SPRINGFIELD, Ill., May 4, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- Illinois' top two youth volunteers of 2020, Carson Pazdan, 16, of Barrington and Kellon Oldenettel, 11, of Jacksonville, 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, Carson and Kellon – 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 Illinois' 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 Carson and Kellon Illinois' 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, Carson and Kellon 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
Carson (pictured left), a sophomore at Barrington High School, has raised more than $170,000 and collected thousands of pounds of food over the past 11 years to feed the hungry by publishing a kids' cookbook, conducting other fundraising activities and running two large food drives each year. When he was 5 years old, Carson often helped his mother in the kitchen and would play around with his own recipes. One evening, they talked about hunger. "The concept that not everyone had food to eat was new to me at that young age," he said. "I remember feeling both sad for people facing hunger and a strong urge to help feed them."
Carson decided to create a cookbook by kids, for kids. With help from his mother, he compiled recipes from more than 800 other young people, printed 2,000 cookbooks and recruited "an army of kids" to sell them at schools, churches and community events. The venture raised $40,000 for the Northern Illinois Food Bank. Carson then began conducting food drives twice a year at a local elementary school. Every May, he and other members of his "Kids Feeding Kids Club" ask parents to participate in a "drive-thru" event by loading their cars with food donations and dropping them off at the curb in front of the school. In October, students are given bags to take home and fill with food from their families' pantries. All the donations are sent to the Cuba Township Food Pantry. Carson's club also has organized fundraisers including "A Magical Matinee" at a movie theater and "Stars & Cars" at a car dealership -- all designed "to help feed our hungry neighbors," he said.
Kellon (pictured right), a fifth-grader at South Jacksonville Elementary School, has collected more than 10,000 pairs of new socks over the past six years and distributed them to people in need through shelters, schools, hospitals, nursing homes, community organizations and the Salvation Army. Many years ago, Kellon's mother told him "about all the struggles and hardships people have in the world, and that many don't have what I have," he said. He asked if that meant some people don't have socks. Kellon immediately wanted to go to the store and buy some, but quickly realized that the need was probably too great for that solution. He called a few family members to help and placed a posting on Facebook. Within a few weeks, he had more than 500 pairs of socks.
Now, "Kellon's Sock Drawer" is a project that runs all year long. Starting in the winter, Kellon asks a half-dozen local businesses for permission to place decorated collection boxes on their premises, and stops by each location weekly to pick up donated socks. He also speaks to young people, community organizations and other groups about his mission. After he sorts and counts all the socks he's received, with the assistance of sorority sisters at a local college, Kellon begins the distribution process. He has donated socks to families impacted by house fires, to mission groups heading overseas and to chemotherapy infusion labs at hospitals, as well as to elementary schools, nursing homes and charitable organizations. In addition, Kellon personally hands out socks at public housing events, mobile food pantries and a local shelter. "No one deserves to have cold feet," 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.