LANSING, Mich., May 4, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- Michigan's top two youth volunteers of 2020, Jessica Goldberg, 18, of Farmington Hills and Alex Vanharen, 14, of Oxford, 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, Jessica and Alex – 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 Michigan's 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 Jessica and Alex Michigan's 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, Jessica and Alex 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
Jessica (pictured left), a senior at North Farmington High School, is the founder of "Sib4Sib," a support network for the siblings of people who struggle with mental health or have developmental or cognitive differences. "Siblings have no resources in the mental health community, but they are just as affected as the rest of the family," Jessica said. So she decided to create a resource herself: a network to provide support groups, social events, networking opportunities and an advocacy voice for people who have a sibling struggling with mental health.
The main component of Sib4Sib is support groups for children ages 6 to 18, where, with the help of a licensed mental health professional, they can discuss their feelings, deal with negativity and learn coping skills. As the founder and board president, Jessica is in charge of the day-to-day operations, leads brainstorming and focus group sessions, manages partnerships, develops support group agendas, designs promotional material, oversees fundraising committees and serves as the public face of the organization. Recently, Jessica won an award with a prize of $36,000, which she will use to hire an executive director. She said she will remain president of her board after she leaves for college next year, and plans to start a chapter at her new school when she arrives. "Sib4Sib has created a support network where there was nothing before," Jessica said. "By creating a community where there was none before, Sib4Sib has reduced the stigma and also empowered teens and children to own their story and feel less isolated and more supported."
Alex (pictured right), an eighth-grader at Oxford Middle School, has donated more than 7,500 hats, gloves, and scarves to people in need over the past five years, and has organized annual donation drives to collect pop tops for a Ronald McDonald House, eyeglasses for the Lions Club and hygiene items for victims of domestic violence. It all started one cold day when Alex was out on the school playground and saw a group of students wearing lightweight clothing, trying to stay warm. "At that very moment, I realized how fortunate I was and I wanted to help them," he said. As soon as he got home, he announced to his mother, "We need to learn how to knit right now!" That same day, they studied a YouTube video on how to loom, and went out to buy knitting supplies.
Before long, word got out about his desire to help others, and volunteers began offering to assist with knitting, to donate or purchase yarn and other items, and to make deliveries. Alex now spends most of his time tracking and organizing donations, storing and loading them onto delivery vehicles, and maintaining a Facebook page to promote the initiative. To date, Alex's nonprofit has distributed winter apparel accessories through 22 schools and more than 20 charitable organizations. In addition, his drives have collected more than 40 pounds of pop tops for Ronald McDonald House, and over 400 pairs of glasses for the Lions Club, plus building materials for Habitat for Humanity, blankets and towels for an animal rescue organization, used books for a children's charity, and personal hygiene items for an agency serving victims of domestic violence.
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.