growing fresh produce at several community gardens.
Harmonie Frederick, 11, of Columbia, S.C., a fifth-grader at Polo Road Elementary School, sold lemonade to raise money and awareness to fight cancer, conducted a coat drive to keep those less fortunate warm in the winter, and volunteers at a local nursing home.
Lorelei McIntyre-Brewer, 11, of Duncannon, Pa., a sixth-grader at The Cove School, built a volunteer network that has provided more than 12,000 special pillows for children around the world undergoing heart surgery.
Kelsey Norris, 13, of Bonaire, Ga., a sixth-grader at Bonaire Middle School, overcame a challenging start in life to provide more than 1,000 volunteer hours and raise more than $20,000 for a wide variety of causes aiding children and others in difficult situations.
Kenan Pala, 13, of San Diego, Calif., a seventh-grader at Francis Parker Middle School, launched an initiative to benefit homeless people by raising money for local shelters, coordinating meals each quarter at shelter kitchens, and organizing a record-setting cereal donation event.
Meghana Reddy, 18, of La Mesa, Calif., a senior at Francis Parker School in San Diego, uses 3D printing technology to produce artificial hands for children and adults in several countries who cannot afford commercial prostheses.
The distinguished selection committee that chose the National Honorees was chaired by Strangfeld and included Ellspermann of NASSP; Andrea Bastiani Archibald, chief girl expert for Girl Scouts of the USA; Kristofer Bolz with the national headquarters volunteer services team at the American Red Cross; Tracy Hoover, president of Points of Light; Peggy McLeod, deputy vice president of education and workforce development at the National Council of La Raza; Frederick J. Riley, national director of urban and youth development at YMCA of the USA; Linda Shiller, at-large member on the National PTA Board of Directors; Rhonda Taylor, acting deputy director of strategic communications and director of partnerships and program engagement for the Corporation for National and Community Service; Dru Tomlin, director of middle level services for the Association for Middle Level Education; and two 2016 National Honorees: Connor Archer, a freshman at Husson University in Bangor, Maine, and Alisha Zhao, a senior at Lincoln High School in Portland, Ore.
Youth volunteers in grades 5-12 were invited to apply for 2017 Prudential Spirit of Community Awards last fall through schools, Girl Scout councils, county 4-H organizations, American Red Cross chapters, YMCAs and affiliates of the HandsOn Network.
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program was created in 1995 to identify and recognize young people for outstanding volunteer service – and, in so doing, inspire others to volunteer, too. In the past 22 years, the program has honored more than 120,000 young volunteers at the local, state and national level.
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
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Editors: For pictures of the Spirit of Community Awards program logo and medallions, visit https://spirit.prudential.com/resources/media
For B-roll of Vermont's honorees at the 2017 national recognition events, contact Prudential's Harold Banks at (973) 216-4833 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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