ANNAPOLIS, Md., Feb. 5, 2019 /PRNewswire/ -- Alexia Ayuk, 17, of Gaithersburg and Caleb Oh, 14, of Gambrills today were named Maryland's top two youth volunteers of 2019 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism. As State Honorees, Alexia and Caleb 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 2019.
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, now in its 24th 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 2019:
High School State Honoree: Alexia Ayuk
Nominated by Our Lady of Good Counsel High School
Alexia, a senior at Our Lady of Good Counsel High School, helped form a nonprofit organization that has distributed more than 14,000 books to schools in low-income areas, and to hospitals and shelters, with a goal of providing as many children as possible with a book on their birthdays. An avid reader, Alexia grew up reading nightly bedtime stories to herself and visiting a local library every week, at times "racking up a library card debt so high that I was unable to check out books until I finished paying the fine for keeping them too long," she said. While watching a documentary her freshman year about the limited educational opportunities for children schooled in a large inner-city district, Alexia got to thinking that the only difference between her and those kids was that she had access to ample resources. "A book landing into my hands saved my life in so many ways, and the same could be said for victims of our failing and overtaxed educational systems," Alexia said.
So when she was a sophomore, Alexia and three like-minded friends created a nonprofit organization called "A Book for My Birthday" to address the inequality gap in education. To obtain books, they appealed to family and friends, emailed potential sponsors, handed out fliers in local restaurants and libraries, organized annual book drives and held "teach-ins" to talk about the perils of illiteracy in disadvantaged schools. They also found a company that would sell them children's books at a discount. After connecting with the principals of several elementary schools, Alexia's team delivered books to their libraries and media centers, suggesting that they be given to kids on their birthdays. And when schools were not in session, they donated books to hospitals and emergency shelters. "By giving students a book, I can hopefully inspire them to remember that once they are handed that powerful tool, the possibilities are endless," said Alexia.
Middle Level State Honoree: Caleb Oh
Nominated by Crofton Middle School
Caleb, an eighth-grader at Crofton Middle School, has spent more than 1,000 hours volunteering in many ways over the past seven years to aid people who are homeless, hungry or have other needs. For most of his life, Caleb has suffered from debilitating migraine headaches that have sometimes kept him from going to school. During one of his absences, he was lying in bed reading primatologist Jane Goodall's biography and felt motivated to "follow in her inspirational footsteps" to make an impact in the world. At first it wasn't easy. "I could not find my place," said Caleb. "There was a fixed mindset that kids could not help. Most places require you to be at least 18 to volunteer."
So Caleb decided to launch his own initiative, called "Kid Changemakers." He started by recruiting kids from his neighborhood to make bagged lunches for a local homeless shelter, and then partnered with shelters, schools and a local church to conduct food and toiletry drives. During the school year, he provides weekend meals for students who receive free or discounted meals at school. He collects toiletries and baby supplies for a local woman's shelter throughout the year. He clips food coupons for military families living abroad, and fills backpacks with essential items for children who are suddenly pulled from their homes and placed into the foster care system. After Hurricane Harvey devastated parts of Houston, Caleb made public service announcements and coordinated the collection of food, toiletries and school supplies for hard-hit families. In addition, he won a grant that enabled him to pay off school lunch loans so students would not be denied food. Caleb estimates that he has collected more than $60,000 in cash, grants and in-kind donations to benefit others since he started volunteering.
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 2019:
Naisha Bellam, 12, of Clarksburg, Md., a seventh-grader at Rocky Hill Middle School, raised $20,000 to establish 125 "mini-libraries" in rural and tribal schools in India, and another $7,000 to provide 700 backpacks filled with school supplies or hygiene products for children in need in Maryland. She was inspired to begin her work by the poverty she saw during biannual trips to India, and now is dedicated to promoting learning opportunities for kids around the world.
Andrew Cha, 17, of Chevy Chase, Md., a senior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, has raised nearly $10,000 over the past three years to help victims of the water crisis in Flint, Mich., by recruiting fellow tennis players to solicit pledges of 50 cents or a dollar for every hour of practice and competition during their 82-hour varsity season. He also has produced podcasts about child sex trafficking and sneaker-based violence, and tutored recent immigrants as they learn English.
Makenzie Greenwood, 11, of Hampstead, Md., a sixth-grader at Shiloh Middle School, founded a food pantry in her community when she was 9 years old that has provided free food to approximately 4,000 hungry people over the past two years. After obtaining her church's permission to place the pantry on its property, Makenzie recruited a scouting organization to help build it, supplied it with donations and food drives, and obtained grants to help open similar pantries in Manchester, Md., and Orlando, Fla.
Hunter Madron, 18, of Colora, Md., a member of the Cecil County 4-H and a senior at Perryville High School, has raised nearly $10,000 for Union Hospital Breast Health Center by obtaining a donated car or truck for each of the past six years and charging attendees at the Cecil County Fair one dollar to smash it with a hammer. After the fair, Hunter's pink-painted vehicles compete in a demolition derby for the chance to win additional money for breast cancer patients.
Carolyn Pascal, 16, of Ijamsville, Md., a junior at Urbana High School, hosted 20 community outreach events to gather donations for a local food bank and raise awareness of hunger in her town, and then founded a nonprofit organization that, in its first year, generated enough money to educate 34 girls in the African nation of Malawi. Her overall mission, she says, is to fight hunger around the world by helping to educate impoverished girls in developing nations.
Robert Wachen, 16, of Potomac, Md., a junior at Winston Churchill High School, co-founded an organization that delivers more than 140 birthday cakes a month to 20 charities in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia to make sure children in need and senior citizens feel special on their birthdays. Robert's group, which has donated nearly 3,000 cakes so far and grown to include more than 500 volunteers, is now the largest chapter of a national charity called Birthday Cakes for Free.
"These young volunteers learned and demonstrated that they can make meaningful contributions to individuals and communities through their service," said Prudential CEO Charles Lowrey. "It's an honor to recognize their great work, and we hope that shining a spotlight on their service inspires others to consider how they might make a difference."
"Each of these honorees is proof that students have the energy, creativity and unique perspectives to create positive change," said JoAnn Bartoletti, executive director of NASSP. "We commend each of the 2019 honorees for their outstanding volunteer service, and for the invaluable example they've set for their peers."
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 affiliates of Points of Light's HandsOn Network, 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 6, 10 of the State Honorees – five middle level and five high school students – will be named America's top youth volunteers of 2019. 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 125,000 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 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 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
SOURCE Prudential Financial, Inc.