BOSTON, May 4, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- Massachusetts' top two youth volunteers of 2020, Kylee McCumber, 18, of Leominster and Jenna Khayal, 13, of North Andover, 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, Kylee and Jenna – 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 Massachusetts' 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 Kylee and Jenna Massachusetts' 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, Kylee and Jenna 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
Kylee (pictured left), a senior at The Winchendon School, provides weekend meal kits for 570 children in her town and in four nearby towns who otherwise might go hungry when school is not in session, a situation that Kylee herself has experienced. When she was 10, she noticed one morning several children eating breakfast at school, and asked her grandmother why they didn't eat at home. Her grandmother told her they were food insecure. Kylee had never told anyone that she, too, had also once gone hungry. "When I was younger, my mother had a drug addiction and she often fed that instead of feeding me," Kylee said. Determined to help other kids experiencing food insecurity, Kylee and her grandmother founded "Kylee's Kare Kits for Kidz," a nonprofit organization dedicated to feeding children who might not get enough to eat on weekends, when they're not getting meals at school.
Initially, Kylee held two yard sales to raise money to provide food for eight children. She and her grandma installed shelves in their basement to store food, shopped for groceries, packed the kits and delivered them to the school every Friday. But each week, the number of children in need grew, so they recruited volunteers to help and stepped up their fundraising efforts to include online appeals, food drives, "fill-a-truck" events and corporate sponsorships. Today, Kylee's program feeds children in need at all of her district's nine schools, as well as at schools in four surrounding towns. "My goal is to ensure that no child goes to bed hungry," she said. She also has conducted collection drives to provide kids with new backpacks stuffed with school supplies, and with holiday gifts at Christmastime.
Jenna (pictured right), an eighth-grader at The Islamic Academy for Peace, raised money to sponsor three orphans in the Middle East and collected clothing donations that benefitted nearly a thousand people in Syria. As an officer of her student council, Jenna believes she should lead by example. "Student council motivated me to do my volunteer work," Jenna said. "Not everybody gets to live in heated homes with clean water and plenty of food. There are so many people who are struggling to obtain the most basic needs that we forget to even acknowledge what we have as a great privilege."
Wanting to sponsor a child in need in Syria, Jenna began raising money by soliciting donations from fellow students, conducting bake sales at her school, asking parents to contribute, and organizing a "jeans day" at school where, for a $2 donation, students could exchange their school uniforms for informal clothing. After she had raised enough to fulfill her original goal of sponsoring one child through a humanitarian relief organization, "I felt like it wasn't enough," she said. So she redoubled her efforts. So far, Jenna has been able to support two Syrian girls and a Yemeni boy. She also worked with the relief agency to collect clothing including jackets and shoes for people in war-ravaged Syria. She said she would like to sponsor even more children in the future and, as the current president of the student council, wants to explore more ways that she and her fellow students can help make the world a better place.
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.