HONOLULU, May 4, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- Hawaii's top two youth volunteers of 2020, Joie Agoo, 18 and Rylee Brooke Kamahele, 12, both of Mililani, 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, Joie and Rylee – 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 Hawaii'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 Joie and Rylee Hawaii'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, Joie and Rylee 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
Joie (pictured left), a member of the YMCA of Honolulu-Mililani West Oahu Branch and a senior at Mililani High School, worked with a group of friends to prepare and serve sack lunches with fresh produce once a week for 50 people who live in encampments or on the streets of her community. As members of the Mililani YMCA, Joie and her friends obtained a grant to identify a problem in their area and work to solve it. After some research, they decided to focus on providing local people experiencing homelessness with lunches containing fresh fruits and vegetables that they might otherwise not have access to. So in May of 2018, the group founded the "Houseless Project."
Every week, the group plans a shopping trip to buy fresh food. After school on Wednesdays, they form an assembly line and prepare sandwiches, bag fresh produce, and stuff other items such as chips, fruit bars, snacks and water bottles into individual lunch sacks. They load the lunches into an YMCA bus and head to the places where they know they will find unsheltered people in need of something nutritious to eat. In addition to supplying a weekly meal to people often overlooked by others, Joie said her friends have established relationships with many of the people they serve. "It's important for us to show them that people care about them, and that they are significant and shouldn't be looked at any differently than anyone else," said Joie. "We don't just feed their stomachs; we strive to feed their hearts and souls."
Rylee (pictured right), a seventh-grader at Mililani Middle School, launched initiatives that organize Christmas celebrations for children in need, facilitate a variety of volunteer opportunities for young people, and educate youth around the world about the effects of humans on the planet. Rylee grew up volunteering with her parents in a program for at-risk youth, but by age 8 wanted to start making an impact on her own. "We had to fight for me to get involved," she said, "because programs didn't want to babysit kids during community service." But with a lot of persistence and hard work, she gradually persuaded charitable organizations to let her volunteer with them and recruit other young people to join her.
From there, Rylee started an organization called "Love Is A Verb" that has organized numerous youth-run projects, including annual beach cleanups, working to protect animals, providing Thanksgiving dinner to the homeless, entertaining kids at shelters and engaging in other community service activities. Rylee also co-founded a "Secret Santa Project" to make Christmas brighter for children in need of holiday cheer. To do that, she held a donation drive and raised money to provide gifts for children staying in a shelter, and then began hosting holiday parties for them. This project has since expanded to include three shelters and one youth program, treating more than 300 kids to a memorable day with food, gifts, games, shave-ice trucks and slush machines. Rylee also co-founded "Promise To Our Keiki (PTOK)" an initiative that cultivates young leaders and raises awareness about the impact humans have on the planet. All of her initiatives are under the umbrella of "The Catalyst Club," an organization she founded to equip young people to be agents of change.
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.