SALT LAKE CITY, Feb. 7, 2017 /PRNewswire/ -- Rebekah Reno, 16, of Orem and Kara Hughes, 13, of Bountiful today were named Utah'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, Rebekah and Kara 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 Utah's top youth volunteers of 2017:
High School State Honoree: Rebekah Reno
Nominated by Freedom Preparatory Academy in Provo
Rebekah, a senior at Freedom Prepatory Academy, mentored five younger girls last summer as a counselor at the Utah Valley University's "LeadHERship" Conference. As an active member of her school's student council, Rebekah was delighted when organizers asked her to participate in the conference, which was designed to empower young girls as they progress in their education. "This was the first year it was offered by UVU; this meant that being part of the first group of counselors, we set a precedent for the coming years of the program," Rebekah said.
She and her fellow counselors attended training sessions the weekend before the weeklong conference. Then she and a partner were placed in charge of five girls, ranging in age from 11 to 13. As a counselor, Rebekah helped the girls through each day's activities and encouraged them to develop their strengths, abilities and talents. At the end of each day, the counselors reviewed with the girls what they had learned, including confidence-building, teamwork, etiquette, and public speaking. On the last day of the conference parents were invited to hear about the progress their daughters had made. "I know that my girls left empowered and excited as they looked forward to entering junior high," she said.
Middle Level State Honoree: Kara Hughes
Nominated by Bountiful Junior High School in Bountiful
Kara, an eighth-grader at Bountiful Junior High School, arranged for a group of musicians and actors with special needs to perform monthly at a local convalescent hospital. For the past two years, Kara has volunteered at a nearby theater with a group that teaches music and acting skills to people with disabilities and then produces two plays a year to showcase their talents. Kara had noticed how much the budding actors loved performing and thought it was a shame they were limited to only two performances a year. Then she had an idea. "There is a convalescent hospital in our community and I knew the patients liked visitors, so I thought this would be the perfect place for them to share their talents and in doing so, serve the patients at the hospital," Kara said.
She met with the director of the theater group to get her permission and then brought her idea to the hospital's recreation specialist. Once she had the go-ahead to begin her "Friend to Friend Outreach," Kara contacted the performers, sent out emails to parents about her plan, scheduled weekly rehearsals, and recruited other coaches to help. Kara said she will never forget a mute woman with Down syndrome who actually started singing out loud during a performance. "To see the smile on her face and the tears on her mom's face was so cool," Kara said. She is currently investigating other performing opportunities for her group.
The program judges also recognized four other Utah students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are Utah's Distinguished Finalists for 2017:
Alyssa Baer, 18, of Holladay, Utah, a senior at Olympus High School, is an active volunteer and service leader with the Be Strong Service Club, where she worked with other club leaders to establish weekly service visits to a school serving adults and children with special needs. As a service leader with the club, Alyssa attends monthly leadership meetings to help create community connections that will provide members with ongoing service opportunities.
Jessica Cox, 18, of Fruit Heights, Utah, a senior at Davis High School, has served with the Fruit Heights Youth City Council since ninth grade, lending a hand with five or six service activities each year including city cleanup and an annual Easter egg hunt. Jessica, who was elected mayor for her senior year, has also served as the youth group's recorder and secretary, and has participated in leadership conferences and retreats to learn how to better serve the city.
Emma Ebert, 17, of North Salt Lake, Utah, a senior at Woods Cross High School, serves as youth mayor of the North Salt Lake City Youth City Council, planning and participating in a variety of activities serving her community. Emma, who joined the group in 2014, has attended weekly meetings in addition to outside activities including food drives and emergency preparedness fairs, and has worked to help other council members use their talents in service to the community.
Jensen Hughes, 17, of Elwood, Utah, a senior at Bear River High School, brightens the lives of the residents of a local care center by singing to them for an hour or two every Sunday, along with a group of other volunteers. Jensen, the group's longest-serving volunteer, has recruited members to replace those who have moved or gone off to college over the years, to help bring music and conversation to the care center's residents and their families.
"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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SOURCE Prudential Insurance