NEWARK, N.J., Feb. 9, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- Eliot Latray, 16, of Great Falls and Michael Andersen, 14, of Bozeman today were named Montana's top youth volunteers of 2021 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, America's largest youth recognition program based exclusively on volunteer service.
As State Honorees, Eliot and Michael will each receive a $2,500 scholarship, a silver medallion and an invitation to the program's virtual national recognition celebration in April, where 10 of the 102 State Honorees will be named America's top youth volunteers of the year. Those 10 National Honorees will earn an additional $5,000 scholarship, a gold medallion, a crystal trophy for their nominating organization and a $5,000 grant for a nonprofit charitable organization of their choice.
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, conducted annually by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), honors students in grades 5-12 for making meaningful contributions to their communities through volunteer service.
"We created the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards 26 years ago to highlight and support the work of young people taking on the challenges of a changing world – a mission that rings truer than ever given the events of last year," said Charles Lowrey, Prudential's chairman and CEO. "We are proud to celebrate the vision and determination of Spirit of Community's Class of 2021, and all the ways they're making their communities safer, healthier and more equitable places to live."
These are Montana's top youth volunteers of 2021:
High School State Honoree: Eliot Latray
Nominated by Great Falls High School
Eliot, a sophomore at Great Falls High School, spent a month last fall securing personal protective equipment (PPE) for members of two Native American tribes and for students and staff at his high school, and solicited donations of reusable water bottles for children at an elementary school who couldn't use drinking fountains because of COVID-19. A member of the Little Shell tribe and a descendent of the Blackfeet tribe, Eliot knew that the coronavirus was having a significant impact on minority communities. "I have a deep love for my people," he said. "I did not want to see Natives hit as hard in Montana as I had seen them affected in the southwestern United States."
When Eliot heard that a nonprofit organization in Bozeman had PPE available to share, he attended a Zoom meeting to learn more. Then he made a list of contacts who could help him distribute the 100 masks and 100 face shields he obtained to the Little Shell Tribe's headquarters, the Blackfeet Head Start program and Great Falls High School. He also began contacting businesses and organizations to see if they could donate reusable water bottles for children at a local elementary school. He was able to collect 48 bottles from a medical clinic, and then purchased 20 more. But his project also inspired a local businessman to donate enough bottles for an entire school, and prompted the public school foundation to buy 1,000 bottles to keep children well hydrated.
Middle Level State Honoree: Michael Andersen
Nominated by Sacajawea Middle School
Michael, an eighth-grader at Sacajawea Middle School, started the "Share Our Stories Holiday Campaign" last Christmas to spread holiday cheer and connect students with older generations through letter writing and stories of holidays past. It all started when Michael realized that, because of COVID-19, he would not get to see his grandparents at Christmastime. "I was sad about the time we would be missing and worried about them during the pandemic," Michael said. "I really wanted to find a way to connect with them and have a real-life conversation like I was there in person." Then he had an idea. First, he would recruit young people to write letters to a family member or someone else of another generation, asking them to share a holiday memory or story from when they were younger. Next, after the older person responds, both letters are posted on social media or a website.
To begin, Michael met with school officials and then made a presentation at a school-wide staff meeting. He made instructional packets for teachers and students, and built slideshows to explain his idea and instruct others on how to participate. He recruited volunteers to help him prepare the materials, worked in classrooms to help students write letters, reached out to organizations for sponsorships, designed a website, and spread the word through social media and interviews with reporters. Initially, Michael's goal was to create 500 connections between young and old in his community. Instead, more than 1,000 letters were exchanged, "affecting people in a wonderful way throughout this saddening time," said Michael.
State Honorees in The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards Class of 2021 – the top middle level and high school volunteer from all 50 states and the District of Columbia – were selected for service initiatives completed, at least in part, between the fall of 2019 and the fall of 2020. Selection was based on criteria including impact, effort, initiative and the personal growth demonstrated over the course of the project. Several Distinguished Finalists and runners-up were also selected in each state, and all qualifying applicants received President's Volunteer Service Awards.
"It speaks volumes about the character of today's secondary school students that the Spirit of Community program heard from more than 21,000 applicants this fall – most of them stories of young volunteers overcoming the hardships of a global pandemic to support those in need," said Ronn Nozoe, Chief Executive Officer, NASSP. "While we're especially proud to celebrate this year's 102 State Honorees, NASSP applauds every student who's found a way to volunteer this past year. You inspire your peers and adults alike to remember that, even in times of crisis, we all have something to give."
To read the names and stories of all of this year's State Honorees, visit http://spirit.prudential.com.
About Prudential Financial
Prudential Financial, Inc. (NYSE: PRU), a financial wellness leader and premier active global investment manager, has operations in the United States, Asia, Europe and Latin America. Prudential's diverse and talented employees help to make lives better by creating financial opportunity for more people. Prudential's iconic Rock symbol has stood for strength, stability, expertise and innovation for more than a century. For more information, please visit news.prudential.com.
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 http://nassp.org.
SOURCE Prudential Financial, Inc.