COLUMBUS, Ohio, Feb. 7, 2017 /PRNewswire/ -- Adam Sella, 17, of Cincinnati and Mackenzie Lewis, 10, of Columbus today were named Ohio's top two youth volunteers of 2017 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism. As State Honorees, Adam and Mackenzie 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 2017.
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, now in its 22nd year, is conducted by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).
These are Ohio's top youth volunteers of 2017:
High School State Honoree: Adam Sella
Nominated by Walnut Hills High School in Cincinnati
Adam, a senior at Walnut Hills High School, founded a club at his school to aid refugees in the Cincinnati area and raise awareness of the world's growing refugee crisis through projects that include collection drives, a tutoring program, and events to fund college scholarships. After spending six weeks in Morocco studying Arabic, Adam returned home just as the Syrian refugee crisis was unfolding. Adam said he could easily relate to the plight of these refugees because he is Jewish and had relatives who were displaced after World War II. Seeking to help, he immediately contacted a local mosque and refugee resettlement agencies. "I thought my Arabic language skills made me uniquely well-suited to aid refugees, so I was surprised and disappointed when they told me I was too young or that someone would get back to me – but nobody did," Adam said.
Not to be deterred, Adam founded his club, "Students Together Assisting Refugees" (STAR). He and fellow club members invited two Bhutanese refugees to share their heart-wrenching stories at a school assembly, organized a public screening of a movie about Sudanese refugees to raise money for refugee scholarships, conducted a community drive that collected 750 household items for 266 refugee families, and began tutoring refugee children at a local elementary school. Adam also created a website and used media interviews to gain more visibility. His club's biggest project so far was last fall's benefit chamber concert that featured members of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and raised more than $5,000 in scholarship funds. Adam's efforts have inspired students in six other states to start STAR chapters in their communities.
Middle Level State Honoree: Mackenzie Lewis
Nominated by Berwick Alternative K-8 School in Columbus
Mackenzie, a fifth-grader at Berwick Alternative K-8 School, conducted two community drives that collected 1,350 cases of bottled water and more than 300 gallon water jugs for people dealing with unsafe tap water in Flint, Michigan. After hearing news stories about Flint's contaminated water supply, Mackenzie felt she had to do something to help. "I wanted people in Flint to have clean water," she said. "It wasn't fair that their water makes them sick and gives them rashes."
After obtaining permission to store water at her church, Mackenzie challenged members of the church and other churches to contribute. She made fliers and dropped them around town, and began contacting individuals and businesses for donations. After Mackenzie collected 1,200 cases of bottled water and 300 gallon jugs, she and 12 other youth volunteers from her church rode in a donated truck to Flint, where they handed out water at a church and gave the rest to a school and after-school program. Mackenzie then asked kids at several summer youth programs and camps to bring water donations to an advocacy festival that she organized, which featured music, food, games, prizes and a raffle. Afterwards, Mackenzie made another trip to Flint, delivering 150 additional cases of water and 20 jugs to residents of two apartment complexes.
The program judges also recognized eight other Ohio students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are Ohio's Distinguished Finalists for 2017:
Erinn Aulfinger, 18, of Liberty Township, Ohio, a member of Girl Scouts of Western Ohio and a senior at Lakota East High School, created a self-help book geared toward improving the self-esteem of girls entering middle school. Erinn, whose yearlong effort included raising $5,000 for publishing costs and contacting more than 1,000 people and organizations for research, has secured permission from principals to distribute the book to the more than 600 sixth-grade girls in her school district.
Milan Bhandari, 17, of Cincinnati, Ohio, a senior at Indian Hill High School, created "FixN'Give," a nonprofit that, by collecting and refurbishing old computers, has helped more than 250 kids in need stay current with educational trends. Inspired by his experience tutoring Bhutanese refugee children who loved his laptop, Milan raised $14,000 for his endeavor by organizing an entrepreneurship and technology symposium with the help of 30 volunteers.
