SALEM, Ore., Feb. 7, 2017 /PRNewswire/ -- Leah Burian, 16, of Portland and Carlie Steele, 12, of Amity today were named Oregon'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, Leah and Carlie 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 Oregon's top youth volunteers of 2017:
High School State Honoree: Leah Burian
Nominated by Lincoln High School in Portland
Leah, a junior at Lincoln High School, played a leading role in a project to convert an existing bathroom at her school into a multi-stall, gender-neutral lavatory, the first to open in an Oregon school and one of only a handful in the nation. When her school's Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA) announced plans to convert the restroom, Leah got involved early on by making presentations to physical education and health classes about gender diversity. "I was driven by the opportunity to educate people on the issue and create a more accepting and supportive school community," Leah said.
After the school district approved the project, Leah educated parents, staff and the student body about the need for a gender-neutral bathroom by making speeches, writing press releases, and planning an all-school assembly. Converting the restroom was only part of the overall plan, Leah said. Providing a working model for other schools to use and creating a welcome environment for every student were also project goals. The project was controversial, Leah acknowledged, and her group did have to "deal with discrimination and negative reactions." But in the end they prevailed, and last November the new bathroom opened. "Every time trans/GNC [gender nonconforming] students walk by this bathroom, they will be reminded that they are accepted and valued at Lincoln," she said.
Middle Level State Honoree: Carlie Steele
Nominated by Amity Middle School in Amity
Carlie, a seventh-grader at Amity Middle School, undertook three community service projects to make the world a better place through what she calls her "Carlie's Kindness Campaign." Three years ago, Carlie and her parents were watching a telethon for the Children's Cancer Association. "Hearing the stories of kids my age fighting cancer made me really sad," Carlie said. "I thought that having something fun to play with would make their days a little happier."
She decided to conduct a toy drive. With her mother's help, Carlie set up a Facebook page to announce her effort and was amazed when people from all over the country donated toys, games and even money. Her drive yielded more than $2,000 worth of toys and games for children undergoing chemotherapy. Later that year, Carlie collected enough Christmas cards, toiletry items, card games and DVDs to send 18 large boxes to troops serving abroad. Her most recent project came about when she heard children with disabilities being called derogatory names. Even though she was "so nervous," Carlie organized student assembles at her school and her town's high school to promote respect for others. She also sold T-shirts that carried her message, and asked students to sign banners pledging not to use the word "retarded."
The program judges also recognized four other Oregon students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are Oregon's Distinguished Finalists for 2017:
Adrian Chavez, 17, of Medford Ore., a senior at North Medford High School, is an active volunteer with the art-based mentorship program LifeArt, helping young people constructively channel their creative energy into murals and other projects. Adrian, who has served in roles including mentor and art gallery manager, was inspired to help others by his own experience dealing with negative influences, and has dedicated a great deal of effort to improving his artistic abilities to better serve his mentees.
Isabelle Cullen, 17, of The Dalles, Ore., a senior at Lake Oswego High School, developed a numerical system to help with clothes shopping for kids with autism based on her brother's experience and then enlisted the help of the Asperger's Network of Portland and school officials to refine the system for others with sensory sensitivities. The numerical system, which Isabelle is still working to refine, tells customers about the softness, texture and tightness of articles of clothing to help identify which will be easiest to tolerate.
Paige Olson, 17, of Oregon City, Ore., a senior at Clackamas Middle College, led an effort to raise awareness of the need for feminine hygiene products at food pantries and homeless shelters, and collect them by setting up donation boxes in women's rooms at local churches. After learning that the products are needed but rarely donated, Paige established a collection- and awareness-raising campaign in her community; she also donated the winnings from her Amazing Kid of Oregon City award to the cause.
Isabelle Zheng, 17, of Portland, Ore., a junior at Catlin Gabel School, is the co-founder and executive director of "Project Prelude," an organization she started with a fellow musician that provides free after-school group violin lessons to dozens of fourth- through sixth-graders in the Portland area. Isabelle has worked to fund, promote and form partnerships for the organization, providing students in need with a music education that might otherwise be expensive and out of reach.
"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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