HONOLULU, Feb. 4, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- Joie Agoo, 17 and Rylee Brooke Kamahele, 12, both of Mililani, today were named Hawaii's top two youth volunteers of 2020 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism. As State Honorees, Joie and Rylee 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 2020.
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, now in its 25th year, is conducted by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).
These are Hawaii's top youth volunteers of 2020:
High School State Honoree: Joie Agoo
Nominated by YMCA of Honolulu - Mililani West Oahu
Joie, 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."
Middle Level State Honoree: Rylee Brooke Kamahele
Nominated by Kipapa Elementary School
Rylee, 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.
The program judges also recognized two other Hawaii students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are Hawaii's Distinguished Finalists for 2020:
Dyson Chee, 17, of Honolulu, Hawaii, a home-schooled senior, founded "Project O.C.E.A.N.," through which he has educated thousands of people about the environmental impact of single-use plastics; he has also distributed more than 1,800 reusable straws, worked with schools to eliminate their use of single-use plastic bags, and testified before the state legislature about this issue. Dyson has given educational presentations in more than 60 classrooms and community events, and has raised more than $3,500 for his project.
Yucheng Wu, 17, of Honolulu, Hawaii, a senior at Maryknoll High School, has volunteered more than 1,000 hours of her time translating learning materials from English to Chinese for Khan Academy, a web-based nonprofit that offers free educational resources to students around the world, including those in rural and undeveloped regions. Yucheng was inspired to start volunteering for this organization after using Khan Academy's resources to improve her English when she relocated to Hawaii from China.
"In our 25th year of honoring young volunteers, we are as inspired as ever by the work students are doing to address the needs of a changing world," said Charles Lowrey, chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial, Inc. "We hope that their resolve, their initiative and their perspectives on society's challenges move others to consider how they can make a difference, too."
"Middle level and high school students are doing remarkable things to shape the future of their communities through volunteer service. They inspire all students and schools to drive learning with real-world challenges," said JoAnn Bartoletti, executive director of NASSP. "Congratulations to each of the 2020 honorees – it's an honor to celebrate your commitment to creating positive change."
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 Points of Light Global Network members, 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 4, 10 of the State Honorees – five middle level and five high school students – will be named America's top youth volunteers of 2020. These National Honorees will receive additional $5,000 scholarships, gold medallions, crystal trophies and $5,000 grants from Prudential for nonprofit charitable organizations of their choice.
Since the program began in 1995, more than 130,000 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.