SANTA FE, N.M., May 4, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- New Mexico's top two youth volunteers of 2020, Makayla Gates, 18, of Peralta and Sheree Anderson, 14, of Rainsville, 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, Makayla and Sheree – 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 Mexico'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 Makayla and Sheree New Mexico'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, Makayla and Sheree 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
Makayla (pictured left), a senior at Valencia High School, has taken a leading role in her community and state in advocating for computer technology access for rural, low-income and non-English-speaking students, and in training teachers and students to use computers. Makayla, who lives in a rural community and attends a school 11 miles from town, struggled with schoolwork that increasingly required computers or smart phones, and realized that many other students faced the same predicament. "I watched too many very bright students like myself failing classes and unable to keep up with work that is difficult, if not impossible, to complete without access to computer technology," she said.
Makayla began writing letters and personally contacting public officials and local organizations to lobby for technology funding, made presentations about her concerns, and eventually met with two different governors. When her school learned it would receive free Apple laptops, she became a certified Apple Teacher and volunteered to train teachers, administrators and students on the new computers. Makayla also has been appointed by Governor Lujan Grisham to a state computer science education task force, which will enable her to continue advocating for technology education and implementation, and to visit schools across New Mexico to assess needs and devise plans. "Computer and internet competency are essential 21st-century skills," she said, emphasizing that it's critical to help students who are "risking their futures, through no fault of their own, just because they are poor and have little or no access or training in computer technology."
Sheree (pictured right), a member of the Girl Scouts of New Mexico Trails and an eighth-grader at Mora Middle School, created a business card to raise awareness of and prevent animal testing that highlight shampoo and conditioner products that are not tested on animals, and has distributed over 600 copies and counting throughout her community to educate others about this particular form of animal abuse. "I am very passionate about animals," said Sheree, who has ridden horses since she was 3 years old and owns a horse, several dogs and a guinea pig. When she discovered that some shampoo and conditioner manufacturers were testing their products on the eyes of bunnies, she resolved to spread the word.
Sheree spent hours on the internet researching shampoos and conditioners that were not tested on animals, then visited local stores to assess their availability. She compiled a list of acceptable products, recruited a sponsor, printed her list on 600 cards, and began distributing her "pockets of knowledge" to family members, friends, fellow Girl Scouts, animal shelters, veterinarians, health food stores and elsewhere in her community. Many of the recipients expressed their love of animals, were shocked to learn about their use in product testing, and vowed to purchase other products from now on, she said. Sheree plans to continue her focus on saving animals from abuse as she pursues her Girl Scout Gold Award. "I feel that I have a voice in protecting animals, and will continue to teach about animal abuse," said Sheree.
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.