ST. PAUL, Minn., Feb. 7, 2017 /PRNewswire/ -- Miranda Mead, 17, of Plymouth and Ariana Feygin, 12, of Excelsior today were named Minnesota's 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, Miranda and Ariana 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 Minnesota's top youth volunteers of 2017:
High School State Honoree: Miranda Mead
Nominated by Wayzata High School in Plymouth
Miranda, a junior at Wayzata High School, raises funds and awareness nationally in the battle against childhood cancer by appearing in public service announcements, sitting for photo shoots, and sharing her own story at speaking engagements. A former cross-country runner, Miranda first thought the pain in her back was a running injury. But days after her 16th birthday, tests revealed she had Ewing's Sarcoma, an aggressive type of bone cancer. During her long periods of treatment in the hospital, "my father and I would walk the oncology floor where I witnessed many young children suffering," said Miranda. "I was very inspired by the fight these little kids had, and it became extremely important for me to turn this negative experience into something positive."
At a local fundraiser, Miranda learned about an organization called The Truth 365, whose goal is to educate and mobilize people to join the fight against childhood cancer. After expressing interest in working with the group, Miranda began participating in its cancer awareness photo shoots and public service announcements. She also started speaking at local and national events, sharing her story with audiences and helping to raise money. In addition, Miranda hosted a weekend event in Washington, D.C., that The Truth 365 puts on annually to unite childhood cancer foundations and families whose children are fighting cancer. Today, Miranda said, she is cancer-free and will continue to advocate for kids with cancer.
Middle Level State Honoree: Ariana Feygin
Nominated by Minnetonka Public Schools in Excelsior
Ariana, a sixth-grader at Minnetonka Middle School West, has raised more than $100,000 with her younger sister since 2013 to support young cancer patients and their families by organizing local fundraising activities in conjunction with an annual kids' triathlon hosted by a national foundation. "In our family, we know we are very lucky kids," said Ariana. "But other kids are not so lucky. It's not fair." The sisters wanted to help less fortunate children, but didn't know how. Then they learned about a young boy who had lost his battle with cancer, but not before emptying his bank account to help others and extracting a "pinky swear" promise from his dad to continue helping sick kids.
In the summer of 2013, Ariana and her sister, Gabi, raced in the Pinky Swear Kids Triathlon and raised $1,500 for the Pinky Swear Foundation. Each year since, they have recruited more and more kids to be on their fundraising team, and raised increasingly large sums. Last year alone, they had 50 team members and secured $50,000. As part of their triathlon participation, the girls and their team have conducted activities such as bagging groceries for shoppers, hosting a silent auction, coordinating movie nights, and organizing a carnival. They also give presentations to service organizations such as the Lions and Rotary Clubs to solicit donations. "The money we raised helped pay for mortgages, transportation, food and whatever it takes to help these families get through an incredibly hard time," said Ariana.
The program judges also recognized six other Minnesota students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are Minnesota's Distinguished Finalists for 2017:
Eloise Berdahl-Baldwin, 18, of St. Paul, Minn., a senior at Mounds Park Academy, is the creator and author of "Ask Jamie," a national advice column that offers guidance and support geared toward putting an end to bullying. Eloise connected with PACER's National Bullying Prevention Center following her own experience with being bullied, and created her column in the fall of 2015 on the PACER Center Teens Against Bullying website where she now fields questions from bullies, bystanders and targets around the world.
Olivia Brammer, 16, of Burnsville, Minn., a junior at Burnsville High School, is an active volunteer who serves on the "Bowls for Brainpower" leadership team to feed kids in need, as house manager for the Burnsville High School's Mraz Center, and as a youth commissioner for her city's parks and natural resources commission. Her efforts have provided guidance related to city resources that service 65,000 residents, and helped to raise more than $20,000 to feed local elementary schoolers in need over the weekends.
Theresa Eckel, 17, of Rochester, Minn., a senior at Lourdes High School, organized a food drive at all five Rochester Catholic Schools that has collected $50,000 in food donations over the past two years for people living in poverty on the Red Lake Indian Reservation. Theresa, who launched the drive after hearing about need on the reservation from a visiting priest, has recruited underclassmen to continue the drive after she graduates and established an annual school mission trip to the reservation.
Stephanie Makredes, 17, of Edina, Minn., a senior at The Blake School, initiated a project to build six raised garden beds at her school, working with 13 volunteers to provide elementary students with healthy snacks and a sense of where their food comes from. Stephanie worked with the school's principal and staff to develop her plan and secured materials from local donors; now, produce from the garden will be split between local food shelves and the kitchens on campus.
Samantha Wheeler, 17, of Minneapolis, Minn., a senior at Washburn High School, led a community collection drive that provided her school social worker with 18 backpacks filled with all the supplies a high school student might need at the beginning of the school year, along with three boxes of extra supplies and $745 in gift cards. Samantha had previously collected supplies for a local charity, but wanted to go a step further and completely supply some low-income students at her own school.
Egeziharya Yilma, 17, of Burnsville, Minn., a senior at Burnsville High School, held a collection drive that gathered $10,000 worth of school supplies for students in need in Ethiopia, and has since grown her "Project Pencil" to include other schools outside her district. After meeting students on a trip to Ethiopia that were sharing notebooks and pencils, Egeziharya came home determined to help and has since connected with businesses, other students and Ethiopia's education bureau to expand her efforts.
"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
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
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SOURCE Prudential Insurance