NEWARK, N.J., Feb. 9, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- Pooja Veerareddy, 18, of Shreveport and Preston Horton, 11, of Zachary today were named Louisiana's top youth volunteers of 2021 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, America's largest youth recognition program based exclusively on volunteer service.
As State Honorees, Pooja and Preston will each receive a $2,500 scholarship, a silver medallion and an invitation to the program's virtual national recognition celebration in April, where 10 of the 102 State Honorees will be named America's top youth volunteers of the year. Those 10 National Honorees will earn an additional $5,000 scholarship, a gold medallion, a crystal trophy for their nominating organization and a $5,000 grant for a nonprofit charitable organization of their choice.
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, conducted annually by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), honors students in grades 5-12 for making meaningful contributions to their communities through volunteer service.
"We created the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards 26 years ago to highlight and support the work of young people taking on the challenges of a changing world – a mission that rings truer than ever given the events of last year," said Charles Lowrey, Prudential's chairman and CEO. "We are proud to celebrate the vision and determination of Spirit of Community's Class of 2021, and all the ways they're making their communities safer, healthier and more equitable places to live."
These are Louisiana's top youth volunteers of 2021:
High School State Honoree: Pooja Veerareddy
Nominated by Caddo Magnet High School
Pooja, a senior at Caddo Magnet High School, co-founded a nonprofit organization that has provided under-funded hospitals in the Indian state of Telangana with critical health-related supplies since 2017. For many years, Pooja's grandmother had to travel between Telangana and the United States to get treatment for renal cancer. "Following her passing, we became aware of a need for medical supplies in many government and other low-budget hospitals in the region," said Pooja. "I personally felt it was important to give back to the community that my parents and family are from." So Pooja, with help from her father and sister, created a charitable organization called the Vijaya Project, named after and in honor of her grandmother.
Pooja persuaded the CEO of a Louisiana hospital to partner with her family and donate medical supplies, such as catheters, coronary stents, coronary balloons, arterial sheaths and angioplasty wires, for government and private hospitals in Telangana. She then wrote letters to hospital administrators in the southern Indian state to get documentation to bring the items through Indian customs. Once her family had the donated supplies in hand, they spent weeks packing them into large suitcases that they could deliver, in person, to various hospitals. So far, they have made three trips to India, transporting more than $86,000 worth of crucial supplies. "I was humbled to have been a small piece of the large picture that improved the services in their hospitals," said Pooja.
Middle Level State Honoree: Preston Horton
Nominated by Copper Mill Elementary School
Preston, a sixth-grader at Copper Mill Elementary School, formed a music group called "Joyful Melodies" to perform and brighten the days of senior citizens in his community. Preston's inspiration was his 89-year-old grandfather, who was often lonely after the death of his wife. "When I realized that there were so many other elderly persons just like him, my heart was saddened," said Preston. He discovered through research that many elderly people reported experiencing loneliness, so he began brainstorming ways to help. Since he was musically talented, Preston decided to sing joyful songs and play music for seniors throughout the community to ease their loneliness.
He began performing with his siblings, but soon recruited more volunteer musicians from his church. They scheduled performances twice a month, being careful to social-distance after the COVID-19 pandemic hit. They also raised money to provide their audiences with gift baskets filled with treats. Over the past two years, Preston and his fellow musicians have sung for hundreds of senior citizens, and raised more than $1,000 to provide them with gift baskets. Preston also has bagged food at a local food bank, participated in a canned-food drive for the food bank, and volunteered as a musician at his church. "I truly believe we are making a difference in the lives of those who are hurting," he said.
State Honorees in The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards Class of 2021 – the top middle level and high school volunteer from all 50 states and the District of Columbia – were selected for service initiatives completed, at least in part, between the fall of 2019 and the fall of 2020. Selection was based on criteria including impact, effort, initiative and the personal growth demonstrated over the course of the project. Several Distinguished Finalists and runners-up were also selected in each state, and all qualifying applicants received President's Volunteer Service Awards.
"It speaks volumes about the character of today's secondary school students that the Spirit of Community program heard from more than 21,000 applicants this fall – most of them stories of young volunteers overcoming the hardships of a global pandemic to support those in need," said Ronn Nozoe, Chief Executive Officer, NASSP. "While we're especially proud to celebrate this year's 102 State Honorees, NASSP applauds every student who's found a way to volunteer this past year. You inspire your peers and adults alike to remember that, even in times of crisis, we all have something to give."
To read the names and stories of all of this year's State Honorees, visit http://spirit.prudential.com.
About Prudential Financial
Prudential Financial, Inc. (NYSE: PRU), a financial wellness leader and premier active global investment manager, has operations in the United States, Asia, Europe and Latin America. Prudential's diverse and talented employees help to make lives better by creating financial opportunity for more people. Prudential's iconic Rock symbol has stood for strength, stability, expertise and innovation for more than a century. For more information, please visit news.prudential.com.
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 http://nassp.org.
SOURCE Prudential Financial, Inc.