SACRAMENTO, Calif., May 4, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- California's top two youth volunteers of 2020, Hollis Belger, 15, of Larkspur and Michaela Auyeung, 13, of Los Gatos, were recognized this weekend for their outstanding volunteer service during the 25th annual, and first-ever virtual, Prudential Spirit of Community Awards national recognition celebration.
In recognition of the spirit of service that they have demonstrated in their communities, Hollis and Michaela – along with 100 other top youth volunteers from across the country – were also each given $2,500 to donate toward the local COVID-19 response efforts of a nonprofit organization of their choice. These funds come in addition to the $1,000 scholarship and engraved silver medallion they earned as California's top youth volunteers of 2020.
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program, sponsored by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), named Hollis and Michaela California's top high school and middle level youth volunteers in February.
"Over the past 25 years, this program has honored students spanning three generations, and the common thread between them has been the determination of young people to respond to the challenges of the moment," said Charles Lowrey, chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial. "Who better than this group of young leaders from all over the country to help identify and direct resources to community needs arising from COVID-19?"
As State Honorees, Hollis and Michaela also earned an all-expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C. for the program's annual national recognition events; the trip, however, was canceled due to COVID-19 and changed to a three-day online celebration this past weekend. In addition to remarks and congratulations from actress Kristen Bell, honorees had opportunities to connect with each other through online project-sharing sessions, learn about service and advocacy from accomplished past Spirit of Community honorees, hear congratulatory remarks from Lowrey and NASSP Executive Director and CEO JoAnn Bartoletti, and more.
"We admire these young leaders for their ability to assess the needs of the communities they serve and find meaningful ways to address them," said Bartoletti. "At a time when everyone is looking for optimism, these students are a bright light for their peers and the adults in their lives."
About the Honorees
Hollis (pictured left), a sophomore at Redwood High School, has raised more than $400,000 for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital over the past six years through a multifaceted fundraising campaign that revolves around soccer-ball juggling. When Hollis was 8 years old, she started playing competitive soccer and discovered she was pretty good at juggling the ball with her feet. When she was able to juggle the ball 100 times in a row, her mother suggested she spend the summer juggling to raise money for a cause. "She told me about St. Jude and the compassionate and lifesaving care provided to patients and their families, all free of charge," said Hollis.
Hollis started using her juggling to solicit pledges and donations from friends and family members, wrote blogs that her mother posted online, arranged media interviews, and told everyone she met about childhood cancer and St. Jude. She raised $35,000 that first summer. Six years later, Hollis is still raising money and awareness. She emails donors, creates online newsletters, gives juggling clinics and private lessons, and attends St. Jude special events. She also works with corporate sponsors, sells customized soccer balls at soccer games, juggles at charity golf tournaments, and speaks to school groups around the country, inspiring other young people to give back. Hollis especially enjoys meeting young St. Jude patients and their families. "That always inspires me to keep going," said Hollis. "Nothing is more important than saving the life of a child, and nothing is more rewarding than helping doctors do that."
Michaela (pictured right), an eighth-grader at Raymond J. Fisher Middle School, conducts free art classes and other activities to help young people place less importance on social media. She started working on this after seeing how social media was making her friends unhappy and harming their self-esteem. "Much of their happiness was based on how many likes, follows or comments they got," she said. "They look to social media for approval and attention," and if they don't get it, "they are miserable and depressed." This can be a particular challenge for children in need who lack supervision or affordable after-school opportunities, said Michaela. What was needed, she felt, was a program that "helps youth celebrate their uniqueness and true identities both online and offline."
Michaela began by hosting coloring parties using stories that she wrote and coloring pages that she illustrated. She then started conducting after-school art and mentoring programs and giving motivational speeches at schools. She also produced two inspirational coloring storybooks and distributed more than 2,000 copies both locally and internationally. In addition, Michaela has collaborated with several organizations to spread awareness of the effects of social media on young people's mental health. She estimates that her efforts have impacted more than 2,000 children and teens so far, helping them to focus on off-screen activities, providing them with alternative outlets for creative expression, and encouraging them to be genuine and take pride in who they really are.
About The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards
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 25 years, the program has honored more than 130,000 young volunteers at the local, state and national level.
For more information about The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards and this year's honorees, visit http://spirit.prudential.com. For more information about the National Association of Secondary School Principals, visit www.nassp.org. For more information about Prudential Financial, visit www.news.prudential.com.
Learn more at spirit.prudential.com
SOURCE Prudential Financial, Inc.