ST. PAUL, Minn., Feb. 5, 2019 /PRNewswire/ -- Annika Kovar, 18, of Frazee and Ryan Stoltz, 14, of Eden Prairie today were named Minnesota's top two youth volunteers of 2019 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism. As State Honorees, Annika and Ryan 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 2019.
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, now in its 24th 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 2019:
High School State Honoree: Annika Kovar Nominated by Perham High School
Annika, a senior at Perham High School, created a charity that has encouraged and helped 105 childcare facilities in 21 states to grow vegetable gardens for their kids, and is engaged in numerous other projects to promote healthy eating and physical activity among young people. In 2012, Annika suffered a concussion in a gymnastics accident and had to refrain from any physical activity for six months. "Over the course of my recovery, I experienced first-hand the effects that lack of exercise and poor eating habits can have," she said. Afterward, "I was determined to become the healthiest version of myself, and inspire others to do the same."
So while she was volunteering as an activities leader at a local daycare facility, Annika planted a garden to teach the children "where real food comes from" and to feed them healthy produce. Other daycares in Minnesota heard about her garden, and before long, Annika was providing free vegetable seeds, advice and, in some cases, hands-on planting assistance to 35 childcare facilities. Last year, her "Little Sprouts Garden Gang" program expanded to 21 states, and she published a children's book to extol the virtues of gardening and to help fund her program. Annika also has produced exercise videos and taught a short fitness routine to encourage kids to get at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day. In addition, she promotes both nutrition and exercise through speeches, food drives, benefit concerts, radio public service announcements, social media and a personal website. "Working together, we can educate and encourage today's youth to move more, eat healthier, and help lower childhood obesity," said Annika.
Middle Level State Honoree: Ryan Stoltz Nominated by Central Middle School
Ryan, an eighth-grader at Central Middle School, has spent more than 1,000 hours over the past four years researching and writing 55 news stories as a reporter for the Scholastic News Kids Press Corps, and is also working to supply free hearing aids to people in need around the world. Concerned about frequent attacks on the news media, Ryan is "inspired to deliver facts to people in a fair and unbiased manner," he said, and considers it his "patriotic duty to uphold and continue the legacy of a free press." He looks for story ideas that can empower and give voice to young people, pitches them to his editor in New York, conducts research and interviews, and submits his finished pieces for publication in Scholastic's magazines and on its website, which are available to more than 35 million students.
Ryan became interested in the subject of hearing loss after doing a story on the Starkey Hearing Foundation. So far, he has led five work sessions in which more than 150 volunteers recruited by Ryan have assembled nearly 8,000 hearing aids for the foundation. He also is planning to participate in a foundation mission to help fit children in another country with hearing aids, and then produce video and print news stories to share his experience with classrooms across the country. "I hope my story will inspire other kids to contemplate the ways in which they can make a positive difference in their communities," he said.
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 2019:
Cameron Anundson, 18, of Excelsior, Minn., a senior at Minnetonka High School, has been serving with his student government since he was in middle school, and since freshman year has led numerous committees and played key roles in valued student activities. Cameron has been instrumental in organizing events including Heart Week, an annual fundraiser with activities from a dance to a trivia night that raises about $35,000 a year for a charity supporting local students and families.
Jacob Bridge, 16, of Excelsior, Minn., a junior at Minnetonka High School, is an active volunteer with the Lowry Nature Center and Backpack Tutoring, and donates his time to a number of other community initiatives as well. Jacob started volunteering by getting involved with the activities attended by his sister, who has special needs; he went on to activities including serving with the Nature Center's summer camps, where he ensures the safety of children as they embark on educational adventures.
Briana Clifton, 17, of Coon Rapids, Minn., a senior at Coon Rapids High School, is dedicated to raising awareness about mental illness and educating students about career opportunities in the mental health field. She worked with the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Morningsong Therapy Center and her school activities director to organize an educational event at her school last year, which featured speeches from survivors and mental health professionals and was attended by more than 50 students.
Gabriella Feygin, 11, of Excelsior, Minn., a sixth-grader at Minnetonka Middle School West, learned about the devastating statistics around childhood cancer when she was 6 years old; since then, she has raised more than $250,000 for organizations centered on child health. She has championed yearly fundraising drives and been instrumental in getting other children involved in helping others—something she believes kids can do at any age.
Camden Patterson, 17, of Sauk Rapids, Minn., a senior at Sauk Rapids-Rice High School, played a key role in a student council initiative that raised more than $13,000 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Camden worked on a small committee to launch her school's first-ever "Survivor Week," an event that engaged the whole school community and put 14 contestants through unique challenges; her primary responsibilities included securing business donations and planning more than 25 challenges.
Sanya Pirani, 12, of Prior Lake, Minn., a seventh-grader at Hidden Oaks Middle School, manages her own nonprofit organization, "Sanya's Hope For Children," which aims to assist children in her school with basic necessities. She has led hundreds of her peers to participate in projects including clothing, diaper and book drives; her "Christmas Bag Project" unites volunteers to sew and stuff bags full of toys, school supplies and books for homeless children.
"These young volunteers learned and demonstrated that they can make meaningful contributions to individuals and communities through their service," said Prudential CEO Charles Lowrey. "It's an honor to recognize their great work, and we hope that shining a spotlight on their service inspires others to consider how they might make a difference."
"Each of these honorees is proof that students have the energy, creativity and unique perspectives to create positive change," said JoAnn Bartoletti, executive director of NASSP. "We commend each of the 2019 honorees for their outstanding volunteer service, and for the invaluable example they've set for their peers."
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 May 6, 10 of the State Honorees – five middle level and five high school students – will be named America's top youth volunteers of 2019. 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 125,000 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 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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