TRENTON, N.J., Feb. 7, 2017 /PRNewswire/ -- Bradley Ferguson, 16, of Northfield and Kierstyn Kuehnle, 13, of Ocean City today were named New Jersey's top two youth volunteers of 2017 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism. As State Honorees, Bradley and Kierstyn 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 2017.
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, now in its 22nd year, is conducted by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).
These are New Jersey's top youth volunteers of 2017:
High School State Honoree: Bradley Ferguson
Nominated by Mainland Regional High School in Linwood
Bradley, a sophomore at Mainland Regional High School, started a service-learning club that over the past three years has supported veterans and people in need by refurbishing an American Legion post, collecting food for a community food bank, making lunches for homeless people, and growing fresh produce at several community gardens. When Bradley was in seventh grade, he saw many people in his town lose their jobs and ultimately, their homes. In an area reeling from the recession, the demand for food was so high that the local food banks were running low on supplies, he said. One day, Bradley watched in horror as a desperate veteran set himself on fire outside the local VA clinic. "This is an image that will never be deleted from my mind," he said. "His death serves as an inspiration to me to create change."
With $123,000 in grants obtained by Bradley, his "Post Crashers" club has conducted numerous activities to aid veterans and feed the hungry. Club members and other volunteers helped refurbish the local American Legion post by painting it, replacing tiles, updating the kitchen, and decorating the facility. They also cleared the backyard to build a "victory garden" and a community picnic area. Post Crashers also has made nearly 2,000 sack lunches for the homeless and for veterans living in transitional housing, collected large amounts of nonperishable food items for veterans and a food bank, and worked on gardens that have yielded more than 1,500 pounds of fresh produce for the hungry.
Middle Level State Honoree: Kierstyn Kuehnle
Nominated by Ocean City Intermediate School in Ocean City
Kierstyn, a seventh-grader at Ocean City Intermediate School, raises money and awareness for the hearing impaired through her participation in an annual "Walk 4 Hearing" event. Kierstyn was born deaf in her left ear, and in 2014, she began to lose some hearing on her right side, too. When she was told she needed a hearing aid, "I was scared," she said. "The first thought that came to mind was: what if nobody will want to be my friend anymore?" Then her audiologist told her about Walk 4 Hearing, a national event sponsored by the Hearing Loss Association of America. Kierstyn, who had previously raised money for other causes and enjoyed it, decided to join an existing walk team. "When I saw so many people with hearing loss impairments that I could relate to, it made me feel accepted. I was immediately onboard," she said.
The following year, Kierstyn formed her own walk team ("Team Kiki"). She used a website and social media to publicize her team, sent emails to encourage family and friends to participate, solicited support from local businesses, and held numerous bake sales. Her team has raised more than $38,000 over the past two years; 60 percent of the proceeds have gone to the Hearing Loss Association of America, while the remainder has been donated to aid the hearing impaired in Kierstyn's community. Helping people with a disability get the assistance they need, said Kierstyn, "is the most rewarding and heartfelt experience ever."
The program judges also recognized six other New Jersey students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are New Jersey's Distinguished Finalists for 2017:
Kate Atschinow, 16, of Highland Park N.J., a junior at Highland Park High School, has donated more than $40,000 worth of food and personal hygiene items to the Highland Park Food Pantry since 2013 through her charitable couponing initiative, "CuttingOutHunger." Kate, who has secured donations and grants and collected coupons to make the money go farther at the supermarket, has also led her organization in donating more than $1 million worth of coupons to military families overseas.
Avika Bansal, 15, of Livingston, N.J., a sophomore at Livingston Senior High School, has been collecting and donating essential items for people in need since she was very young, organizing drives that have gathered 5,000 pairs of shoes, 1,000 pounds of food and toiletries and more. Avika, who started her efforts in 2009 to help shoeless children like those she'd seen on a trip to India, has since dedicated more than 1,000 hours to her collections.
Jordyn Cascone, 15, of Hamilton Square, N.J., a member of Girl Scouts of Central & Southern New Jersey and a sophomore at Health Science Academy, has collected more than 27,000 pounds of pet food for Meals on Wheels of Mercer County through "Jordyn's Cause 4 Paws," a nonprofit she started in 2014 after learning that many homebound people fed some or all of their meals to their pets. Jordyn, who has dedicated more than 400 hours to her initiative, has solicited donations and clipped coupons to buy the pet food, and delivers the labeled packages every week for distribution.
Sharwani Kota, 17, of Edison, N.J., a senior at John P. Stevens High School, has helped to raise $75,000 to support children with autism through "Hope4Spandana," the nonprofit she created after visiting a run-down school for children with autism in a rural village in India. Sharwani's team of 60 volunteers has held more than 70 fundraising and dance events over the past four years, efforts that have supported two schools and 200 students in that Indian village and provided better therapy and care.
Nastassja Kuznetsova, 16, of Basking Ridge, N.J., a sophomore at Ridge High School, has raised more than $12,000 for lung cancer research since 2014 by organizing the annual Legwork for Lungs 5K run and mile walk. Nastassja, who organized the 5K after the lung cancer diagnosis of a family friend, has also founded a Legwork for Lungs club at her high school, organized an exhibit at Liberty Science Center and launched a social media campaign to raise awareness of the disease.
Renita Zaparde, 18, of Plainsboro, N.J., a junior at Princeton Day School, founded "Pedal2Prosperity," a nonprofit that has provided 510 bicycles to orphaned girls in Africa and India to help them stay in school. Inspired by a girl she met in India who had to walk three miles each way to get to school, Renita is also working to raise awareness amongst U.S. high school students about the struggles orphans face in developing countries; so far, her group has conducted more than 140 school Skype sessions.
"Prudential is honored to recognize these young volunteers for their exemplary service," said Prudential Chairman and CEO John Strangfeld. "We hope that their stories inspire others to consider how they, too, can volunteer their time and talents to improve their communities."
"These service-minded young people have brought meaningful change to communities at home and abroad, and it's a privilege to celebrate their work," said JoAnn Bartoletti, executive director of NASSP. "Congratulations to an exceptional group of middle level and high school students."
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 HandsOn Network affiliates, 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 8, 10 of the State Honorees – five middle level and five high school students – will be named America's top youth volunteers of 2017. 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 115,000 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 middle level and high school principals, assistant principals, and school leaders from across the United States. The association connects and engages school leaders through advocacy, research, education, and student programs. NASSP advocates on behalf of all school leaders to ensure the success of each student and strengthens school leadership practices through the design and delivery of high quality professional learning experiences. 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 Association of Student Councils. For more information about NASSP, located in Reston, VA, visit www.nassp.org.
About Prudential Financial
Prudential Financial, Inc. (NYSE: PRU), a financial services leader, has operations in the United States, Asia, Europe, and Latin America. Prudential's diverse and talented employees are committed to helping individual and institutional customers grow and protect their wealth through a variety of products and services, including life insurance, annuities, retirement-related services, mutual funds and investment management. In the U.S., Prudential's iconic Rock symbol has stood for strength, stability, expertise and innovation for more than a century. For more information, please visit www.news.prudential.com.
For Spirit of Community Awards program logo and medallion graphics, please visit https://spirit.prudential.com/resources/media
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