CARSON CITY, Nev., May 4, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- Nevada's top two youth volunteers of 2020, Irene Yoo, 15 and Abigail Panariso, 13, both of Las Vegas, 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, Irene and Abigail – 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 Nevada'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 Irene and Abigail Nevada'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, Irene and Abigail 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
Irene (pictured left), a sophomore at Ed W. Clark High School, formed a youth orchestra in the winter of 2019 that conducts recitals at senior care facilities and children's hospitals in her community. Irene began playing the viola when she was 11 years old and has since performed in several youth orchestras, including the Korean Youth Orchestra, which sometimes held concerts at senior centers. "Our audience always loved our music, and after each performance we spent time chatting with the seniors," said Irene. She really enjoyed interacting with older people, she said, but the problem was that many of her musician friends weren't Korean, so they weren't eligible to join. Irene envisioned a group of young musicians coming together based on ability and the love of music, without regard to nationality. So she founded a youth group she called "Las Vegas Arts, Music & Education."
Irene began by recruiting members by distributing fliers to young orchestra players and posting ads on Facebook and other social media sites. She asked her school piano teacher to serve as conductor, found inexpensive space for rehearsals, and contacted several senior care centers to see if they wanted an orchestra to perform at their facilities. Her group now plays at both senior centers and children's hospitals, usually playing six pieces in a 40-minute concert. To cover her orchestra's expenses, Irene organized a "slime" festival and conducts classes to teach others how to make the gooey, sticky substance that kids love to mold and stretch (her Instagram page on slime has more than 180,000 followers). "I know our performances make a difference in the lives of patients in children's hospitals and senior centers," said Irene. "We bring happiness to many, and get so much in return."
Abigail (pictured right), a member of Girl Scouts of Southern Nevada and an eighth-grader at Thurman White Middle School, donated more than $1,300 last year to buy eight new wheelchairs for veterans traveling on free "honor flights" to Washington, D.C., organized a letter-writing campaign that produced more than 500 letters thanking them for their service, and recruited hundreds of people to welcome them back home after their trip. When Abigail's grandfather returned home from serving in Vietnam, he did not receive the warm welcome that greeted previous generations of soldiers. "It was the opposite," said Abigail. "This inspired me and I knew I had to do something to show our veterans how we haven't forgotten and that they are very much respected and appreciated."
As a volunteer for Honor Flight of Southern Nevada for four years, Abigail had noticed how the wheelchairs used for transporting elderly veterans in the nation's capital were breaking and were very heavy. So with $1,250 she had earned from selling Girl Scout cookies, along with donations from friends, she purchased eight lightweight all-terrain wheelchairs. Then she asked teachers at her school for help in getting students to write appreciation letters for the veterans. The most difficult part of her project, Abigail said, was rounding up people to be at the airport when the veterans' plane landed. Swallowing her fear of public speaking, she made appeals at her school and church, at Boy and Girl Scout gatherings, and at a local congresswoman's town hall meeting. When the day of the return flight arrived, the veterans disembarked to the cheers and applause of hundreds.
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.