WASHINGTON, May 6, 2019 /PRNewswire/ -- Allison Tu, 17, of Louisville, Kentucky, was named one of America's top 10 youth volunteers of 2019 today by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards during the program's 24th annual national award ceremony at Union Station's East Hall. Selected from a field of more than 29,000 youth volunteers from across the country, Allison has earned the title of National Honoree, along with a personal award of $5,000, an engraved gold medallion, a crystal trophy for her school, and a $5,000 grant from The Prudential Foundation for a nonprofit charitable organization of her choice.
Also honored this week in Washington, D.C., was Annemarie Fuerst, 14, of Covington. Allison and Annemarie were named Kentucky's top youth volunteers in February, and were officially recognized last night at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History along with the top two youth volunteers in each other state and the District of Columbia. At that event, each of the 102 State Honorees for 2019 received $1,000 awards as well as personal congratulations from award-winning actress Viola Davis. The honorees each also received engraved silver medallions and all-expense-paid trips with a parent to Washington, D.C., for this week's recognition events.
Allison, a senior at duPont Manual High School, launched a youth-driven initiative to raise awareness of student mental health issues and find ways to combat the alarmingly high rates of depression, anxiety and suicide among young people in Kentucky. When she was in middle school, Allison didn't have to look hard to see classmates struggling with sadness and stress, many who turned to substance abuse. "But none were getting help," she said. "After two students I knew took their own lives, I'd had enough of watching my friends and peers suffer alone."
Allison began posting ideas on her bedroom walls and then consulted with a broad range of teachers, advisors and peers to devise a multiphase plan to improve mental health programs and services for young people in her state. Next, she formed an organization called "StAMINA" (Student Alliance for Mental Health Innovation and Action); sought support from student leaders throughout Kentucky as well as key adults in government, healthcare and education; and obtained more than $100,000 in grants to fund her new initiative. One of StAMINA's first steps was to assemble rural and urban focus groups to gain student and parent perspectives on mental health needs. Allison's group also has sponsored three youth summits to discuss pertinent issues and train youth advocates, and a "Youth Mental Health Ideathon" at which 50 students, parents and mental health professionals brainstormed program ideas. Three ideas from that event are now being developed: a podcast, adult-youth conversation cards and a mental health app. In addition, Allison has spoken about her organization at conferences around the country, and is now lobbying her state legislature on behalf of a bill that would increase the number of mental health professionals in schools.
Annemarie, a member of Girl Scouts of Kentucky's Wilderness Road and an eighth-grader at Guardian Angels Academy at Stonebridge, worked with her Girl Scout troop to restore a dilapidated arts and crafts barn at a scout camp. "We loved camping there and decided we wanted to return to it at least once a year," said Annemarie of Camp Cardinal, a Girl Scout camp two hours from her home. She and her peers wanted to do something for the camp, so they talked to its caretakers about ways they could help. When Annemarie heard that the arts and crafts barn was in dire need of repair, she wanted to pitch in. "I love many kinds of art," she said. "So this was a good match for me."
To begin the project, Annemarie and her fellow scouts set a list of goals, then prepared a PowerPoint slideshow to present their ideas to scout officials and troop leaders. After they obtained approval, the girls got their first look inside the barn in November 2017. "It was quite a mess," said Annemarie. The building was covered with graffiti and filled with old mattresses and a broken kiln. The art tables were covered with paint, marker ink and glitter, and the chairs were rusted and had been chewed by rodents. The team moved items to storage, organized supplies, built a shelf and scrubbed. After Annemarie asked her neighbors to donate paint and painting supplies, she and the others went back and covered the graffiti with fresh paint. Then she set out to restore the tables so that future scouts would be able to create their art on a clean surface. "The difference from before and after was amazing!" Annemarie said. An added benefit was that during the project, the girls uncovered paintings that Girl Scouts from as far back as the 1960s had created. They displayed the artwork in hopes that "they inspire current scouts," she said.
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards is a national youth recognition program sponsored by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).
"We're impressed and inspired by the way these honorees have identified problems facing their communities and stepped up to the challenge to make a difference," said Charles Lowrey, chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial, Inc. "It's a privilege to celebrate their leadership and compassion, and we look forward to seeing the great things they accomplish in the future."
