RICHMOND, Va., Feb. 7, 2017 /PRNewswire/ -- Lucia Hoerr, 16, of Charlottesville and Shishir Sriramoju, 14, of Ashburn today were named Virginia'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, Lucia and Shishir 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 Virginia's top youth volunteers of 2017:
High School State Honoree: Lucia Hoerr
Nominated by St. Anne's-Belfield School in Charlottesville
Lucia, a junior at St. Anne's-Belfield School, makes it easier for children in need to start the school year off right by giving them new backpacks filled with school supplies. Even as a very young girl, Lucia helped people in need by donating a portion of her allowance to local charities. She wanted to do more, but most volunteer organizations said she wasn't old enough. Then one day seven years ago, when she was shopping for school supplies with her mother, "she told me to be grateful because many kids in our community started each school year without a backpack or school supplies because their family couldn't afford them," said Lucia. "The idea of a peer going into the first day of school unprepared baffled me, and I knew I needed to help."
She called a local Boys and Girls Club to see if the kids there needed backpacks and school supplies. The director said he could use 58 backpacks, so Lucia enlisted the help of family and friends and began working to meet that request. Since that first year, Lucia has invested hundreds of hours in what is now a nonprofit organization called "Backpack Buddies." She has held fundraisers to buy supplies, organized school collection drives, and promoted her efforts through fliers, a website, social media and interviews with the press. Each summer, about 30 volunteers attend a "celebration" to help Lucia pack her backpacks and deliver them. So far, Lucia's project has provided almost 1,500 supply-filled backpacks for kids whose families cannot afford the financial burden of buying school supplies.
Middle Level State Honoree: Shishir Sriramoju
Nominated by Stone Hill Middle School in Ashburn
Shishir, an eighth-grader at Stone Hill Middle School, started a summer chess club to introduce this challenging game to elementary school students, and concurrently raised $1,500 for various charities. A passionate and talented chess player, Shishir was asked by an elementary student "what is so great about chess?" "To this I responded, chess is a game that sharpens the most important organ in our body, the brain," said Shishir. When the boy said he wished he could learn to play, Shishir got the idea to start a club for young kids in his neighborhood to expose them to the pleasures and benefits of chess.
Shishir developed lesson plans, gathered game boards and pieces, and set aside three hours a week over the past two summers to teach students to play chess. One problem he encountered was that every student had a different way of learning and interpreting what was being taught. Shishir said he learned which children simply needed information repeated and which ones needed him to teach at a slower pace. During the second summer of the club, he also found it facilitated learning if he separated the advanced students from the beginners. Through his club, Shishir raised $1,500 for charities such as the World Health Organization, the Red Cross and Children's National Hospital, and for the purchase of additional chessboards for his middle school's chess club.
The program judges also recognized six other Virginia students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are Virginia's Distinguished Finalists for 2017:
Morgan Lewis, 17, of Richmond, Va., a senior at Veritas School, started the annual "Run for Mukhanyo" kids' fundraising run in 2011, where participants aged 4-16 run as many laps as they can in an hour to benefit a school for children in need in South Africa. Wanting to support the school her grandparents helped to establish, Morgan started the Richmond run in seventh grade and drew 40 runners; last year, the run drew 745 young participants in four states.
Meredith Polk, 18, of Richmond, Va., a senior at Maggie L. Walker Governor's School, is the founder and president of "Miles of Scarves," an organization that since 2009 has raised more than $40,000 for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society by assembling young volunteers to knit and sell scarves. Under Meredith's leadership, the group has sponsored a rest stop every year at the Bike MS event, provided scholarships and holiday gifts to families affected by MS, and donated to research projects at a university.
Varanika Sharma, 16, of Virginia Beach, Va., a junior at Ocean Lakes High School, is the founder of "Involve Yourself," a community group that has raised more than $15,000 and volunteered thousands of hours to support causes from premature infant care to helping girls overseas go to school by providing them with free sanitary pads. Varanika, who was born prematurely, was moved to help other babies who had fought to survive, and expanded her service efforts to help others in need through donation drives and other projects.
Sydney Tune, 16, of Fredericksburg, Va., a sophomore at Courtland High School, was motivated by the death of her childhood best friend to raise awareness of pediatric cancer and money for a cure, and started clubs at her middle and high school that have raised more than $26,000 for the cause. Under Sydney's leadership, her clubs have also collected hundreds of toys for children with cancer; she is also involved in lobbying efforts to ensure that laws, policies and budgets adequately address pediatric cancer.
Julie Vranches, 17, of Ruckersville, Va., a junior at United Christian Academy, founded "Teens Pay It Forward," a program that's contributed more than 12,000 volunteer hours and donated $15,000 to charities its young members are passionate about, including the Children's Miracle Network, Relay for Life and United Way. Inspired by the teenage volunteer who comforted her during a childhood hospitalization, Julie established the program in 2013 with a few friends; dozens more have joined them since.
Arianna Wright, 14, of Leesburg, Va., a freshman at Tuscarora High School, played a lead role in reestablishing a car seat safety program in her county, an effort that involved raising $10,000 to buy car seats for families in need and recruit and train car seat safety technicians. Arianna's efforts led to the safe installation of more than 300 car seats, and provided guidance to parents and caregivers, in a county that hadn't had a car seat safety program in nearly a decade.
"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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