WASHINGTON, May 8, 2017 /PRNewswire/ -- Oregon's top two youth volunteers of 2017, Leah Burian, 16, of Portland and Carlie Steele, 12, of Amity, 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. Leah and Carlie – 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 Leah and Carlie Oregon'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.
Leah, a junior at Lincoln High School, played a leading role in a project to convert an existing bathroom at her school into a multi-stall, gender-neutral lavatory, the first to open in an Oregon school and one of only a handful in the nation. When her school's Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA) announced plans to convert the restroom, Leah got involved early on by making presentations to physical education and health classes about gender diversity. "I was driven by the opportunity to educate people on the issue and create a more accepting and supportive school community," Leah said.
After the school district approved the project, Leah educated parents, staff and the student body about the need for a gender-neutral bathroom by making speeches, writing a press release, and planning an all-school assembly. Converting the restroom was only part of the overall plan, Leah said. Providing a working model for other schools to use and creating a welcome environment for every student were also project goals. The project was controversial, Leah acknowledged, and her group did have to "deal with discrimination and negative reactions." But in the end they prevailed, and last November the new bathroom opened. "Every time trans/GNC [gender nonconforming] students walk by this bathroom, they will be reminded that they are accepted and valued at Lincoln," she said.
Carlie, a seventh-grader at Amity Middle School, undertook three community service projects to make the world a better place through what she calls her "Carlie's Kindness Campaign." Three years ago, Carlie and her parents were watching a telethon for the Children's Cancer Association. "Hearing the stories of kids my age fighting cancer made me really sad," Carlie said. "I thought that having something fun to play with would make their days a little happier."
She decided to conduct a toy drive. With her mother's help, Carlie set up a Facebook page to announce her effort and was amazed when people from all over the country donated toys, games and even money. Her drive yielded more than $2,000 worth of toys and games for children undergoing chemotherapy. Later that year, Carlie collected enough Christmas cards, toiletry items, card games and DVDs to send 18 large boxes to troops serving abroad. Her most recent project came about when she heard children with disabilities being called derogatory names. Even though she was "so nervous," Carlie organized student assemblies at her school and her town's high school to promote respect for others. She also sold T-shirts that carried her message, and asked students to sign banners pledging not to use the word "retarded."
"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
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Editors: For pictures of the Spirit of Community Awards program logo and medallions, visit https://spirit.prudential.com/resources/media.
For B-roll of Oregon'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