BOSTON, Feb. 7, 2017 /PRNewswire/ -- Casey Arruda, 17, of Somerset and Ella Morrison, 11, of Middleboro today were named Massachusetts' 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, Casey and Ella 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 Massachusetts' top youth volunteers of 2017:
High School State Honoree: Casey Arruda
Nominated by Somerset Berkley Regional High School in Somerset
Casey, a junior at Somerset Berkley Regional High School, started a foundation with his sister in 2013 that raised more than $20,000 to help people suffering from tragedies or natural disasters. The impetus for the siblings' foundation was the Boston Marathon bombings. Their family would have been standing near the finish line, in close proximity to where the bombs exploded, had they not overslept. "I was reminded that things like this can happen anywhere, even in our own backyards," said Casey. "Watching countless people run toward the danger, rather than away, inspired us."
They started "The We Stand Strong Fund" and made "Boston Strong" wristbands to raise money for bombing victims, and then recruited family, friends, classmates and community members to help. They also set up social media accounts to publicize the fundraiser, which has netted more than $11,000 for victims of the bombings. Since then, the foundation raised money to purchase art supplies for a young cancer patient; helped a Greek pensioner who could not access his bank account; and supported causes such as ALS research. Casey and his sister also collected used eyeglasses for earthquake victims in Haiti, as well as impoverished Greeks and Syrian refugees. And, they distributed $3,000 worth of books to inner-city kids in Washington, D.C. "A tragedy does not define who we are," but, how we respond to it does," said Casey.
Middle Level State Honoree: Ella Morrison
Nominated by Middleborough High School in Middleborough
Ella, a fifth-grader at Henry B. Burkland School, has raised more than $35,000 to support pediatric cancer research and brighten the lives of kids battling this devastating disease by selling lemonade at a stand she started four years ago. Ella came up with the idea of selling lemonade to enable a friend with an inoperable brain tumor to do something fun. Ella raised $88 the first day and decided to do it again the following weekend. "I knew then that I wanted to do more for other kids with cancer," she said.
With help from her parents, Ella began selling lemonade every Saturday at a local farmer's market. "Some days it was brutally hot or it would rain, but it was OK because I was always working toward a goal of spreading awareness about childhood cancer," said Ella. It wasn't long before she was invited to sell her lemonade at other events and to speak to school and business groups about her project. Ella donates much of what she earns to childhood cancer research, but she also likes to buy gifts to give directly to young cancer patients. In addition, she has funded "hero" packages, consisting of an iPad, iTunes cards, headphones and other items in order to distract young patients during their treatments. In addition, she collected more than 700 pairs of pajamas to distribute to kids in local hospitals.
The program judges also recognized six other Massachusetts students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are Massachusetts' Distinguished Finalists for 2017:
Yun Min Cho, 18, of Weston, Mass., a senior at Phillips Exeter Academy, is a social justice activist at school and in the community, whose work has ranged from producing a documentary about mass incarceration to starting her school's Student Alliance for Prison Reform and Council of Equity and Social Justice. She has also volunteered for the past three years with the ACLU, interned for the social justice nonprofit Boston Mobilization, and helped produce a radio show about race and diversity.
Kerry Manuel, 18, of Andover, Mass., a senior at Andover High School, is an active volunteer who, as president of the Interact Club, helped to coordinate the Andover Cares Concert, an event that has raised thousands of dollars over the past two years to fight the heroin epidemic. She also helps to host blood drives as a Red Cross club member, serves on her school's board of directors, and is a leading force in getting the class of 2017 to complete 2,017 hours of community service.
Benjamin McEvoy, 18, of Dunstable, Mass., a senior at Groton Dunstable Regional High School, started a foundation that's working with sports and arts programs at his school to find ways to involve interested students with disabilities. Inspired by a friend with autism who liked hockey, Benjamin, who had been an active participant in other inclusion programs at school, worked with his principal, guidance counselor, coaches and parents on details ranging from mentor-pairing to making sure every student had a ride home.
Shaylin McMains, 18, of Medway, Mass., a senior at Medway High School, has helped to raise, train and socialize six puppies since 2010 for Guiding Eyes for the Blind, an organization that provides guide dogs to people with visual impairments. In addition to working with her family to prepare each puppy for a life of service, a 16-week process that involves attending regular training sessions, Shaylin also helps to coach new volunteers in proven guide-dog-rearing techniques.
Samantha Newbury, 18, of Georgetown, Mass., a member of Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts and a senior at Georgetown Middle/High School, created a campaign to raise awareness about organ donation and sign people up for her state's organ and tissue donor registry, an effort inspired by her own family's quest for a kidney. Samantha worked with Donate Life New England to develop her campaign, and then shared her message at high schools and events, and worked with the Governor's Advisory Council to distribute materials to driving schools across the state.
Hailey Petruzzelli, 16, of Grafton, Mass., a member of Girl Scouts of Central & Western Massachusetts and a junior at Connections Academy, led an initiative to make gowns out of wedding dresses for infants who have died and donate them to NICUs and funeral homes, sparing grieving parents the pain of clothes shopping for a funeral. Motivated by her family's experience with miscarriage and sudden infant death syndrome, Hailey solicited donations of wedding dresses to make her "angel outfits," then led volunteers in sewing and decorating the gowns.
"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
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For Spirit of Community Awards program logo and medallion graphics, please visit https://spirit.prudential.com/resources/media
SOURCE Prudential Insurance