AUSTIN, Texas, Feb. 7, 2017 /PRNewswire/ -- Ryan Almusawi, 17, of Fort Worth and Micah Pinson, 12, of Shady Shores today were named Texas' 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, Ryan and Micah 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 Texas' top youth volunteers of 2017:
High School State Honoree: Ryan Almusawi
Nominated by Saginaw High School in Saginaw
Ryan, a junior at Saginaw High School, is the president and CEO of "Charitable Crusaders Inc.," a nonprofit organization of high school students who work on a variety of service projects that benefit families in need. When he was a sixth grader, Ryan and a small group of classmates made a pact to do some good. They came together to host small community projects, beginning with a toy drive for young patients at Cook Children's Medical Center. As the group grew and gained experience under Ryan's leadership, it established a board of directors, filed for nonprofit status, and planned increasingly ambitious endeavors.
Charitable Crusaders volunteers give backpacks stuffed with school supplies to children in need during an annual "Back to School" event. In December 2015, they rushed to nearby Garland, Texas, to help families recover from a tornado that struck the day after Christmas. When a local boy was struck and killed by a car, Ryan and his crew held a bake sale to raise money for the boy's family. Currently, Charitable Crusaders is working to implement an after-school youth mentoring program at several local schools. "Philanthropy is an avenue that brings people from all races, cultures and backgrounds together for one common purpose: helping others," said Ryan.
Middle Level State Honoree: Micah Pinson
Nominated by Corinth Classical Academy in Corinth
Micah, a seventh-grader at Corinth Classical Academy, has conducted an annual holiday toy drive over the past five years that has gathered more than 15,000 toys and games for patients at Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children as a way of giving back to the hospital for the free care he received there. Micah was born with a left hand that was missing three and a half fingers, but now, after two surgeries at Scottish Rite, "there is almost nothing I can't do," he said. The hospital not only treated Micah's hand, but also hosted a "hand camp" where Micah could meet other kids and counselors with hand differences and realize that he was not alone.
Grateful for all the hospital had done, Micah and his father met with an officer there to find out how they could help Scottish Rite. That's when Micah decided to collect toys that the hospital could give to its patients throughout the year. So now, every year between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Micah and his family knock on doors and place collection boxes at businesses and other community locations, often with the help of local high school students and other volunteers. A few days before Christmas, Micah gathers all of the items that have been donated and delivers them to the hospital. "There are many ways to give back to causes that are important to you," said Micah. "I am thankful for the opportunity to support Texas Scottish Rite Hospital."
The program judges also recognized ten other Texas students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are Texas' Distinguished Finalists for 2017:
Chowdhury Bari, 19, of Grand Prairie, Texas, a senior at Lamar High School, partnered with his friend to start the "HelpMate Foundation," providing essential items from the United States to people in need in Bangladesh. Inspired by the service of his father, who helped many people as a brigadier general in the Bangladesh army, Chowdhury works with business owners to offer support to those in need with a focus on child laborers, and has provided education, clothing, food and health care to people in many communities.
Anna Connolly, 18, of Dallas, Texas, a member of Girl Scouts of Northeast Texas and a senior at Pearce High School, has reached more than 13,000 people in North Texas with "Clean Hands, Healthy People," a public health campaign she created to raise awareness about proper handwashing techniques and the spread of germs. Anna solicited advice from two doctors and a community educator to develop campaign materials and plan her approach, and worked with 65 student volunteers to help carry out her plan.
Kaitlyn Ecoff, 17, of Bulverde, Texas, a senior at Smithson Valley High School, is the founder and director of a mobile clothes closet providing seasonally-appropriate clothing to families in need. Kaitlyn, who previously volunteered with a nonprofit that offered clothes and counseling to those in need, wanted to help fill the gap when that organization closed; she now coordinates clothing drives, recruits volunteers to sort donations, and determines the needs of recipient families.
Sabrina Epstein, 17, of San Antonio, Texas, a senior at Ronald Reagan High School, is the founder and executive director of "Artful Start," an art program for children with special needs that has provided a creative outlet to hundreds of participants in the San Antonio area. In addition to hosting events ranging from family art days to sensory-friendly museum hours, Sabrina's program works to educate its high school volunteers about the value of people with special needs.
Henry Hernandez, 18, of Irving, Texas, a senior at Macarthur High School, has helped to provide more than 100 homeless people with food and support through the outreach and collection program he established in 2014. After witnessing abject poverty so close to the city, Henry was moved to help; he then worked with his parents, local businesses, his youth pastor and youth group to launch "Project Sheltering Jesus."
Lauren Holtkamp, 17, of Conroe, Texas, a member of Montgomery County 4-H and a senior at Conroe High School, organized "The Special Angels Rodeo," an event that provided children with special needs and their families a fun day with activities including games and a petting zoo. To start a local rodeo like the one her cousin had enjoyed in another town, Lauren solicited donations and worked with her 4-H club to stage the event; she also contacted every special education department leader in the county to recruit contestants.
Elijah Johns, 18, of San Antonio, Texas, a senior at Johnson High School, has conducted a free basketball camp for the past three years to provide kids in need with the same kind of camp experience he's enjoyed. After securing donations of facilities, drinks, snacks and equipment, Elijah and his volunteers have run weeklong camps for kids aged 7-13, teaching the campers about the fundamentals of basketball, the importance of school and healthy living.
Daniel Kurtenbach, 17, of Duncanville, Texas, a member of Dallas County 4-H and a junior at South Grand Prairie High School, helped to establish a donation drive that has gathered significant donations of shoes and athletic equipment over the past eight years for children in need in the United States and around the world. Daniel also played a key role in a 2015 effort that raised more than $50,000 in money and in-kind donations to renovate the playground at a local middle school.
Carissa Mallory, 17, of Austin, Texas, a senior at Vandegrift High School, is the founder of the "Reading Around the World Literacy Initiative (RAWLI)," a charity that in the past three years has provided schools in Tanzania with resources including more than 12,000 books, 350 desks and chairs and an educational game to help Swahili-speaking students learn English. Carissa began her initiative after learning that English language skills often proved to be a barrier to pursuing a high school education in Tanzania.
Eesha Nayak, 15, of Austin, Texas, a member of Girl Scouts of Central Texas and a sophomore at Westwood High School, used her video production skills to help train volunteers and raise more than $10,000 for the Volunteer Healthcare Clinic, an organization that provides free healthcare services to the uninsured working poor. Eesha, who has volunteered with the clinic for two years, created a series of volunteer orientation videos for the clinic, in addition to promotional videos that have helped the clinic raise money.
"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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