NASHVILLE, Tenn., Feb. 7, 2017 /PRNewswire/ -- Mallory Fundora, 16, of Clarksville and Wills McAdams, 14, of Murfreesboro today were named Tennessee'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, Mallory and Wills 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 Tennessee's top youth volunteers of 2017:
High School State Honoree: Mallory Fundora
Nominated by Rossview High School in Clarksville
Mallory, a junior at Rossview High School, began raising money and gathering supplies for orphans and other vulnerable children in Uganda in 2011, an effort that has since evolved into a nonprofit organization that currently feeds 450 Ugandan children each weekday and pays the school expenses of 138 students. When Mallory got the chance to meet members of a Ugandan orphans' choir touring the U.S. in 2010, she was struck by how happy they were, even though they had so little. She explained that not long after, while working on her Christmas wish list, "I looked around my room and realized there was nothing I needed, but there was so much that children in Africa needed."
At first, Mallory worked to support existing organizations that provide necessities for African children. She held fundraisers, conducted supply drives, wrote a blog, and spoke at events. On a trip to Uganda in 2012, she met with village leaders and visited schools to learn firsthand about the needs of children there. By the following year, Mallory's own organization, called "Project Yesu," was recruiting donors from around the world to sponsor the education of poor children in Uganda, and in 2014 inaugurated a program to provide nutritious breakfasts each weekday. More recently, Mallory partnered with another organization to build a playground in the Ugandan village where she is focusing her efforts.
Middle Level State Honoree: Wills McAdams
Nominated by Central Magnet School in Murfreesboro
Wills, an eighth-grader at Central Middle School, has volunteered at a local Veterans Administration facility twice a week for five hours a day over the past two summers. Wills says he was motivated by his mother, who was always "bugging me, telling me about the pride and respect that comes with volunteering," along with his older brother, who also volunteered for the VA. At first Wills was skeptical about the idea, but "now I am a firm believer that volunteering can change your perspective," he said.
Wills' volunteering took place in the VA's physical therapy department. There, he worked with a physical therapist and nurse to help patients exercise and stretch. He also pushed wheelchairs and cleaned the work environment. "That might not seem like a lot, but when you are doing it over and over, multiple times during the day, it can be hard work," said Wills. He added that soon after, his duties didn't seem like work at all. "Many outsiders see veterans as stereotypical crazy old people who go insane after service. That is not at all the case," he said. "I loved the patients I worked with. They make the work I was doing into fun that I enjoyed."
The program judges also recognized six other Tennessee students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are Tennessee's Distinguished Finalists for 2017:
Rachel Fan, 17, of Memphis, Tenn., a junior at White Station High School, has been volunteering since freshman year for Shelby County Juvenile Court's youth court program, helping to render constructive verdicts for nearly 50 first-time teen offenders while serving in roles from attorney to juror to bailiff. Rachel is typically involved in four cases a month and as a seasoned youth court volunteer, now guides new volunteers through the process.
Ashley Hawkins, 17, of Brentwood, Tenn., a junior at Harpeth Hall School, has been volunteering for almost two years with a swim program for kids and adults with disabilities, working with both advanced swimmers and children just learning how to take advantage of this therapeutic skill. Ashley, who has also served as her grade's service learning leadership council representative for the past three years, got involved with the Nashville Dolphins after signing up for a volunteer opportunity at its statewide Special Olympics swim meet.
Ashlyn Hodges, 17, of Knoxville, Tenn., a senior at Farragut High School, has led her school's Sparkle Squad cheer team for students with disabilities since her sophomore year, preparing for competitions and performances by coaching members, creating routines and acting as a parent liaison. Under her leadership, the squad went from performing at a few games a season to performing alongside the varsity cheer team at every home football and basketball game, and winning awards at regional cheer competitions.
Hannah Kimbro, 18, of Nashville, Tenn., a senior at Father Ryan High School, converted an outdoor patio into a garden at the Rochelle Center for adults with disabilities, to serve as a resource to stimulate the senses and provide a pleasant, productive place for outdoor therapy. Hannah worked with the center's president and therapists to plan the garden, then cleaned out the patio area and worked with family, friends and other students to bring her vision to life.
Zachary Mills, 18, of Jonesborough, Tenn., a senior at David Crockett High School, is a longtime volunteer who has served more than 1,070 hours since starting high school – many of them at a Veterans Affairs medical center, where he helps with routine tasks so staff can focus on patient care. Motivated by the community kindness and good fortune that helped him thrive after being born prematurely, Zachary has also helped to organize blood drives and worked with his robotics team to promote an interest in STEM in younger kids.
Andrew Sweatt, 17, of Memphis, Tenn., a senior at Christian Brothers High School, led a drive that collected 366 crutches, boot walkers and other devices for the international relief organization Samaritan's Purse, to help under-resourced hospitals treat orthopedic injuries. After learning how hard it was to donate his own leg braces following a wrestling injury and how devastating common orthopedic injuries can be in less developed nations, Andrew worked with a local orthopedic clinic and his school, scout troop and church to host brace collections around the community.
"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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