HELENA, Mont., May 4, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- Montana's top two youth volunteers of 2020, Jadyn Bellander, 18, of Jefferson City and Kael Hesford, 13, of Boulder, 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, Jadyn and Kael – 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 Montana'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 Jadyn and Kael Montana'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, Jadyn and Kael 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
Jadyn (pictured left), a senior at Jefferson High School, established a food pantry at her high school that provides weekend food to the families of 28 students who rely on free or discounted hot lunches on school days for a substantial part of their weekly nutritional needs. Jadyn used to help pack bags of food with a program for elementary school kids in need, and then realized that they lost this essential support once they entered high school, which is in session only four days a week in her district. "Many of these students went hungry over the long weekend," she said. "I couldn't imagine how they could possibly focus in school if they were [malnourished]." She proposed the idea of creating a food pantry at the high-school level to her school district's superintendent and school board, and then persuaded a local food bank to help get it started.
Jadyn began preparing bags of food and delivering them to students every other Thursday. When her initial supply of food ran low, she started a county-wide food drive. To do that, she appealed for donations through a newspaper article, a radio advertisement and promotional fliers, and asked businesses and organizations to host collection boxes. The local library system also agreed to participate by accepting food donations in lieu of overdue fines for one month. Once her drive had yielded enough food to last until the end of the school year, Jadyn devoted all of her free time to keeping her pantry organized, packing food bags and making discreet deliveries to students. An entire class at her school has now taken on Jadyn's "Panther Pantry" project, making it likely that it will continue well beyond Jadyn's time at the school.
Kael (pictured right), an eighth-grader at Boulder Elementary School, led a service learning club that conducted several community service projects over the past three years, including winter clothing drives, a student weekend food program and fundraising for playground equipment at his school. Kael managed these activities as one of seven student voices ambassadors in the U.S. Department of Education's 21st Century Community Learning Centers program. "The projects I worked on were very important to me because our town has high poverty rates," said Kael. "This results in families that may not be able to afford a good meal and good clothing for the winter, so I wanted to help support families."
Kael's club decided to run a winter clothing drive after seeing fellow students coming to school in just sweaters and running shoes despite sub-freezing temperatures. To obtain donations, they hung posters around town, placed collection boxes at small businesses and asked large stores to contribute needed items. Last year, they were able to distribute more than 80 articles of winter clothing to students in need at a school-wide family night. The club also conducted community drives to provide more than 40 students with "KidsPacks" full of food to take home every weekend. In addition, Kael and his fellow volunteers raised more than $5,800 to buy a "spinning orbitron" for their school's playground. Kael created a display on the impact of his projects and presented it at national symposium in Washington, D.C., last summer.
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.