NEWARK, N.J., Feb. 9, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- Ellie Zimmerman, 18, of Purchase and Caitlyn Michiels, 10, of Mastic today were named New York's top youth volunteers of 2021 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, America's largest youth recognition program based exclusively on volunteer service.
As State Honorees, Ellie and Caitlyn will each receive a $2,500 scholarship, a silver medallion and an invitation to the program's virtual national recognition celebration in April, where 10 of the 102 State Honorees will be named America's top youth volunteers of the year. Those 10 National Honorees will earn an additional $5,000 scholarship, a gold medallion, a crystal trophy for their nominating organization and a $5,000 grant for a nonprofit charitable organization of their choice.
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, conducted annually by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), honors students in grades 5-12 for making meaningful contributions to their communities through volunteer service.
"We created the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards 26 years ago to highlight and support the work of young people taking on the challenges of a changing world – a mission that rings truer than ever given the events of last year," said Charles Lowrey, Prudential's chairman and CEO. "We are proud to celebrate the vision and determination of Spirit of Community's Class of 2021, and all the ways they're making their communities safer, healthier and more equitable places to live."
These are New York's top youth volunteers of 2021:
High School State Honoree: Ellie Zimmerman
Nominated by Rye Country Day School
Ellie, a senior at Rye Country Day School, is the founder and CEO of an organization that has recruited thousands of high school students across the country to provide technology assistance to more than 180 nonprofit organizations, as well as to teachers, parents and students struggling with remote learning. During the summer after 9th grade, Ellie tried to find an internship where she could apply her experience in photography and graphic design, but for a variety of reasons, found that to be very difficult. Soon after, she met other teenagers who complained of similar difficulties in securing internships. "I knew I had identified a significant issue for our demographic," said Ellie, "so I set out to find a solution."
She interviewed several local nonprofit organizations and learned that all needed help with one technology task or another -- tasks that would be ideal projects for tech-savvy teen volunteers. With prize money from a social entrepreneurship competition, Ellie filed for nonprofit status. Then, she built a website and began advertising for high school students interested in volunteering and for charitable organizations in need of assistance. The response was overwhelming. To date, more than 8,000 students have signed up to help nonprofit organizations with website design, programming, social media marketing, photo management and other technology projects. Ellie's network also offers a tech hotline, lesson plans, and homework assistance to help teachers, parents and students adapt to the new COVID-19 academic environment.
Middle Level State Honoree: Caitlyn Michiels
Nominated by Moriches Elementary School
Caitlyn, a fifth-grader at Moriches Elementary School, started a nonprofit organization that has collected more than 700 pairs of used eyeglasses for children who cannot afford them, and has raised over $30,000 to help people pay for needed eye care, spread awareness of eye disease, and buy fluorescent light covers for her district's elementary schools. Caitlyn was diagnosed with a rare eye disease in 2018. "I was scared I was going to become blind one day," she said. Fortunately, her family had insurance to cover her expensive treatments, but when Caitlyn learned that not everyone has insurance, "I knew that was not OK," she said.
Caitlyn set up a 501(c)3 organization and began seeking donations to pay for glasses or eye medication for children and others who needed them. Then she placed drop-off boxes at local businesses and the offices of elected officials to collect used eyeglasses for Lions Club International. After one of her teachers put covers on her classroom's fluorescent lights to reduce her eye strain, Caitlyn donated 400 light covers to her school district. In addition, Caitlyn persuaded county officials to enact "Caitlyn's Law," which provides for the distribution of eye health information and designates the month of August as Children's Eye Health and Safety Awareness Month. "I hope I will be able to keep helping children for a long time, and would love to find new ways of helping kids with visual impairments," she said.
State Honorees in The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards Class of 2021 – the top middle level and high school volunteer from all 50 states and the District of Columbia – were selected for service initiatives completed, at least in part, between the fall of 2019 and the fall of 2020. Selection was based on criteria including impact, effort, initiative and the personal growth demonstrated over the course of the project. Several Distinguished Finalists and runners-up were also selected in each state, and all qualifying applicants received President's Volunteer Service Awards.
"It speaks volumes about the character of today's secondary school students that the Spirit of Community program heard from more than 21,000 applicants this fall – most of them stories of young volunteers overcoming the hardships of a global pandemic to support those in need," said Ronn Nozoe, Chief Executive Officer, NASSP. "While we're especially proud to celebrate this year's 102 State Honorees, NASSP applauds every student who's found a way to volunteer this past year. You inspire your peers and adults alike to remember that, even in times of crisis, we all have something to give."
To read the names and stories of all of this year's State Honorees, visit http://spirit.prudential.com.
About Prudential Financial
Prudential Financial, Inc. (NYSE: PRU), a financial wellness leader and premier active global investment manager, has operations in the United States, Asia, Europe and Latin America. Prudential's diverse and talented employees help to make lives better by creating financial opportunity for more people. Prudential's iconic Rock symbol has stood for strength, stability, expertise and innovation for more than a century. For more information, please visit news.prudential.com.
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 http://nassp.org.
SOURCE Prudential Financial, Inc.