Lily Kwiatkowski, 16, of Cleveland, Ohio, a sophomore at Cleveland School of Science and Medicine, is a leader and advocate with The Environmental Heroes, an after-school program through which she and other students are investigating factors that impact wildlife in the West Creek Reservation. Lily, who joined the program in 2012, plans weekly objectives, leads peers in their field studies, prepares position statements and mentors new recruits.
Matthew Oh, 16, of Dublin, Ohio, a sophomore at Dublin Jerome High School, founded "New Kicks for Kids," a nonprofit that has raised more than $3,100 since January 2015 to provide shoes and other essentials to children in need in central Ohio. Matthew, who was moved to help by the warm reaction his church orchestra received while performing at a soup kitchen, is also working to raise awareness of homelessness.
Vishnu Paranandi, 17, of Wyoming, Ohio, a senior at Wyoming High School, has been volunteering with his city's technology-help-for-seniors program since he was a freshman and, since becoming its first student president the following year, has coordinated all aspects of the program from scheduling to advertising. Under Vishnu's leadership, the program has expanded its number of sessions and improved efficiency by implementing an online participant sign-up system.
Taylor Powers, 17, of Cincinnati, Ohio, a member of Girl Scouts of Western Ohio and a senior at Ursuline Academy, works with children at a homeless shelter once a week to nurture a love of reading through arts and crafts and other fun activities. Taylor researched the literacy gap between children living above and below the poverty line, conducted interviews to learn more about how she could help, and is now working to ensure her project can continue after she graduates.
Ananya Tawde, 17, of Mason, Ohio, a senior at William Mason High School, has raised $2,500 to benefit kids with heart disease by taking custom orders for paintings, offering art lessons and hosting parties through a nonprofit she founded called "Art for the Heart." As an artist and aspiring cardiologist, Ananya was inspired to pair her passions to raise money for research into cardiovascular diseases that affect kids and for Camp Joyful Hearts, a program for children with heart conditions.
Madison Wagner, 16, of Strongsville, Ohio, a sophomore at Gilmour Academy, has led other students in a variety of projects to help the community through the "Make a Difference (M.A.D.) Club" she started when she was 13 at her elementary school, and later launched at her high school. Inspired to make a difference with her life after facing cancer as a young child, Madison's clubs have hosted toiletry and clothing collections, prepared and delivered meals, farmed fresh produce for the hungry, and more.
"Prudential is honored to recognize these young volunteers for their exemplary service," said Prudential Chairman and CEO John Strangfeld. "We hope that their stories inspire others to consider how they, too, can volunteer their time and talents to improve their communities."
"These service-minded young people have brought meaningful change to communities at home and abroad, and it's a privilege to celebrate their work," said JoAnn Bartoletti, executive director of NASSP. "Congratulations to an exceptional group of middle level and high school students."
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 HandsOn Network affiliates, 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 8, 10 of the State Honorees – five middle level and five high school students – will be named America's top youth volunteers of 2017. 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 115,000 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 middle level and high school principals, assistant principals, and school leaders from across the United States. The association connects and engages school leaders through advocacy, research, education, and student programs. NASSP advocates on behalf of all school leaders to ensure the success of each student and strengthens school leadership practices through the design and delivery of high quality professional learning experiences. 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 Association of Student Councils. For more information about NASSP, located in Reston, VA, visit www.nassp.org.
About Prudential Financial
Prudential Financial, Inc. (NYSE: PRU), a financial services leader, has operations in the United States, Asia, Europe, and Latin America. Prudential's diverse and talented employees are committed to helping individual and institutional customers grow and protect their wealth through a variety of products and services, including life insurance, annuities, retirement-related services, mutual funds and investment management. In the U.S., Prudential's iconic Rock symbol has stood for strength, stability, expertise and innovation for more than a century. For more information, please visit www.news.prudential.com.
For Spirit of Community Awards program logo and medallion graphics, please visit https://spirit.prudential.com/resources/media
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