BISMARCK, N.D., May 4, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- North Dakota's top two youth volunteers of 2020, Micah Schlittenhardt, 17, of Bismarck and Alexis Thompson, 12, of Bismarck, 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, Micah and Alexis – 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 North Dakota'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 Micah and Alexis North Dakota'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, Micah and Alexis 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
Micah (pictured left), a junior at Legacy High School, spent more than 150 hours raising awareness across North Dakota about the benefits of dance for people with Parkinson's disease, while also raising funds for dance lessons, support groups and research. When Micah was 12, her best friend's father had to quit his job when his Parkinson's symptoms progressed. "The impact this disease had on her family left an impression on me that I will never forget," said Micah. Coincidentally, she had been involved in fundraising to enable her ballet studio to offer free dance classes for people with Parkinson's. The two experiences made it clear what her volunteer mission should be.
In addition to her own observations, Micah found studies that showed how dancing improves the cognition, motor skills, mood and confidence of people with Parkinson's. But many health care professionals are unaware of the therapy, patients themselves don't understand the benefits, and dance instructors lack funding to become certified in the techniques. So Micah began spreading the word, arranging demonstrations for people with the disease, speaking to Parkinson's support groups and at state conferences, developing informational fliers for health care professionals and writing a magazine article on the subject, which led to several radio and television interviews. In addition, Micah teamed up with a bakery to create a special donut resembling the Parkinson's logo; $3,000 of the sales have been donated to train North Dakota's first American Dance Therapy Association Certified Dance-for-Parkinson's instructor, to help fund Parkinson's support groups, and to advance research into the disease.
Alexis (pictured right), a sixth-grader at Horizon Middle School, started an ongoing toy drive that has provided gifts for more than 450 adolescent hospital patients, launched a campaign to increase scoliosis awareness and screening, and organized a support group for girls with curvature of the spine. A couple of years ago, Alexis was having a dress altered when her seamstress mentioned that her shoulders looked uneven. When she was evaluated at Shriners Healthcare for Children – Twin Cities, doctors found three curves in her neck and spine. After all her tests, she was allowed to pick out a toy from a collection intended to distract patients from uncomfortable or scary procedures. But most of the toys, Alexis noticed, were for younger kids. So she decided to organize a drive to provide toys for kids her age.
She sent out donation request letters to businesses and individuals and posted information on social media. After three drives, Alexis has collected toys and more than $1,500 in cash from donors across North Dakota and even in other states; she delivers toys to the hospital every three months. Realizing that many schools in her state no longer routinely screen children for scoliosis, she contacted media outlets and gave interviews explaining the importance of early detection, and then partnered with a local chiropractor to provide free screenings and information about scoliosis. Alexis also started North Dakota's first chapter of Curvy Girls, an international support group for girls with scoliosis, in addition to her own organization called "Embrace You" that raises awareness of scoliosis and provides support to patients. "I want girls to know they are not alone and they will get through this," Alexis 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.