ANNAPOLIS, Md., Feb. 7, 2017 /PRNewswire/ -- Lena Goldstein, 17, of Arnold and Michaela West, 11, of Beltsville today were named Maryland's top two youth volunteers of 2017 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism. As State Honorees, Lena and Michaela 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 2017.
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, now in its 22nd year, is conducted by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).
These are Maryland's top youth volunteers of 2017:
High School State Honoree: Lena Goldstein
Nominated by McDonogh School in Owings Mills
Lena, a junior at McDonogh School, took last year off from school to travel with her physician parents to remote areas of South America and Asia, where she worked with nonprofit organizations to provide medical services to people who would otherwise have little access to basic healthcare. Lena's interest in volunteering began many years ago when she raised money by selling bracelets to purchase mosquito nets for children in Africa. "This effort opened my eyes to the widespread healthcare disparities that unfortunately impact a huge population worldwide," she said.
After she arranged to take high school courses online, Lena traveled first to Ecuador and Peru, then to Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. In remote villages, she helped measure patients' blood pressure, height, weight and pulse; assisted in filling prescriptions; and distributed vitamins. She also helped screen women for cervical cancer, and taught geography and basic hygiene care to children. Fluent in Spanish, Lena's role as a translator for doctors was particularly important in South America. Since then, Lena has volunteered on a healthcare mission to the Dominican Republic, and founded a group at her school to facilitate discussions of global healthcare issues and organize drives to collect hygiene and health supplies for future medical service trips abroad.
Middle Level State Honoree: Michaela West
Nominated by Saint Joseph's Regional Catholic School in Beltsville
Michaela, a fifth-grader at Saint Joseph's Regional Catholic School, formed a club at her school that assembles and delivers basic necessities wrapped in blankets or sleeping bags to the homeless people of Baltimore and Washington, D.C. Since Michaela was very young, the plight of homeless people has moved her. "I would see people on the corner asking for food or money and I would get pangs in my stomach," she said. "I always begged my mom to give." One year Michaela asked friends and family to give her money instead of gifts for her birthday, and then used the money to make bundles containing clothing, food, water, toiletries and tarps for the homeless, all tied up with a bow.
This made Michaela feel so good that she decided to start a "Bundles of Love Club" at her school. She created a fundraising web page, distributed fliers describing her project, applied for grants, and sought donations from family members, friends and her church and school. To date, Michaela has delivered 124 of her "love bundles," aided by more than 240 volunteers that she rallied to her cause. Sometimes she encounters skeptics who say the homeless don't really want help and she's wasting her time. "Everyone deserves love and kindness," she responds. "I want them to know that they are not forgotten."
The program judges also recognized six other Maryland students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are Maryland's Distinguished Finalists for 2017:
Kathleen Abell, 16, of Frederick, Md., a junior at Tuscarora High School, is raising and training a service dog as a volunteer for Warrior Canine Connection, an organization that partners dogs with veterans to help them transition into life back home. In addition to attending weekly training sessions, Kathleen keeps the dog with her as much as possible to expose him to everyday situations he may experience with a veteran, and provides care and training ranging from late night walks to teaching him not to eat socks.
Caroline Collins, 18, of Bel Air, Md., a senior at C. Milton Wright High School, was inspired by her triplet sister with autism to help create "Stand Up for Autism," an annual variety and comedy show that has raised more than $5,000 for Autism Speaks and now involves more than 30 student volunteers and faculty advisors. Caroline has led the event's education committee, which created videos for the show to inform people about autism and the work of Autism Speaks.
Randall Davidson, 17, of Timonium, Md., a senior at Dulaney High School, was moved by his own experience with homelessness to launch a biweekly collection drive that's gathered 500 items to help homeless people throughout Maryland during the cold winter months. Randall advertised his "Healing the Hearts and Bodies of the Homeless" campaign online and through fliers, placed donation boxes in his church and contacted organizations that serve the homeless to help as many people as possible.
Lauren French, 16, of Silver Spring, Md., a junior at Our Lady of Good Counsel High School, organized a collection drive that provided more than 10,000 diapers to an organization that provides essential items for babies from low-income families. Lauren also worked to raise awareness of the need for diapers by families struggling to make ends meet, and successfully requested a proclamation from her governor about National Diaper Need Awareness Week in September.
Chloe Lenker, 17, of Clarksburg, Md., a junior at Urbana High School, organized an event to raise awareness among high school girls about domestic violence and featured information about common character traits of abusers, how to detect signs of domestic violence, and ways to get out of a violent relationship. Working with an international domestic violence awareness organization, Chloe researched the issue, gave a keynote address based on her findings, and also recruited survivors to share their stories.
Sahil Menon, 17, of Bel Air, Md., a junior at The John Carroll School, established free summer STEM camps for homeless youth and kids with learning disabilities, working with his school's STEM coordinator to create a curriculum that's provided 26 campers with fun, hands-on instruction over the past two years. Sahil, who has Tourette syndrome and learning challenges, established "STEMAxcess" after looking for a STEM camp for himself and not being able to find one.
"Prudential is honored to recognize these young volunteers for their exemplary service," said Prudential Chairman and CEO John Strangfeld. "We hope that their stories inspire others to consider how they, too, can volunteer their time and talents to improve their communities."
"These service-minded young people have brought meaningful change to communities at home and abroad, and it's a privilege to celebrate their work," said JoAnn Bartoletti, executive director of NASSP. "Congratulations to an exceptional group of middle level and high school students."
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 HandsOn Network affiliates, 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 8, 10 of the State Honorees – five middle level and five high school students – will be named America's top youth volunteers of 2017. 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 115,000 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 middle level and high school principals, assistant principals, and school leaders from across the United States. The association connects and engages school leaders through advocacy, research, education, and student programs. NASSP advocates on behalf of all school leaders to ensure the success of each student and strengthens school leadership practices through the design and delivery of high quality professional learning experiences. 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 Association of Student Councils. For more information about NASSP, located in Reston, VA, visit www.nassp.org.
About Prudential Financial
Prudential Financial, Inc. (NYSE: PRU), a financial services leader, has operations in the United States, Asia, Europe, and Latin America. Prudential's diverse and talented employees are committed to helping individual and institutional customers grow and protect their wealth through a variety of products and services, including life insurance, annuities, retirement-related services, mutual funds and investment management. In the U.S., Prudential's iconic Rock symbol has stood for strength, stability, expertise and innovation for more than a century. For more information, please visit www.news.prudential.com.
For Spirit of Community Awards program logo and medallion graphics, please visit https://spirit.prudential.com/resources/media
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SOURCE Prudential Insurance