HARTFORD, Conn., Feb. 5, 2019 /PRNewswire/ -- Nicholas Wesoloskie, 14, of Coventry and Anishka Perera, 13, of Torrington today were named Connecticut's top two youth volunteers of 2019 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism. As State Honorees, Nicholas and Anishka each will receive $1,000, an engraved silver medallion and an all-expense-paid trip in early May to Washington, D.C., where they will join the top two honorees from each of the other states and the District of Columbia for four days of national recognition events. During the trip, 10 students will be named America's top youth volunteers of 2019.
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, now in its 24th year, is conducted by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).
These are Connecticut's top youth volunteers of 2019:
High School State Honoree: Nicholas Wesoloskie
Nominated by Coventry High School
Nicholas, a freshman at Coventry High School, turned a school "pajama day" fundraiser into a statewide movement that in seven years has raised more than $375,000 to promote research into childhood cancer and assist young patients and their families. When Nicholas was a toddler, his newborn sister was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive cancer. "From a young age I witnessed her and so many other kids enduring grueling treatments," Nicholas said. "I resolved to help brave kids like her."
He came up with the idea of "PJ Day for Kids" in second grade. From spending so much time with his sister at the hospital, Nicholas knew that sick kids wore their pajamas most of the time, and thought it would be nice for him and his fellow students to show solidarity. So he asked classmates to wear their PJs to school on a designated day and donate a dollar for the privilege. The first PJ Day raised $500 for the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at Connecticut Children's Medical Center. Other schools in his district and in other school districts soon joined in, and Nicholas began publicizing his concept through speeches, news media interviews and a video. He also called on businesses to support his burgeoning effort financially. In 2017, Nicholas was invited to speak at the state capital in support of legislation to name PJ Day as an official day of awareness in Connecticut. Since that single fundraiser years ago, PJ Day has grown to include 300 schools across his state and 50 participating businesses, including 60 Dunkin Donuts stores. "This has become a tradition across Connecticut," said Nicholas. "PJ Day is here to stay."
Middle Level State Honoree: Anishka Perera
Nominated by Talcott Mountain Academy of Science, Mathematics & Technology
Anishka, an eighth-grader at Talcott Mountain Academy of Science, Mathematics & Technology, collected supplies to make 150 entertainment packages to brighten the days of children undergoing treatment for cancer in a Sri Lankan hospital. During a 2016 visit to Sri Lanka, where his parents were born, Anishka visited a government-run hospital that provides free care for the country's poor. In the children's ward, he noticed that there weren't many things to keep young patients entertained during long hospital stays. "I was saddened to see children waiting around for their treatment without much to occupy them," said Anishka.
When he returned home, Anishka began asking friends and acquaintances for donations of items such as coloring books, crayons, pencils, puzzles, board games and Play-Doh. Once the donations started coming in, Anishka categorized them by age level and started assembling his packages with the help of volunteers. Last August, he shipped the packages to Sri Lanka and then traveled again to the cancer hospital to distribute them. When he returned home, he posted a video on his website to update the more than 100 donors and volunteers who had participated in his project. Anishka said he plans on delivering more entertainment packages and would like to take on more projects to help sick children in Sri Lanka. "Certain things we consider to be basic things are luxuries for others," said Anishka. "Some of these kids had never even owned a pack of crayons!"
The program judges also recognized four other Connecticut students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are Connecticut's Distinguished Finalists for 2019:
Ryan Bell, 18, of Wallingford, Conn., a senior at Mark T. Sheehan High School, has raised $50,000 with his team for Heifer International, which helps families in need around the world by providing animals they can use as a sustainable source of income. Drawing on his experience with a craniofacial disorder, and using the film Wonder as a teaching tool, he also educates school and community organizations about kindness and acceptance toward all people despite their differences.
Neha Jonnakota, 16, of Glastonbury, Conn., a junior at Glastonbury High School, co-founded "Power of Peace" to lend support to kids in need; over the past six years, the group has raised $130,000 to combat hunger, help children with life-threatening diseases, and raise the quality of life for urban and rural kids in both Connecticut and India. To keep the public engaged, she and her team volunteer widely and welcome elected officials and school board members to their events.
Srishti Pithadia, 17, of Trumbull, Conn., a senior at Trumbull High School, founded "TechnoTeens" to make computers accessible to all middle and high school students, especially girls and students from low-income backgrounds; the organization has reached more than 300 students, including via satellite clubs in Florida and Washington. She teaches programming and develops curriculums; sources teachers, partners and sponsors; and maintains the organization's considerable online presence.
Max Rosenberg, 15, of Fairfield, Conn., a sophomore at The Loomis Chaffee School, has raised more than $135,000 to fight Alzheimer's disease, helping local patients and caregivers, and securing a grant for a music and dance therapy program that directly helps his grandmother engage with the world. As the head advocate on the issue for a U.S. senator and a member of the Alzheimer's Association's Public Policy Committee, he has successfully advocated for major increases in NIH funding.
"These young volunteers learned and demonstrated that they can make meaningful contributions to individuals and communities through their service," said Prudential CEO Charles Lowrey. "It's an honor to recognize their great work, and we hope that shining a spotlight on their service inspires others to consider how they might make a difference."
"Each of these honorees is proof that students have the energy, creativity and unique perspectives to create positive change," said JoAnn Bartoletti, executive director of NASSP. "We commend each of the 2019 honorees for their outstanding volunteer service, and for the invaluable example they've set for their peers."
About The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards represents the United States' largest youth recognition program based solely on volunteer service. All public and private middle level and high schools in the country, as well as all Girl Scout councils, county 4-H organizations, American Red Cross chapters, YMCAs and affiliates of Points of Light's HandsOn Network, were eligible to select a student or member for a local Prudential Spirit of Community Award. These Local Honorees were then reviewed by an independent judging panel, which selected State Honorees and Distinguished Finalists based on criteria including personal initiative, effort, impact and personal growth.
While in Washington, D.C., the 102 State Honorees – one middle level and one high school student from each state and the District of Columbia – will tour the capital's landmarks, meet top youth volunteers from other parts of the world, attend a gala awards ceremony at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, and visit their congressional representatives on Capitol Hill. On May 6, 10 of the State Honorees – five middle level and five high school students – will be named America's top youth volunteers of 2019. These National Honorees will receive additional $5,000 awards, gold medallions, crystal trophies and $5,000 grants from The Prudential Foundation for nonprofit charitable organizations of their choice.
Since the program began in 1995, more than 125,000 young volunteers have been honored at the local, state and national level. The program also is conducted by Prudential subsidiaries in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Ireland, India, China and Brazil. In addition to granting its own awards, The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program also distributes President's Volunteer Service Awards to qualifying Local Honorees.
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.
For Spirit of Community Awards program logo and medallion graphics, please visit https://spirit.prudential.com/resources/media
SOURCE Prudential Financial, Inc.