WASHINGTON, May 8, 2017 /PRNewswire/ -- Maryland's top two youth volunteers of 2017, Lena Goldstein, 17, of Arnold and Michaela West, 11, of Beltsville, were honored in the nation's capital last night for their outstanding volunteer service during the 22nd annual presentation of The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. Lena and Michaela – along with 100 other top youth volunteers from across the country – each received $1,000 awards and personal congratulations from Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps at an award ceremony and gala dinner reception held at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History.
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program, sponsored by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), named Lena and Michaela Maryland's top high school and middle level youth volunteers in February. In addition to their cash awards, they each received an engraved silver medallion and an all-expense-paid trip with a parent to Washington, D.C., for four days of recognition events.
Lena, a junior at McDonogh School in Owings Mills, took last year off from school to travel with her physician parents to remote areas of South America and Asia, where she worked with nonprofit organizations to provide medical services to people who would otherwise have little access to basic healthcare. Lena's interest in volunteering began many years ago when she raised money by selling bracelets to purchase mosquito nets for children in Africa. "This effort opened my eyes to the widespread healthcare disparities that unfortunately impact a huge population worldwide," she said.
After she arranged to take high school courses online, Lena traveled first to Ecuador and Peru, then to Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. In remote villages, she helped measure patients' blood pressure, height, weight and pulse; assisted in filling prescriptions; and distributed vitamins. She also helped screen women for cervical cancer, and taught geography and basic hygiene care to children. Fluent in Spanish, Lena's role as a translator for doctors was particularly important in South America. Since then, Lena has volunteered on a healthcare mission to the Dominican Republic, and founded a group at her school to facilitate discussions of global healthcare issues and organize drives to collect hygiene and health supplies for future medical service trips abroad.
Michaela, a fifth-grader at Saint Joseph's Regional Catholic School, formed a club at her school that assembles and delivers basic necessities wrapped in blankets or sleeping bags to the homeless people of Baltimore and Washington, D.C. Since Michaela was very young, the plight of homeless people has moved her. "I would see people on the corner asking for food or money and I would get pangs in my stomach," she said. "I always begged my mom to give." One year Michaela asked friends and family to give her money instead of gifts for her birthday, and then used that money, in addition to funds from a grant, to make bundles containing clothing, food, water, toiletries and tarps for the homeless, all tied up with a bow.
This made Michaela feel so good that she decided to start a "Bundles of Love Club" at her school. She created a fundraising webpage, distributed fliers describing her project, applied for grants, and sought donations from family members, friends and her church and school. To date, Michaela has delivered 168 of her "love bundles," aided by more than 240 volunteers that she rallied to her cause. Sometimes she encounters skeptics who say the homeless don't really want help and she's wasting her time. "Everyone deserves love and kindness," she responds. "I want them to know that they are not forgotten."
"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."
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. More than 31,000 middle level and high school students nationwide participated in this year's program.
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
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.
Editors: For pictures of the Spirit of Community Awards program logo and medallions, visit https://spirit.prudential.com/resources/media.
For B-roll of Maryland'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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SOURCE Prudential Insurance