ALBANY, N.Y., May 4, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- New York's top two youth volunteers of 2020, Kunal Mohindra, 16, of Yorktown Heights and Victoria Holmes, 13, of Corning, 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, Kunal and Victoria – 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 York'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 Kunal and Victoria New York'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, Kunal and Victoria 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
Kunal (pictured left), a junior at Yorktown High School, has drawn from his own experience with autism to become an accomplished teacher and mentor who helps children with autism and other young people acquire computer coding and robotics skills. As a child, Kunal's autism made it very difficult for him to communicate with his family. But one day his older sisters taught him how to use computer programming to create games, and his whole world changed. "I found this new mode of communication to be very liberating and empowering," he said. Having an outlet for self-expression and creativity eventually enabled him to overcome many of his challenges, and instilled a desire "to share my love of coding with other students with disabilities who may be facing similar struggles," he said.
Two years ago, Kunal founded a nonprofit called "CodeConnect4All" to teach coding and robotics to kids with autism and other disabilities, and connect them to their neurotypical peers. Through his organization, Kunal teaches classes in robotics and video game design at local libraries, and conducts interactive workshops at after-school enrichment programs. He also teaches kids with autism and students from underserved communities at week-long summer camps, giving them hands-on experience in building their own robots and writing code for their own video games. As an Eagle Scout, Kunal helps fellow scouts earn badges in robotics, programming and engineering. He also works with Girl Scouts in hopes of kindling their interest in computer science. In addition, Kunal mentors middle level students as they prepare for science fairs, and even sponsored an award at the Dutchess County Science Fair.
Victoria (pictured right), an eighth-grader at The Alternative School for Math & Science, began making fleece blankets for families dealing with serious illness after remembering what it was like when her mother had to spend months in the hospital being treated for leukemia. During that time, Victoria and her siblings had to stay with relatives hundreds of miles away. "One night I was very upset," she recalled. "I really missed mom." Her aunt wrapped her up in a blanket to comfort her, and the memory of that night stayed with her. "The blanket represented the love of my family," said Victoria. Years later, she decided she wanted to give others in similar situations the same kind of comfort by making blankets for them.
Last summer, Victoria performed chores and small jobs to raise money for her project. She also asked friends and family members for help. By the end of the summer, she had enough money to buy $500 worth of fleece. A generous donation and discounts from a fabric store enabled her to buy three times as much as she expected. She then appealed to her church congregation for donations, and asked friends to talk about her project on social media. A friend from school helped Victoria measure and cut material for her blankets, and contacts in two other states are also helping to produce them. The blankets' star patterns are designed to remind the recipients that, even when they're apart, both parent and child are looking at the same sky. Victoria's intent is to provide two blankets per family, one for a child and one for the parents, so "they can snuggle the same blanket while they are apart," she said.
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.