"These students have not only done important work in support of people in need – they've also shown their peers that young people can, and do, create meaningful change," said Christine Handy, president of NASSP. "We commend each of these young volunteers for all they've contributed to their communities."
In addition to Allison, these are the other 2019 National Honorees:
Grace Beal, 17, of New Castle, Pennsylvania, a junior at Neshannock Senior High School, organized an annual basketball-based fundraising event that has raised more than $100,000 since 2014 for Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, where her sister was treated before she died of congenital heart failure.
Aja Capel, 15, of Urbana, Illinois, a member of Champaign County 4-H and a junior at Urbana High School, serves as the lead robotics instructor at a local science museum and has launched an initiative to give minority students more opportunities to learn about science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
Alexander Fultz, 13, of Pineville, North Carolina, an eighth-grader at Metrolina Regional Scholars Academy, created a nonprofit organization that has donated thousands of toys and clothing items to hospitals in several states to brighten the days of hospitalized patients.
Samaia A. Goodrich, 11, of Syracuse, New York, a sixth-grader at Expeditionary Learning Middle School, organizes projects in her community to encourage inner-city youth to make a difference, including an effort to raise money to buy Christmas presents, clothes and household goods for families who moved from Puerto Rico to Syracuse after Hurricane Maria devastated their homeland.
Hannah Karanick, 13, of Anaheim, California, an eighth-grader at Orangeview Junior High School, established a "closet" at her former elementary school that provides new clothing, laundry products, toiletries, quilts and school supplies to students there whose families can't afford to buy such necessities.
Caleb Oh, 14, of Gambrills, Maryland, an eighth-grader at Crofton Middle School, has spent more than 1,000 hours volunteering in many ways over the past seven years to aid people who are homeless, hungry or have other needs.
Caragan Olles, 16, of De Pere, Wisconsin, a junior at Notre Dame Academy, co-founded a nonprofit organization in 2013 that has raised more than $160,000 to provide special tutoring for students with dyslexia, create dyslexia resource centers in three public library systems, and educate teachers and parents about this learning disability.
Vance Tomasi, 13, of Tampa, Florida, a seventh-grader at Farnell Middle School, has worked with a friend to collect and donate more than 90,000 books to families, schools, group homes, hospitals and libraries over the past two years.
Joseph Voynik, 17, of Flowood, Mississippi, a senior at Jackson Preparatory School, worked for four years and raised more than $600,000 to construct a fully accessible baseball field so that children with disabilities could experience the joy of playing America's national pastime.
The distinguished selection committee that chose the National Honorees was chaired by Lowrey and included Handy of NASSP; Andrea Bastiani Archibald, chief girl and family engagement officer for Girl Scouts of the USA; Heidi Brasher, senior director of product line cohorts, strategy and innovation at YMCA of the USA; Brian Coleman, department chair for the Jones College Prep counseling team in Chicago, Illinois and the American School Counselor Association's 2019 National School Counselor of the Year; Larissa Hatch, national youth engagement associate with the American Red Cross; Natalye Paquin, president and chief executive officer of Points of Light; Tony Shivers, a member representative with the National PTA Board of Directors; Rhonda Taylor, director of partnerships and program engagement for the Corporation for National and Community Service; Will Waidelich, executive director of the Association for Middle Level Education (AMLE); and two 2018 National Honorees: Michelle Qin, a senior at Dos Pueblos High School in Santa Barbara, California, and Helena Zimmerman, a senior at Rye Country Day School in Rye, New York.
Youth volunteers in grades 5-12 were invited to apply for 2019 Prudential Spirit of Community Awards last fall through schools, Girl Scout councils, county 4-H organizations, American Red Cross chapters, YMCAs and affiliates of Points of Light's HandsOn Network.
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 24 years, the program has honored more than 125,000 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 principals and other school leaders across the United States. NASSP seeks to transform education through school leadership, recognizing that the fulfillment of each student's potential relies on great leaders in every school committed to the success of each student. 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 Student Council. Learn more at www.nassp.org.
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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 Kentucky's honorees at the 2019 national recognition events, contact Prudential's Harold Banks at (973) 216-4833 or email@example.com.
SOURCE Prudential Financial, Inc.