DENVER, May 4, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- Colorado's top two youth volunteers of 2020, Matine Khalighi, 18, of Denver and Dante Lechuga, 12, of Firestone, 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, Matine and Dante – 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 Colorado'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 Matine and Dante Colorado'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, Matine and Dante 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
Matine (pictured left), a senior at Smoky Hill High School, co-founded a nonprofit that has raised more than $130,000 since 2016 to provide basic necessities for people experiencing homelessness, plus scholarships for five homeless students. When Matine was in eighth grade, he enrolled in a community service class and raised money for children in the foster care system. "Months after completing the course, I started to recognize a great need in Colorado," he said. "My state was severely lacking in resources to support its homeless population." Matine felt compelled to act, so with a like-minded friend, he started "Helping the Homeless Colorado."
They spent months filing paperwork to attain nonprofit status, applying for grants, securing corporate sponsors, developing a website and promoting their organization through the media. Matine then recruited volunteers to be members of a 20-person youth board to govern the organization. After researching homelessness, the group decided to focus on lobbying the state legislature on behalf of homeless people; educating the public by speaking at schools and community groups; and alleviating suffering by fundraising to provide necessities. The organization also has sponsored "Outreach Days" across the state, when volunteers distribute hygiene kits, meals and warm clothing to those in need. Since its inception, the nonprofit has distributed more than 41,000 items to Colorado's homeless population and has allocated $15,000 to help five homeless youth earn associate degrees. In the future, Matine said, he hopes to expand his organization to all 50 states.
Dante (pictured right), a sixth-grader at Coal Ridge Middle School, helps plan and run an annual two-day sports camp that over the past five years has exposed more than 1,000 kids to sporting experiences their families could not afford. When Dante and his sister were playing with a friend at a park one day, their father set up an agility course with balls, cones and ropes that he had in his truck. "We had so much fun that I begged him to organize another play date at the park," said Dante. The next time they invited more friends, and from that humble beginning sprang a family-run sports camp that has become a significant event in Dante's town.
Now, every year, about 350 kids and 80 teen and adult volunteers, including some of the top coaches in the area, come together to participate in soccer, lacrosse, football and agility training. Throughout the year, Dante and his family work with a local church and athletic organization to register participants, raise the funds that enable them to keep the cost down to just $12 per child, purchase insurance and secure sponsorships from local businesses. Dante and his sister hand out fliers at local businesses and schools to promote the camp and help recruit volunteers. Dante also helps register participants, assists his father in preparing the playing fields and equipment, ensures there are enough T-shirts for all of the campers, and leads some of the sports activities. "It's a lot of work," said Dante, "but if we can change the life of one child, then it's all worth it."
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.