WASHINGTON, May 6, 2019 /PRNewswire/ -- Caleb Oh, 14, of Gambrills, Maryland, 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, Caleb has earned the title of National Honoree, along with a personal award of $5,000, an engraved gold medallion, a crystal trophy for his school, and a $5,000 grant from The Prudential Foundation for a nonprofit charitable organization of his choice.
Also honored this week in Washington, D.C., was Alexia Ayuk, 17, of Gaithersburg. Caleb and Alexia were named Maryland'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.
Caleb, 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. For most of his life, Caleb has suffered from debilitating migraine headaches that have sometimes kept him from going to school. During one of his absences, he was lying in bed reading primatologist Jane Goodall's biography and felt motivated to "follow in her inspirational footsteps" to make an impact in the world. At first it wasn't easy. "I could not find my place," said Caleb. "There was a fixed mindset that kids could not help. Most places require you to be at least 18 to volunteer."
So Caleb decided to launch his own initiative, called "Kid Changemakers." He started by recruiting kids from his neighborhood to make bagged lunches for a local homeless shelter, and then partnered with shelters, schools and a local church to conduct food and toiletry drives. During the school year, he spends his weekends collecting and organizing donations at the local food pantry. He collects toiletries and baby supplies for a local women's shelter throughout the year. He clips food coupons for military families living abroad, and fills backpacks with essential items for children who are suddenly pulled from their homes and placed into the foster care system. After Hurricane Harvey devastated parts of Houston, Caleb made public service announcements and coordinated the collection of food, toiletries and school supplies for hard-hit families. In addition, he won a grant that enabled him to pay off school lunch loans so students would not be denied food. Caleb estimates that he has collected more than $60,000 in cash, grants and in-kind donations to benefit others since he started volunteering.
Alexia, a senior at Our Lady of Good Counsel High School, helped form a nonprofit organization that has distributed more than 19,000 books to schools in low-income areas, and to hospitals and shelters, with a goal of providing as many children as possible with a book on their birthdays. An avid reader, Alexia grew up reading nightly bedtime stories to herself and visiting a local library every week, at times "racking up a library card debt so high that I was unable to check out books until I finished paying the fine for keeping them too long," she said. While watching a documentary her freshman year about the limited educational opportunities for children schooled in a large inner-city district, Alexia got to thinking that the only difference between her and those kids was that she had access to ample resources. "A book landing into my hands saved my life in so many ways, and the same could be said for victims of our failing and overtaxed educational systems," Alexia said.
So when she was a sophomore, Alexia and three like-minded friends created a nonprofit organization called "A Book for My Birthday" to address the inequality gap in education. To obtain books, they appealed to family and friends, emailed potential sponsors, handed out fliers in local restaurants and libraries, organized annual book drives and held teach-ins to talk about the perils of illiteracy in disadvantaged schools. They also found a company that would sell them children's books at a discount. After connecting with the principals of several elementary schools, Alexia's team delivered books to their libraries and media centers, suggesting that they be given to kids on their birthdays. And when schools were not in session, they donated books to hospitals and emergency shelters. "By giving students a book, I can hopefully inspire them to remember that once they are handed that powerful tool, the possibilities are endless," said Alexia.
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 Caleb, 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.
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.
Allison Tu, 17, of Louisville, Kentucky, 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.
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.
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.
Editors: For pictures of the Spirit of Community Awards program logo and medallions, visit https://spirit.prudential.com/resources/media
For B-roll of Maryland's honorees at the 2019 national recognition events, contact Prudential's Harold Banks at (973) 216-4833 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
SOURCE Prudential Financial, Inc.