WASHINGTON, May 6, 2019 /PRNewswire/ -- Caragan Olles, 16, of De Pere, Wisconsin, 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, Caragan 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 Eloise Massee, 13, of Green Bay. Caragan and Eloise were named Wisconsin'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.
Caragan, 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. In elementary school, "I came home many days crying because I felt I wasn't as smart as my classmates," she said. When she was finally diagnosed with dyslexia in third grade, she and her family were shocked by the lack of information about the disorder, and how uninformed her teachers were. Luckily, Caragan was able to receive phonics-based tutoring for several years that enabled her to succeed in school. But she worried about all the kids whose families couldn't afford that expense. So Caragan and her older brother started "Bright Young Dyslexics" to help students with dyslexia get the help they need.
Caragan began to raise money by selling handmade bracelets, chocolates, baked goods and passes to a "dress down day" at school, as well as by hosting fundraising dinners at local restaurants. She also developed a website with information about dyslexia, and formed a youth advisory board of middle and high school volunteers — now totaling 36 — who help her fundraise and plan events. In addition to paying for tutoring and library resources, Caragan's nonprofit conducts in-school programs to educate teachers about learning disabilities, and simulation events to show what it feels like to have dyslexia. Bright Young Dyslexics expanded its reach from Northeast Wisconsin to the entire state several years ago, and is now offering a dyslexia awareness kit to students across the country who want to educate their own communities about dyslexia.
Eloise, an eighth-grader at Bay View Middle School, is co-chair of a committee at her school that raises funds and awareness to promote life-saving organ donations, and conducts other community service projects, as well. Over the past several years, Eloise has been a volunteer at a public library's summer reading program, a science and engineering camp, and holiday dance clinics for students with special needs. So when she arrived at her current school, she wanted to get involved in a meaningful service activity. "Throughout my entire school life, I have always had a desire to become a leader and help others," she said.
Eloise decided to join her school's Northeast Wisconsin Donate Life and Community Service Committee and work on its biggest event, an annual walk to raise money for Donate Life Wisconsin. As a committee member, she helped recruit volunteers, coordinate with a national organ donation organization, advertise the event, register new organ donors and assist with the logistics. The walk raised more than $18,000 in 2018. This year, as co-chair of the committee, Eloise has set a fundraising goal of $20,000. "Right now there are about 114,000 people throughout the United States awaiting an organ transplant," said Eloise. "The annual walk helps ensure these wonderful people are given the gift of life." In addition to the walk, Eloise's committee has hosted a "Heavenly Hats Parade" to buy hats for cancer patients, and launched an annual toy and book drive.
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 Caragan, 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.
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.
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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 Wisconsin'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.