TOPEKA, Kan., May 4, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- Kansas' top two youth volunteers of 2020, Audrey Stanton, 17, of Rose Hilland Isabella Lindsay, 14, of Haysville, 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, Audrey and Isabella – 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 Kansas' 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 Audrey and Isabella Kansas' 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, Audrey and Isabella 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
Audrey (pictured left), a junior at Rose Hill High School, worked with a friend to raise more than $50,000 last year in the Leukemia Lymphoma Society's "Student of the Year" fundraising campaign. When Audrey was in preschool, she became best friends with a little girl named Reese, who shortly afterwards was diagnosed with leukemia. In 2016, Reese died after nine years of living with cancer. "That was the day I knew I needed to help find a cure," said Audrey. That opportunity came two years later when Reese's mother nominated Audrey and her friend Isabella for LLS's Student of the Year fundraiser.
Although the seven-week fundraising campaign didn't formally begin until January, the girls started laying the groundwork for their participation months before, collecting items for auction, explaining their mission to local businesses and booking venues for fundraising events. They created their own website to share the story of their friendship and display pictures of Audrey, Reese and Isabella over the years. Once the campaign officially kicked off, they sent letters to family and friends asking for donations and hosted several fundraising events, including paint parties, T-shirt sales and a raffle. They surpassed their initial goal by $20,000. After the campaign, Audrey was asked by the Wichita LLS staff to be part of its leadership team for the 2020 Student of the Year campaign. Calling it "the best experience I've ever had," Audrey said: "Although Reese is no longer with us, I feel like during this campaign I grew closer to her."
Isabella (pictured right), an eighth-grader at Haysville Middle School, established a local chapter of "Curvy Girls," an international peer support group for girls with scoliosis, and has provided more than 90 care packages for young scoliosis patients who have undergone spinal fusion surgery. Last year, Isabella had surgery to correct her scoliosis. "This surgery is very difficult and the recovery time is long (one year)," said Isabella. "I had to relearn to walk, sit, and do just about everything again." The bright spot during her hospitalization was getting gifts from friends and family when they visited, but she noticed that some kids had no visitors. She returned home eager to provide a gift for every child undergoing spinal fusion surgery at Wesley Children's Hospital in Wichita, and to share her experience with others dealing with scoliosis.
Isabella had heard about Curvy Girls, but was disappointed to learn there wasn't a chapter in her area. So she volunteered to start and lead one. She organizes a monthly chapter meeting where 10 or more teen members and their mothers share their stories, talk about the problems they face, and take comfort in the fact that they are not alone. She also began holding fundraisers to make her spinal fusion care packages, which include blankets, adult coloring books, colored pencils, grippy socks and personal care items. Isabella wrote a blog for a scoliosis website about what to expect after spinal fusion surgery, and has connected through Instagram and video chats with more than 500 people around the world who need support from someone who knows what they're going through.
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.