FRANKFORT, Ky., May 4, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- Kentucky's top two youth volunteers of 2020, Breanna Burkhead, 17, of Lancaster and Sean Nichols, 12, of Edgewood, 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, Breanna and Sean – 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 Kentucky'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 Breanna and Sean Kentucky'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, Breanna and Sean 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
Breanna (pictured left), a member of Garrard County 4-H and a senior at Garrard County High School, played a leading role in purchasing and renovating an historic building in her small, rural community to serve as a new permanent arts center. As a member of her 4-H group's arts club, Breanna knew that her town's existing arts center was being evicted from its home and that its future was uncertain. "I learned that the local art council was at a crossroads trying to figure out what they could do to keep art alive in our county," she said. "I decided I wanted to be a part of this discussion and future decisions for arts in my community."
Breanna began investigating possible solutions and then presented her findings to the art council, urging the group to purchase a 3,000-square-foot vacant building in town. After the council voted to follow Breanna's recommendation, she was invited to serve on its board of directors. She then prepared a PowerPoint presentation to apply for grants, solicited donations from community members and participated in several fundraisers. Once funding was secured and the building purchased, Breanna spent many hours cleaning out and renovating the structure, and loading in arts supplies and equipment. She was given the honor of cutting the ribbon at the grand opening of the new center, which now features two classrooms, an art gallery, six working artist studios and a giftshop. "It is with a sense of pride that I know the arts will have a permanent place in our community for generations to come," she said.
Sean (pictured right), a sixth-grader at Villa Madonna Academy, has participated in numerous community outreach activities over the past seven years to help people better understand the challenges and abilities of people with physical disabilities. Sean has used a wheelchair or crutches to get around ever since he was diagnosed with a spinal cord disorder called transverse myelitis at a very young age. "It causes difficulty walking and some other painful things," he explained. "For as long as I can remember, I have had people ask me about my disability. I learned how to speak up for myself." And speaking up is exactly what he's been doing.
Sean has participated in many disability awareness programs over the years. He has given talks at his school, served as a guest lecturer at the University of Cincinnati, delivered presentations to physical therapy students and fellow Cub Scouts, served as the 2015 "poster child" for the Transverse Myelitis Association's annual fundraiser, and collaborated with his wheelchair basketball team to promote disability awareness. In addition, he has enthusiastically demonstrated to others how he can ride horses and play basketball even with his disability. He estimates that more than 500 people have heard him talk about the challenges and abilities that can come with having a physical disability. "Hopefully they will now be more open to other people who have a disability," he said. On top of his disability work, Sean is active in his Scout community; he volunteered as a Cub Scout camp staffer this past summer, has served as troop librarian and, in 2016, represented the Cub Scouts in an Oval Office visit with the president.
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.