HARTFORD, Conn., May 4, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- Connecticut's top two youth volunteers of 2020, Gabriela Garcia-Perez, 18, of Guilford and Dhruv Suryadevara, 14, of Ellington, 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, Gabriela and Dhruv – 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 Connecticut'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 Gabriela and Dhruv Connecticut'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, Gabriela and Dhruv 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
Gabriela (pictured left), a senior at Guilford High School, started a mentoring program that has recruited dozens of high school and middle school students from her hometown to help elementary school students in nearby New Haven with their English skills, share fun educational and cultural activities, and help the English-language learners become active members of their communities. In January 2018, Gabriela attended an event for Puerto Rican families that had relocated to New Haven after Hurricane Maria devastated their island. "This event helped me realize the importance and need for integrating non-English-speaking students into our society in a timely manner," she said.
Gabriela thought that getting some of her peers in Guilford together with young English learners in New Haven could benefit both groups. She presented the idea to the principal of Fair Haven School, who agreed to let her introduce a mentoring program as part of the school's extracurricular Saturday morning sessions. She immediately began recruiting mentors, identifying children who could benefit, and planning lessons. Currently, Gabriela has a pool of about 40 mentors who work with younger kids on English skills for 45 minutes on Saturdays, and then join them in a gym class featuring exercise and cultural activities. The program has made a big impact on the participating children, but the strong relationships that have been forged may do even more for the mentors, said Gabriela. "Being immersed in a community much different than their own, with multiple backgrounds, religions and ethnicities, has definitely taught everyone to be more understanding of other cultures," she said.
Dhruv (pictured right), an eighth-grader at Ellington Middle School, is a dedicated volunteer at a regional food bank because of his deep concern for families dealing with food insecurity. Dhruv's first exposure to poverty came during biannual family trips to India. "There were many people begging on the streets because they had no other way of getting food," he said. "It hurt me to see how these people struggled." Back home, Dhruv attended an event run by a charity that serves people in need. "It made me realize that I actually could and should do something to help struggling people," he said.
Dhruv saw his chance to do just that when he found out that, despite his age, he could volunteer at Foodshare, a food bank serving Hartford and Tolland counties. He started working there in the summer of 2018, and then found opportunities to contribute throughout the school year. At the facility, he sorts and packages produce, meat, bread, milk and canned items, cleans vegetables, and helps maintain a garden. And when he's at home, he makes mesh bags that are used by the food bank to store fruits and vegetables. For the past few years, Dhruv also has been helping to organize and set up a 5K run to raise funds for an organization that builds infrastructure in rural India. "I feel amazing that I have been able to have an impact on many people's lives," he said.
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.