MONTPELIER, Vt., Feb. 7, 2017 /PRNewswire/ -- Gabrielle Metz, 17, of St. Albans and Riley Callen, 14, of Pawlet today were named Vermont'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, Gabrielle and Riley 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 Vermont's top youth volunteers of 2017:
High School State Honoree: Gabrielle Metz
Nominated by Bellows Free Academy in St. Albans
Gabrielle, a senior at Bellows Free Academy, helps people with disabilities compete in five sports throughout the year through the Unified Sports Program of Special Olympics Vermont. When her teacher suggested that she would excel at working with Special Olympics athletes, Gabrielle agreed to give it a try, but she was nervous. "I had no experience at all and I doubted the role I could play," she said. But she was also excited by the prospect of exploring a new opportunity to serve others, something she had been doing in different ways for many years.
It turned out her teacher was right: Gabrielle found that she was well-suited to be a Unified Sports "partner." In this role, she serves as a leader, coach and friend to Special Olympic athletes, encouraging, supporting and guiding them as they compete in soccer, floor hockey, basketball, snowshoeing and bocce. "When I play with the athletes during practices and tournaments, I get back so much more than I give," said Gabrielle. "I love to see them compete and realize their potential, to feel the joy that sports can bring." Gabrielle also has personally secured grants to buy brand new equipment to replace the donated and borrowed sports gear the teams had been using.
Middle Level State Honoree: Riley Callen
Nominated by The Dorset School in Dorset
Riley, an eighth-grader at Dorset Elementary School, founded an annual "hike-a-thon" in the hills of Vermont that has raised more than $250,000 to help find a cure for brain tumors, like the ones that have affected her since she was 8 years old. It took two major surgeries to remove the first benign tumor in Riley's brainstem, and another to extract a second tumor three years later. While recovering in the hospital, Riley told her mother she wanted to focus not on her own problems, but on how she could turn her experience into something positive. "I wanted to help find a cure, not just for myself, but for everyone out there like me," she said.
Because hiking is particularly popular in Vermont, Riley, along with her mother and a former babysitter who also had a brain tumor, decided to stage a hike-a-thon to raise money for tumor research. They spent the summer planning the event, asked relatives and friends to help, set up a website to publicize the fundraiser and sold raffle tickets for a "basket bonanza." More than 500 people came to the first "Be Brave for Life" hike-a-thon, which raised over $100,000. The following year, a scavenger hunt, silent auction, and live music were added to the event, and $150,000 more was raised to support research programs at hospitals in Boston and Phoenix. "It makes me feel good to be a part of something that is bigger than just me," said Riley.
The program judges also recognized two other Vermont students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are Vermont's Distinguished Finalists for 2017:
Victoria Reed, 12, of Alburgh, Vt., a seventh-grader at Alburgh Community Education Center, leads a fundraising team for the University of Vermont Children's Hospital helping to raise more than $95,000 to support other young patients at the hospital that's helped her during a series of surgeries after being born with a cleft lip and palate. "Team Victoria" raises funds through events including golf tournaments and spaghetti dinners; she also collects donations at church and sets up collection canisters around town.
Maria Wiles, 18, of Brandon, Vt., a member of Girl Scouts of the Green and White Mountains and a senior at Middlebury Union High School, is an active volunteer who led an effort to construct and furnish a learning center in her church hall's basement. Maria also held a book drive that collected 700 books for children from low-income families and created a website that highlights volunteer opportunities for young people.
"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