CONCORD, N.H., May 4, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- New Hampshire's top two youth volunteers of 2020, Lillian Murray, 18, of Rye and Natalie Geissler, 14, of Portsmouth, 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, Lillian and Natalie – 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 New Hampshire'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 Lillian and Natalie New Hampshire'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, Lillian and Natalie 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
Lillian (pictured left), a senior at Portsmouth High School, founded "Portsmouth Community Closet," a nonprofit through which she has collected new and gently used clothing for families in need, provided eight of the families with washers and dryers, and enhanced the services available to kids at a local recreation center. It all began when Lillian's ecology class talked about conducting a clothing drive but didn't move forward with the project. "I knew it was a good cause and I wanted to finish what we started," she said. So she personally solicited clothing donations from local shops and community members, recruited volunteers to help wash and sort the collected clothes, and then handed them out to residents of a low-income housing development.
While at the development, Lillian learned that the local laundromat had closed and public buses did not allow bags of laundry to be brought on board. A few weeks later, she started raising money to buy washers and dryers. Then, after collecting more than $4,500 and several donated machines, Lillian presented eight energy- and water-efficient washers and dryers to families that needed them. Still eager to help those facing social and economic challenges, Lillian began working with a recreation center serving kids from low-income families. She created new activities for the center's after-school program, helped kids with their homework and brought in other student volunteers to assist. She also organized summer field trips for the kids there, and collected money and books to create a "book nook" at the center. "Giving back to a community which has given you so much, is truly rewarding," said Lillian. "And volunteering has become a key component in the way I carry myself as I go through life."
Natalie (pictured right), an eighth-grader at Portsmouth Middle School, travels for 45 minutes to a rescue animal shelter every other Sunday to care for quarantined dogs that have been transferred from overcrowded or kill shelters in other locations. Natalie first began volunteering when she joined the International Order of the Rainbow for Girls in 2017. As a member, she tie-dyed T-shirts for families with sick children, built picnic tables for a summer camp, participated in numerous fundraisers, and took part in other service activities. Later, she volunteered to send off and welcome home soldiers in Portsmouth. "The feeling I got from helping others inspired me to look for even more volunteering opportunities," said Natalie.
That's when she found out about a shelter called Mary's Dogs Rescue & Adoption. "I love animals and want to be a veterinarian someday," said Natalie, so she was immediately drawn to the prospect of caring for the canines there. "I have a special love for these animals because they come from bad circumstances and do not choose where they end up." For four hours at a time, Natalie plays with the puppies, walks older dogs, measures food and medicine, helps with feeding, cleans cages, washes dishes and folds blankets and towels. Many of the dogs she cares for have been abused or mistreated. "The cases of animal cruelty I have seen have astounded me," she said, "but it has made me realize that heroes are not always those who perform extraordinary acts. People can be heroic by performing little, ordinary acts of kindness each day."
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.