ALBANY, N.Y., Feb. 5, 2019 /PRNewswire/ -- Jothi Ramaswamy, 17, of Mohegan Lake and Samaia Goodrich, 11, of Syracuse today were named New York's top two youth volunteers of 2019 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism. As State Honorees, Jothi and Samaia 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 2019.
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, now in its 24th year, is conducted by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).
These are New York's top youth volunteers of 2019:
High School State Honoree: Jothi Ramaswamy Nominated by Lakeland High School
Jothi, a senior at Lakeland High School, has partnered with corporations and universities to conduct more than 45 technology workshops for girls in grades 3-12, while connecting them to female role models who have had successful careers in science, tech, engineering and math (STEM). "Thirty-three boys. Zero girls. My jaw dropped," Jothi said, when her brother mentioned the gender ratio of his computer coding class. She knew firsthand how valuable those skills are, because her mother, an engineer, had been able to step back into her career and support the family after the death of Jothi's father. "It fired up my determination to even the playing field," she said. Her response was to start a nonprofit organization called "ThinkSTEAM," with an "a" for "arts" added to STEM subjects. "I realized that so many girls are incredibly artistic, and teaching them how to combine their own creativity with technology is the perfect way to encourage them to learn about STEM," Jothi said.
After creating a website and assembling a board of directors, Jothi asked IBM to help her host a wearable technology workshop to show girls the intersection of technology and fashion. It was so successful that she collaborated with her school district to put on an all-day series of workshops for 75 middle school girls. So far, Jothi has organized more than 45 workshops in partnership with companies such as Facebook, Amazon and Google, as well as with Columbia and Stanford universities. She also has conducted an annual contest inviting girls in five countries to create videos that encourage girls to pursue STEAM subjects. ThinkSTEAM now has student ambassadors organizing workshops for girls in eight states. In total, Jothi estimates that her organization has engaged more than 1,000 girls.
Middle Level State Honoree: Samaia Goodrich Nominated by Expeditionary Learning Middle School
Samaia, a sixth-grader at Expeditionary Learning Middle School, organizes projects in her community to encourage inner-city youth to make a difference, including an effort to raise money to buy Christmas presents for Puerto Rican families who moved to Syracuse after Hurricane Maria devastated their homeland. "My parents say that I used to write the word 'love' all over the house," said Samaia. "I have always loved to help and give to others." When she was in elementary school, Samaia started the "Let Our Voices Echo (LOVE) Project – Syracuse." Her first initiative was collecting bottles to recycle and then purchasing LOVE Project T-shirts for her classmates to wear as they helped clean up their school grounds and a park. Other service projects followed.
Like everyone, Samaia was saddened to see the effects of Hurricane Maria on the news. Then she heard that some families with children were moving to her community. "I knew I had to do something to help the kids and families who lost everything," she said. She came up with a plan to give Christmas presents to the new arrivals and make it their "best Christmas ever." She shared her idea with her parents and recruited friends, school officials and her student council to help. Samaia then sought donations of food, clothing, gift cards and new toys by distributing a promotional flier, sending letters to businesses and setting up donation boxes. A TV interview also helped get the word out. With the help of 60 volunteers, Samaia ended up collecting more than $5,000 worth of donations to make Christmas bright for the families of seven students in her grade. The gifts were presented at a bilingual Christmas celebration proudly hosted by Samaia.
The program judges also recognized eight other New York students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are New York's Distinguished Finalists for 2019:
Sara Blau, 17, of Brookville, N.Y., a senior at Schechter School of Long Island, founded "Game Changers New York," a nonprofit that has collected and donated more than 6,650 pieces of sports equipment for children in need across the globe. She has played an instrumental role in collaborating with organizations and local volunteers to host fundraisers and collection events to procure sporting goods; so far, her initiative has donated equipment to more than 15 organizations in three countries.
Riley Damiano, 17, of Patterson, N.Y., a junior at Wooster School, has raised approximately $11,000 for pediatric cancer research as part of an initiative she created called "The Blue Lollipop Project." In memory of a child who loved blue lollipops and died from brain cancer, the initiative sells blue lollipops, donates one to a child in a hospital and donates all profits to The Ty Louis Campbell Foundation, which supports cancer research and families of children with cancer.
James Fallon, 17, of Armonk, N.Y., a junior at EF Academy, spearheads healing art projects as the head youth volunteer at Heavenly Productions Foundation, which administers themed arts and crafts projects for pediatric patients at the Maria Fareri Children's Hospital in Valhalla, NY. He raised more than $15,000 for the projects, and also has donated toiletries, clothing, food and blankets to homeless shelters and other charitable organizations.
Cayla Kumar, 16, of Queens Village, N.Y., a junior at Archbishop Molloy High School, created "The Gold Ribbon Project" to raise money for pediatric cancer research, and has brought in more than $25,000 through her efforts selling gold lapel ribbons. Named the first youth ambassador for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, she also traveled to Washington, D.C. for the CureFest rally, where she got to speak to legislators about increasing cancer research funding.
Sarah Locurto, 17, of North Tonawanda, N.Y., a senior at Niagara Wheatfield Senior High School, started "Because Char Smiled," an initiative that has mobilized volunteers to create thousands of paper flowers to donate to patients with cancer who cannot enjoy live flowers while in medical centers. She has provided flower-making tutorials to 600 volunteers of all ages, and worked with organizations including The Federated Garden Clubs of New York State, Inc.
Heather McNamara, 17, of Islip Terrace, N.Y., a senior at East Islip High School, has raised approximately $45,000 for charities including the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and Make-A-Wish Foundation. The pediatric cancer survivor also creates activity bags for pediatric patients in the hospital as part of "Heather's Survival Bags," and serves as a spokesperson for the New York Blood Center and New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center.
Aditya Sehgal, 16, of Deer Park, N.Y., a junior at Half Hollow Hills High School West, advocates for equal opportunities for education and organizes school supply donations as the founder of the nonprofit organization "Genius In Need." Aditya oversees program operations ranging from setting up drop boxes to coordinating with distributors and county officials; his group has raised thousands of dollars for school supplies and donated them to low-income schools in the Long Island area.
Jake Young, 12, of Lido Beach, N.Y., a seventh-grader at Long Beach Middle School, volunteers with the New York chapter of the Little Saint Nick Foundation, leading children in community groups to pack anti-anxiety gift bags that serve 600-1,000 pediatric emergency room patients every month. He and his siblings also dress in costume to distribute the goodies to hospitals on a monthly basis, often interacting with patient and staff members to brighten their day.
"These young volunteers learned and demonstrated that they can make meaningful contributions to individuals and communities through their service," said Prudential CEO Charles Lowrey. "It's an honor to recognize their great work, and we hope that shining a spotlight on their service inspires others to consider how they might make a difference."
"Each of these honorees is proof that students have the energy, creativity and unique perspectives to create positive change," said JoAnn Bartoletti, executive director of NASSP. "We commend each of the 2019 honorees for their outstanding volunteer service, and for the invaluable example they've set for their peers."
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 affiliates of Points of Light's HandsOn Network, 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 6, 10 of the State Honorees – five middle level and five high school students – will be named America's top youth volunteers of 2019. 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 125,000 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 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 www.nassp.org.
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