CHARLESTON, W.Va., Feb. 7, 2017 /PRNewswire/ -- Elena Polinski, 16, of Moundsville and Mallory Marks, 11, of Mineral Wells today were named West 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, Elena and Mallory 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 West Virginia's top youth volunteers of 2017:
High School State Honoree: Elena Polinski
Nominated by YMCA of Wheeling West Virginia in Wheeling
Elena, a junior at John Marshall High School, initiated a music instruction and therapy program for people with special needs. In 2015, while volunteering at a prom-like event for teens with special needs, Elena was asked to play guitar and sing to a group of kids. "We had an immediate connection," she said. "I witnessed firsthand what a deep effect music had on them. After this experience, I knew I had to pursue the concept of music as a source of therapy for the special needs community."
Elena researched the topic in books, on the Internet, and by talking to parents of children with disabilities. She then got approval to start a "Miracle of Music" program for The Miracle League of the Ohio Valley and handed out pamphlets about the classes she wanted to teach. Her classes filled up in no time. She began by teaching 10 students basic guitar chords and strumming in one-on-one sessions, and quickly discovered that she needed to tailor her lessons to the individual needs of each pupil. "The littlest accomplishments led to big smiles, which made it all worthwhile," said Elena. "It's not what the children learned that amazes me," she continued. "Rather, it is the impact that each of them has had on my life."
Middle Level State Honoree: Mallory Marks
Nominated by Wood County 4-H in Parkersburg
Mallory, a sixth-grader at Edison Junior High School, collected hygiene and other items to make holiday gift bags for teens and adults with developmental disabilities. At a meeting of her 4-H club, Mallory heard about a "Secret Christmas Program" operated by The Arc, a nonprofit organization that provides services to teens and adults with intellectual, cognitive or other developmental disabilities. "I decided to get involved because I felt that many give to younger kids, but older kids and adults also need to get gifts," she said.
Mallory made a flier appealing for donations, and handed out copies at her school and church. She also asked friends, relatives and her 4-H club to help, and posted information about her drive on Facebook. "We collected a lot of things," she said, including soap, shampoo, toothpaste, razors, deodorant and hair brushes. After Mallory delivered her items to The Arc, she signed up for the organization's "Secret Shopper Program," and went shopping for items on clients' wish lists. "I really felt good knowing that we helped so many individuals who often get overlooked at the holidays," she said. Mallory also asked friends on her birthday to bring items for a homeless shelter instead of gifts for her.
The program judges also recognized two other West Virginia students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are West Virginia's Distinguished Finalists for 2017:
Lydia Freeman, 18, of Barboursville, W.Va., a senior at Cabell Midland High School, has played a key role in helping the community through the ministry her mother started, providing food and support to prostitutes and children in need. Lydia, who has developed relationships with those served by the ministry and has led a vacation Bible school for the children, now aspires to a career in child protective services.
Brooke Welch, 16, of Scott Depot, W.Va., a member of the Putnam County 4-H and a sophomore at Hurricane High School, started a no-cost 4-H clothing exchange, diverting unwanted clothes and other items from landfills by helping them find new owners. Inspired to take on a conservation project by a youth environmental conference, Brooke has spent many hours promoting, preparing for and conducting the exchanges, where hundreds of people have found items they can use.
"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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