PIERRE, S.D., Feb. 7, 2017 /PRNewswire/ -- Anneliese Taggart, 16, of Vermillion and Donnie Stoltz, 13, of Sioux Falls today were named South Dakota'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, Anneliese and Donnie 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 South Dakota's top youth volunteers of 2017:
High School State Honoree: Anneliese Taggart
Nominated by Vermillion High School in Vermillion
Anneliese, a junior at Vermillion High School, started a free gymnastics class for children with special needs in her community. Anneliese had been a gymnast for 10 years and a gymnastics instructor for the Vermillion Parks & Recreation Department since 2014 when her cousin, who has Down syndrome, came to visit her at work one day. He immediately wanted to try what he saw her students doing, and soon mastered a forward roll. "I will never forget that day," said Anneliese. "He opened my eyes to the joy that children with special needs experience in the gymnastics room."
She immediately felt a calling to spread that joy. She met with special education teachers at local elementary schools to discuss the idea of a special gymnastics class, developed a plan and schedule for the class, and sent letters to the parents of every special ed student in her school district. Anneliese was a little disappointed when only three kids signed up, but over the next two months she found working with those children to be richly rewarding. "Each child grew not only in gymnastics skills, but into a stronger, more confident person," she said. Since then, Anneliese has conducted additional sessions of her class, and believes it will be a part of the Vermillion Parks & Recreation gymnastics program for a long time.
Middle Level State Honoree: Donnie Stoltz
Nominated by Patrick Henry Middle School in Sioux Falls
Donnie, a seventh-grader at Patrick Henry Middle School, has collected sports equipment for more than 100 children in need, and undertaken a variety of other volunteer projects to help those who are struggling in his community. When he was just 8 years old, Donnie saw a TV news story about a man who gave small amounts of money to strangers who needed help. "I thought that was really cool," said Donnie, "so I turned to my mom and said 'We should do that, too.'"
Since then, Donnie has recruited friends to help him pack meals for hungry kids, collect clothes for a domestic abuse shelter, provide toys and books to homeless children, gather Halloween costumes for Native American youngsters, and raise money to rebuild a burned playground. But his biggest endeavor is an ongoing drive to collect gently-used athletic shoes and sports equipment for kids whose families cannot afford to buy them. Donnie holds two collection events a year, and solicits donations through a Facebook page. He then distributes his sporting goods directly to kids and through local charities. "I think it's important so that kids can be active and healthy, and so that they can make more friends through sports," he said.
The program judges also recognized two other South Dakota students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are South Dakota's Distinguished Finalists for 2017:
Rachel Rucker, 18, of Yankton, S.D., a senior at Yankton High School, volunteered on a research team at a local university, conducting experiments and testing theories with the goal of helping people manage pain by learning how to block pain receptors. Rachel, a science enthusiast, partnered with a mentor, learned the ins and outs of the lab and its processes, and worked primarily experimenting and logging results about mutating DNA.
Chelsea Warren, 18, of Rapid City S.D., a senior at Stevens High School, volunteers about six hours a week with the Black Hills Raptor Center, helping the organization educate the public about birds of prey and care for those that can't be released back into the wild due to injury. Chelsea handles the birds during educational presentations, helps clean the facility, and assists in caring for and rescuing injured birds.
"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