PROVIDENCE, R.I., May 4, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- Rhode Island's top two youth volunteers of 2020, Jaya Joyce, 18, of Coventry and Emily Myers, 15, of Hope Valley, 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, Jaya and Emily – 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 Rhode Island'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 Jaya and Emily Rhode Island'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, Jaya and Emily 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
Jaya (pictured left), a senior at Coventry High School, co-founded a club at her school that has helped create a culture of acceptance and inclusion, encouraging everyone in her student body to reach out to fellow students who are lonely, isolated, challenged or bullied. "From a young age, I knew what it was like to feel lonely," said Jaya, citing painful childhood experiences including bullying at school. Though difficult, those experiences gave her "a passion for helping others, so that no one will ever feel the way I felt in those moments of loneliness," she said.
Recognizing that there were many in her school who felt that way, Jaya and a couple of friends proposed a program to their principal that they call the "Unified Oakers Program." To accomplish their goal, they have hosted school-wide assemblies in which students learn about the value of inclusion and pledge to show kindness to those who are different or feel excluded. The club also initiated a bi-monthly social hour for students to make new friends, organized a student-alumni Unified basketball game, and established a Unified volleyball team made up of students both with and without disabilities. In addition, Jaya and her friends raised more than $13,000 for Special Olympics by persuading over 100 students and teachers to take a "polar plunge" in the ocean in the middle of March. Jaya is now working to introduce her program in elementary and middle schools in her school district.
Emily (pictured right), a member of the University of Rhode Island 4-H Program and an eighth-grader at Chariho Middle School, helped plan and fund a 4-H fair in her community, participates in numerous other 4-H service projects, and volunteers several days a week to help two senior citizens maintain their farm. While Emily was taking part in meetings to plan an annual 4-H fair, which is managed by her mother, Emily decided she wanted to help organize an auction to cover the fair's expenses. She then spent hours emailing and visiting local businesses to solicit auction items. She also helped plan a corned-beef dinner to raise funds for the three-day fair and worked at the fairgrounds to get buildings and landscaping ready for the event.
In addition, Emily visits a local farm every Sunday and a couple of other days during the week to do chores for a pair of farmers in their 70s. She bales hay, chops corn silage, milks cows, cleans barns, dehorns calves, mows grass, prepares Sunday dinners and brings in firewood into the farmhouse. People don't always understand why she spends so much time at the farm – but, she says, "I find it so rewarding to help others." Emily has participated in many other volunteer activities, too, often with her 4-H club. She has helped with a local toy drive at Christmas, delivered dairy products to a homeless shelter, cleaned a local animal shelter and brought table centerpieces to senior citizens. "Helping others is just an amazing feeling and warms my heart," said Emily.
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.