WASHINGTON, April 30, 2018 /PRNewswire/ -- Michelle Qin, 17, of Santa Barbara, Calif., was named one of America's top 10 youth volunteers of 2018 today by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards during the program's 23rd annual national award ceremony at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium. Selected from a field of more than 29,000 youth volunteers from across the country, Michelle has earned the title of National Honoree, along with a personal award of $5,000, an engraved gold medallion, a crystal trophy for her school, and a $5,000 grant from The Prudential Foundation for a nonprofit charitable organization of her choice.
Also honored this week in Washington, D.C., was Autumn Bright, 13, of Portola Valley. Michelle and Autumn were named California's top youth volunteers in February, and were officially recognized last night at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History along with the top two youth volunteers in each other state and the District of Columbia. At that event, each of the 102 State Honorees for 2018 received $1,000 awards as well as personal congratulations from Olympic gold medalist and World Cup champion Lindsey Vonn. The honorees each also received engraved silver medallions and all-expense-paid trips with a parent to Washington, D.C., for this week's recognition events.
Michelle, a junior at Dos Pueblos High School, is the founder and CEO of a nonprofit organization comprised of more than 100 students in California, New Jersey and British Columbia who work to empower girls and women around the world, focused on education, poverty and health. In 2015, a friend of Michelle's returned from a trip to Guatemala and showed her pictures of girls living in poverty. "I was touched so profoundly because those girls were my age," said Michelle. "Their stories opened my eyes to the spectrum of privilege we live in, and I realized that geographical situations alone can change the course of our entire lives and future."
Michelle decided to organize a club at her school to assist the girls she'd seen in the photos, initially by holding bake sales to help pay education costs. As the club expanded to include more than 100 members in three branches, it obtained nonprofit status and tackled a variety of ambitious projects. So far, Michelle's "Together to Empower" organization has not only raised funds to help 550 Guatemalan girls go to school, but also made it possible for several Ugandan women to learn business skills and entrepreneurship, organized a two-week computer coding camp for 25 girls, hosted a fundraising banquet to promote safe health practices for African women, and held tech workshops to teach 50 girls how to develop mobile computer applications. The group is now preparing to publish an art book depicting various artists' interpretations of what it means to be a woman.
Autumn, a seventh-grader at Corte Madera Elementary School, raised more than $23,000 last year to build an orphanage for 12 abandoned children in India, and to dig a freshwater well and purchase school supplies for the kids. During a family trip to India in 2016, Autumn was stunned by the poverty she saw there. "The most shocking part was that a large majority of those on the streets were children around my age and younger," she said. "I realized how privileged we are in the United States."
Upon returning home, Autumn researched aid organizations and learned that she could build her own orphanage through a charity called Angel House, but she'd have to raise $23,500 to do it. With help from some friends, she began baking cookies, dog treats and other food items, and selling them at a nearby park after school and in front of local grocery stores on weekends. She also became a certified babysitter and emailed town residents offering her services. In addition, she collected money by growing and selling plants, pet sitting, watering neighbors' shrubs and flowers, and soliciting donations. "All of the money I raised will go toward building a 12-child Angel House and a freshwater well, as well as buying brand-new school shoes and fully stocked backpacks," said Autumn. The orphanage, she said, "will provide the children with a safe home, healthy meals, a great education and so much love for years to come."
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards is a national youth recognition program sponsored by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).
"These honorees exemplify something we've known for a long time – that young volunteers have the power to bring meaningful change to their communities," said John Strangfeld, chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial, Inc. "These students have shown leadership and determination well beyond their years, and it's a privilege to celebrate their service."
"Through their acts of service, these honorees drive home a powerful lesson for their peers: that one student really can make a difference," said Daniel P. Kelley, president of NASSP. "We are honored to shine a spotlight on the compassion, drive and ingenuity of each of these young volunteers."
In addition to Michelle, these are the other 2018 National Honorees:
Tabitha Bell, 18, of Sandy, Utah, a senior at Waterford School, has raised more than $115,000 through her nonprofit, "Pawsitive Pawsibilities," to provide nine service dogs to people who otherwise could not afford one.
Rosie Colucci, 13, of Palatine, Ill., an eighth-grader at Plum Grove Junior High School, has collected more than 60,000 toys, books, stuffed animals, games and other donations for hospitalized kids, and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to help fund research for a cure for childhood cancer.
Grayson Phillips, 18, of Gardendale, Ala., a senior at Essential Church School, organized a fishing tournament and a fundraising dinner/auction, and collected donations at outdoor expos, to provide seven children and young adults with disabilities with all-terrain power wheelchairs that allow them to safely navigate the great outdoors with their peers.
Paloma Rambana, 12, of Tallahassee, Fla., a seventh-grader at Maclay School, lobbied legislators, led rallies, gave speeches, created a website and generated media publicity to help secure $1.25 million in state funding for visually impaired children between the ages of 6 and 13.
Hailey Richman, 10, of Long Island City, N.Y., a fifth-grader at Public School 78, has placed more than 10,000 jigsaw puzzles in nursing homes and other senior living facilities over the past three years, and created an online support group for kids around the world who have loved ones suffering from Alzheimer's disease.
Madison Strempek, 13, of Crofton, Md., a seventh-grader at Crofton Middle School, wrote and self-published a 46-page book, Everyone Makes Mistakes, to reassure and comfort children, like her, who have an incarcerated parent.
Brandon Warren, 18, of Indianapolis, Ind., a senior at Warren Central High School, organized a citywide peace march and community day in Indianapolis to stand against youth violence, following the murder of a friend and fellow football player.
William Winslow, 12, of Raleigh, N.C., a sixth-grader at Daniels Magnet Middle School, fights childhood hunger in his community by holding food drives to fill backpacks with weekend food for children who otherwise might go hungry, and by helping to build school gardens in neighborhoods where access to fresh food is limited.
Helena Zimmerman, 16, of Purchase, N.Y., a junior at Rye Country Day School, co-founded a nonprofit organization three years ago that is currently giving more than 3,000 teens in 40 states the opportunity to experience meaningful volunteer work by teaching and tutoring kids in underserved communities.
The distinguished selection committee that chose the National Honorees was chaired by Strangfeld and included Kelley of NASSP; Andrea Bastiani Archibald, chief girl and family engagement officer for Girl Scouts of the USA; Anna Drenning, a national headquarters volunteer recruiter with the American Red Cross; Natalye Paquin, chief executive officer of Points of Light; Kirsten Perry, a school counselor at Lawndale Community Academy in Chicago, Ill. and the American School Counselor Association's 2018 School Counselor of the Year; Frederick J. Riley, national director of urban and youth development at YMCA of the USA; Tony Shivers, a member of the National PTA Board of Directors; Rhonda Taylor, director of partnerships and program engagement for the Corporation for National and Community Service; Will Waidelich, executive director of the Association for Middle Level Education (AMLE); and two 2017 National Honorees: Amal Bhatnagar, a freshman at University of California-Berkeley, and Katie Eder, a senior at Shorewood High School in Shorewood, Wis.
Youth volunteers in grades 5-12 were invited to apply for 2018 Prudential Spirit of Community Awards last fall through schools, Girl Scout councils, county 4-H organizations, American Red Cross chapters, YMCAs and affiliates of Points of Light's HandsOn Network.
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 23 years, the program has honored more than 120,000 young volunteers at the local, state and national level.
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.
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