BOISE, Idaho, Feb. 5, 2019 /PRNewswire/ -- Sarah Picker, 17, of Boise and Alexander Knoll, 14, of Post Falls today were named Idaho'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, Sarah and Alexander 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 Idaho's top youth volunteers of 2019:
High School State Honoree: Sarah Picker Nominated by Boise Senior High School
Sarah, a senior at Boise Senior High School, has raised and trained four puppies over the past seven years to be service dogs for the Boise chapter of Guide Dogs for the Blind. Sarah became involved after her older sister read a book about a "puppy raiser" and decided to give it a try. "When I first joined I thought it would be fun because it involved dogs, but it has ended up being so much more to me," said Sarah. "Through this organization I have discovered what I want to do with my life."
Initially, Sarah had to attend weekly meetings and outings to begin learning about service dogs. Then, she had to study paperwork and a training manual, and watch a few dogs for a couple of weekends. Finally, she received her own puppy to train. Sarah gets her dogs when they are eight weeks old, and spends the next 14 months teaching them things like how to remain calm and relaxed in all situations, how to go to the bathroom on command, how to ignore food unless it's specifically offered, and how to exhibit proper house manners. The hardest part, of course, is saying goodbye to her dogs when they're ready to move on to learn specialized skills. "It's hard to let go of these dogs that you have put lots of sweat and tears into and have had constantly by your side for almost two years, but once you realize that they are going to give someone independence, it makes it a little easier," said Sarah, who eventually wants to work as a mobility instructor at Guide Dogs for the Blind.
Middle Level State Honoree: Alexander Knoll Nominated by his home school
Alexander, a homeschooled eighth-grader, is developing a free mobile application that can help people with disabilities around the world navigate public spaces, find safe and reliable services, and identify employment opportunities. When he was 9 years old, Alexander witnessed a man in a wheelchair trying to get through a heavy door at a sporting goods store. "I wondered if there was an app that could have told him, before he left his house, about other stores in the area that might have an automatic door," he said. He checked; there wasn't. So he decided to create his own.
He began interviewing people with disabilities and caregivers to learn as much as he could about their challenges. Then he started spending 3-4 hours almost every day building an application with a database full of accurate information about things like accessible restrooms, wheelchair ramps, Braille menus, service animal relief areas and visual alerting devices. Thanks to a grant and a GoFundMe page, he was able to hire a group of engineers to help him, but he still has to work hard soliciting sponsors and donors to fund his project. In addition, Alexander has been posting on social media and traveling widely to speak to service groups, businesses and organizations about the importance of inclusion and accessibility for people with disabilities. His "Ability App" is currently being tested and is expected to launch globally in 2019.
The program judges also recognized two other Idaho students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are Idaho's Distinguished Finalists for 2019:
Alexis Currier, 17, of Greencreek, Idaho, a junior at Summit Academy, traveled to Haiti on a mission trip last summer to care for people with HIV and AIDS, mental illnesses and severe disabilities, after two years of fundraising to help pay for the trip. Alexis fed sick, disabled and elderly Haitians, cleaned their living quarters, assisted them with personal hygiene, and helped them with other tasks that they could not do on their own.
Jakayla Walker, 18, of Harrison, Idaho, a senior at INSPIRE, the Idaho Connections Academy, spent two months last summer bicycling more than 4,000 miles from Seattle to New York City to raise money to help feed refugees in Southeast Asia. With no cartilage in her left knee, participating in Venture's "Across America" bike tour was painful for Jakayla, but yielded $4,500 for refugee food programs and raised awareness of desperate conditions on the other side of the world.
"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.
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