ST. PAUL, Minn., Feb. 6, 2018 /PRNewswire/ -- Ryan Guggenheim, 18, of St. Paul and Shrey Pothini, 14, of Savage today were named Minnesota's top two youth volunteers of 2018 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism. As State Honorees, Ryan and Shrey each will receive $1,000, an engraved silver medallion and an all-expense-paid trip in late April 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 2018.
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, now in its 23rd 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 2018:
High School State Honoree: Ryan Guggenheim Nominated by Mounds Park Academy in St. Paul
Ryan, a senior at Mounds Park Academy, helps provide dental care in impoverished communities in Guatemala by working on-site with the Open Wide Foundation (OWF) and raising money to fund scholarships for dental students who want to volunteer there. Having grown up in a family that values community service, Ryan began his volunteering at Minnesota Children's Hospital because of an interest in medicine. He was also interested in Spanish and Latin American culture, so when an opportunity to work with OWF presented itself, he jumped at the chance. "I felt Open Wide Foundation was important because it provides essential dental care in Guatemala by arranging dental professionals from the United States and Canada to work alongside a full team of local dentists and dental hygienists," said Ryan.
In 2016, Ryan, who is fluent in Spanish, traveled with an OWF team to Peronia, Guatemala. As the organization's first youth ambassador, Ryan delivered a speech at a press conference, met with local dignitaries to discuss medical and dental projects, and assisted dental professionals in a clinic during tooth extractions, cavity fillings and root canals. He also helped teach children about dental hygiene. After he returned home, Ryan began working to raise money to fund scholarships for dental students. He established contacts with dental schools, created an online fundraising page, and wrote articles to elicit support. By last fall, he had raised $5,000 and selected the first two scholarship recipients. Ryan said he plans to continue his work. "I have experienced how life-changing dentistry can be," he said.
Middle Level State Honoree: Shrey Pothini Nominated by Eagle Ridge Middle School in Savage
Shrey, an eighth-grader at Eagle Ridge Middle School, has organized an annual city-wide "day of service" for the past three years to mobilize community members to help others. Shrey has been passionate about community service ever since he collected new bath towels for a local homeless youth shelter when he was 5 years old. That effort led him to start a service club at his school, and then to encourage volunteerism throughout his entire city. "I wanted children and families in my city to be exposed to the needs in our community and learn how to make a difference while having fun," said Shrey.
Shrey took his idea for a "Service Day Saturday" to the city's mayor, city council and city administrator. After receiving permission, he put an ad in the local paper letting people know about the event and then formed a planning committee. He also talked to the city fire, police and communications departments; the local library; every school in the area; and local businesses and nonprofits. On the day of Shrey's event, residents were encouraged to conduct their own volunteer projects or participate in one of 12 that Shrey had organized. More than 1,500 people participated in last year's Service Day Saturday, collecting 4,000 pounds of food, donating 2,000 books to nonprofits, decorating 4,000 lunch bags for Meals on Wheels, assembling 500 bracelet kits for hospitalized kids, putting together 375 dental kits for homeless youth, and raising money to purchase 20 goats for families in Kenya. "I'm so grateful that people listened to my ideas and didn't think I was just being a silly child," said Shrey. "I would tell other young people to never let anybody tell them they cannot make a difference."
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 2018:
Olivia Brammer, 17, of Burnsville, Minn., a senior at Burnsville High School, has served as a member of her city's parks and natural resources commission, the president of her school's youth service advisory council and a mentor for at-risk middle level students – and that's just a few of her volunteer activities. As house manager for her school's performing arts center, a role she's held since sophomore year, Olivia started a program there that has recycled more than 7,000 tickets, cups and other paper and plastic items so far.
Claydon Dunn, 13, of Chanhassen, Minn., an eighth-grader at Minnetonka Middle School West, has been an enthusiastic volunteer with a local senior living facility since March 2017, lending a helping hand to the staff and socializing with the residents. Inspired to volunteer by his late uncle, who worked in a similar facility, Claydon has made a special effort to brighten the residents' days through friendly conversation, accompanying them to church services, and more.
Gabriella Feygin, 10, of Excelsior, Minn., a fifth-grader at Minnewashta Elementary School, co-founded a youth initiative that's raised more than $130,000 since 2013, helping hundreds of families affected by childhood cancer with transportation, mortgage payments and other basic expenses. Since learning that families can be bankrupted by childhood cancer costs, Gabriella has devoted more than 2,000 hours to her "Michael Romm's Legacy" fundraising team, named in honor of the grandfather who died from cancer before she was born.
Azhae'La Hanson, 18, of Minneapolis, Minn., a senior at North Community High School, spent 10 days this past June volunteering in Ecuador, where she played games with local children, supported cleanup and power restoration projects, and used her new Spanish language skills to act as a liaison between her group and the community. In the year leading up to the volunteer trip, Azhae'La prepared by enrolling in Spanish classes, studying South American history and working with a team to raise $10,000 for travel and supplies.
Ryan Stoltz, 13, of Eden Prairie, Minn., a seventh-grader at Central Middle School, is dedicated to including kids' perspectives in the public conversation, and over the past three years has covered 45 stories as a kid reporter for Scholastic News Kids Press Corps. Ryan has reported on a variety of current events and interviewed public figures including Nobel Prize-winning education activist Malala Yousafzai; he also worked alongside political reporters from major news outlets while covering the 2016 presidential election.
Francesca Wurm, 18, of Woodbury, Minn., a senior at East Ridge High School, created an art program for patients at a local hospital, offering a variety of craft projects to provide some relief from the stress of hospital stays. Francesca, having experienced this stress firsthand, worked with the hospital's volunteer coordinator to plan the program, which has reached about 100 people and is now offered by two departments.
"Prudential is proud to recognize these remarkable young people for using their energy, creativity and compassion to bring meaningful change to their communities," said Prudential Chairman and CEO John Strangfeld. "We hope their stories inspire others to consider how they can do the same."
"These middle level and high school students have not only improved the lives of the people and communities they've served – they also set an important example for their peers," said JoAnn Bartoletti, executive director of NASSP. "These honorees prove that you're never too young to make a difference."
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 affiliates of Points of Light's HandsOn Network, 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 April 30, 10 of the State Honorees – five middle level and five high school students – will be named America's top youth volunteers of 2018. 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 120,000 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, Brazil and Poland. 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 Student Council. For more information about NASSP, located in Reston, VA, visit www.nassp.org.
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