WASHINGTON, April 30, 2018 /PRNewswire/ -- Grayson Phillips, 18, of Gardendale, Ala., was named one of America's top 10 youth volunteers of 2018 today by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards during the program's 23rd annual national award ceremony at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium. Selected from a field of more than 29,000 youth volunteers from across the country, Grayson has earned the title of National Honoree, along with a personal award of $5,000, an engraved gold medallion, a crystal trophy for his school, and a $5,000 grant from The Prudential Foundation for a nonprofit charitable organization of his choice.
Also honored this week in Washington, D.C., was Katherine Huggins, 14, of Florence. Grayson and Katherine were named Alabama'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 2018 received $1,000 awards as well as personal congratulations from Olympic gold medalist and World Cup champion Lindsey Vonn. 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.
Grayson, a senior at Essential Church School, organized a fishing tournament and a fundraising dinner/auction, and collected donations at outdoor expos, to provide seven children and young adults with disabilities with all-terrain power wheelchairs that allow them to safely navigate the great outdoors with their peers. Grayson, who was born with spina bifida, knew all too well the frustration of not being able to easily follow his fellow Boy Scouts during campouts and other outdoor activities. "I was constantly getting stuck in the mud or in the sand in the woods and on the beach in my manual wheelchair," he said. But after raising money to buy his own Action Trackchair and seeing how dramatically it changed his life, he wanted others with disabilities to experience the same freedom. So three years ago, he founded a nonprofit to buy chairs for others.
To publicize his organization and fundraising events, Grayson created a website, utilized social media, sent out press releases, and set up a booth at outdoor expos. He asked local businesses for donations, and spoke at schools to recruit volunteers. So far, Grayson has provided all-terrain power wheelchairs worth more than $84,000 to seven people who have a passion for the outdoors, but not the money to buy their own. They include a Mississippi girl with cerebral palsy who loves the beach, a girl in North Carolina who now can go hunting, and an Alabama boy who used his new chair to help clean up his community during a church service day. "It is important to me to help as many disabled kids as possible get outdoors because I know what it feels like to experience independence for the first time," said Grayson.
Katherine, a member of Girl Scouts of North-Central Alabama and an eighth-grader at Wilson High School, delivered 25 clear storage containers filled with small stuffed animals to every volunteer fire department in her county so that firefighters could give them to children suffering the effects of fire, car accidents and domestic upheaval. In the past, Katherine had donated some of her own stuffed animals to local fire and police departments to send out with officers and firefighters on calls involving children. But last year, she and a friend who also loves stuffed animals decided to do more. They came up with the idea of collecting and donating new and gently-used stuffed animals for all of their county's volunteer fire departments to deliver. "I knew the city had programs, but the county did not," said Katherine. "I felt it was important that the kids in the county have a comfort item."
To get local fire departments on board, Katherine met with fire officials and spoke at two meetings of the county firefighters association. Then she made flyers and posted them around town to solicit stuffed animal donations. She enlisted the help of friends and family to collect the animals, which she washed, sorted, and packed into 25 clear storage containers labeled "Tender Hearts." The containers were then delivered to fire stations throughout the county so that officials responding to emergencies would have a furry friend to leave behind with a frightened child. The project has since led Katherine to other volunteer opportunities, including making a fire safety poster, donating stuffed animals to a library, and supervising activities for young children.
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).
"These honorees exemplify something we've known for a long time – that young volunteers have the power to bring meaningful change to their communities," said John Strangfeld, chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial, Inc. "These students have shown leadership and determination well beyond their years, and it's a privilege to celebrate their service."
"Through their acts of service, these honorees drive home a powerful lesson for their peers: that one student really can make a difference," said Daniel P. Kelley, president of NASSP. "We are honored to shine a spotlight on the compassion, drive and ingenuity of each of these young volunteers."
In addition to Grayson, these are the other 2018 National Honorees:
Tabitha Bell, 18, of Sandy, Utah, a senior at Waterford School, has raised more than $115,000 through her nonprofit, "Pawsitive Pawsibilities," to provide nine service dogs to people who otherwise could not afford one.
Rosie Colucci, 13, of Palatine, Ill., an eighth-grader at Plum Grove Junior High School, has collected more than 60,000 toys, books, stuffed animals, games and other donations for hospitalized kids, and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to help fund research for a cure for childhood cancer.
Michelle Qin, 17, of Santa Barbara, Calif., a junior at Dos Pueblos High School, is the founder and CEO of a nonprofit organization comprised of more than 100 students in California, New Jersey and British Columbia who work to empower girls and women around the world, focused on education, poverty and health.
Paloma Rambana, 12, of Tallahassee, Fla., a seventh-grader at Maclay School, lobbied legislators, led rallies, gave speeches, created a website and generated media publicity to help secure $1.25 million in state funding for visually impaired children between the ages of 6 and 13.
Hailey Richman, 10, of Long Island City, N.Y., a fifth-grader at Public School 78, has placed more than 10,000 jigsaw puzzles in nursing homes and other senior living facilities over the past three years, and created an online support group for kids around the world who have loved ones suffering from Alzheimer's disease.
Madison Strempek, 13, of Crofton, Md., a seventh-grader at Crofton Middle School, wrote and self-published a 46-page book, Everyone Makes Mistakes, to reassure and comfort children, like her, who have an incarcerated parent.
Brandon Warren, 18, of Indianapolis, Ind., a senior at Warren Central High School, organized a citywide peace march and community day in Indianapolis to stand against youth violence, following the murder of a friend and fellow football player.
William Winslow, 12, of Raleigh, N.C., a sixth-grader at Daniels Magnet Middle School, fights childhood hunger in his community by holding food drives to fill backpacks with weekend food for children who otherwise might go hungry, and by helping to build school gardens in neighborhoods where access to fresh food is limited.
Helena Zimmerman, 16, of Purchase, N.Y., a junior at Rye Country Day School, co-founded a nonprofit organization three years ago that is currently giving more than 3,000 teens in 40 states the opportunity to experience meaningful volunteer work by teaching and tutoring kids in underserved communities.
The distinguished selection committee that chose the National Honorees was chaired by Strangfeld and included Kelley of NASSP; Andrea Bastiani Archibald, chief girl and family engagement officer for Girl Scouts of the USA; Anna Drenning, a national headquarters volunteer recruiter with the American Red Cross; Natalye Paquin, chief executive officer of Points of Light; Kirsten Perry, a school counselor at Lawndale Community Academy in Chicago, Ill. and the American School Counselor Association's 2018 School Counselor of the Year; Frederick J. Riley, national director of urban and youth development at YMCA of the USA; Tony Shivers, a member of 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 2017 National Honorees: Amal Bhatnagar, a freshman at University of California-Berkeley, and Katie Eder, a senior at Shorewood High School in Shorewood, Wis.
Youth volunteers in grades 5-12 were invited to apply for 2018 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 23 years, the program has honored more than 120,000 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 Alabama's honorees at the 2018 national recognition events, contact Prudential's Harold Banks at (973) 216-4833 or [email protected].
SOURCE Prudential Financial, Inc.