WASHINGTON, May 8, 2017 /PRNewswire/ -- Montana's top two youth volunteers of 2017, Sophia Skwarchuk, 18, of Kalispell and Hannah Halvorson, 13, of Laurel, 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. Sophia and Hannah – 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 Sophia and Hannah Montana'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.
Sophia, a senior at Flathead High School, created "MontanaEats," a smartphone application she spent months coding to give low-income people easy access to information about all of the food pantries, food banks and emergency assistance resources in Montana. As a member of the Governor's Youth Leadership Council for Childhood Hunger, Sophia learned that her city had the highest rate of homelessness and food insecurity in the entire state. But knowing where to go for help was often a challenge for those who needed it. Sophia decided she could make things easier for them by building a comprehensive database that could be accessed through an app on Android phones. "In this technological age, we are all used to having information at the tips of our fingers," she said. "Why should the resources we target towards solving community issues be any different?"
With an interest in application coding but no expertise, Sophia read every book she could find on the subject. Once she learned what she needed to know, she spent three months creating an application called "MontanaEats." She decided to code the app for the Android operating system because it's more common on the less expensive phones that low-income people are more likely to have. The free app, available on Google Play, has been endorsed by Montana's governor and is now being used by food agencies throughout Montana to assist their clientele. In the future, Sophia plans to include information from other states in her app, and develop a version for Apple iPhones.
Hannah, an eighth-grader at Laurel Middle School, has volunteered at a local nursing home for the past two summers, brightening the days of its 48 residents, many of whom don't have family members nearby to visit them. Hannah said she decided she wanted to make a difference after observing that there weren't many volunteers at the nursing home. "I know there are a lot of charities out there, but let's not forget about our senior citizens," Hannah said.
As a nursing home volunteer, Hannah's duties included reading to residents, helping with craft projects, assisting with music and exercise classes, and giving manicures. She has also purchased gifts for every resident by making and selling bookmarks. An important part of her job, she said, was just spending time on a one-on- one basis with many of the residents. She was amazed to hear them speak about things they had done in their lives, such as serving in World War II. Hannah said she hopes to continue volunteering at the nursing home and is encouraging her classmates to think about volunteering in the community. "Doing a simple act of kindness like opening the door for someone makes people have a better day and makes them want to help someone in return," she said.
"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 Montana'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