COLUMBIA, S.C., May 4, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- South Carolina's top two youth volunteers of 2020, John Michael Stagliano, 17, of Summerville and Riley Silverman, 13, of Charleston, 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, John Michael and Riley – 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 South Carolina'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 John Michael and Riley South Carolina'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, John Michael and Riley 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
John Michael (pictured left), a sophomore at the Lincoln, Nebraska-based online school University of Nebraska High School, collected more than $70,000 worth of donated household goods in order to furnish homes for hundreds of people transitioning out of homelessness, including more than 100 veterans. When John Michael was 12, he started making weekly meals for men at a local homeless shelter. "I was happy when they were finally able to secure a home, but when I learned that they were moving out of the shelter with nothing more than clothing, I became concerned," he said. "How would this new situation be better than the shelter?"
Believing that everyone deserves a comfortable place to live, John Michael started "Home Again" in late 2016 with the idea of turning houses into homes for homeless people getting back on their feet. His first task was furnishing a home for three men. He called everyone he knew for donations of furniture, appliances, kitchenware and linens and, with help from his parents, loaded up a truck; within two days, he had fully furnished the house. Soon others began asking for his help, including the Veteran's Administration, which wanted him to furnish homes for veterans. Donations piled up so dramatically that John Michael needed two storage units to accommodate the goods, so a Realtor hosted a drawing and a restaurant organized a fundraiser to pay the annual rent. John Michael said he will keep going, despite some health challenges he faced this past year. "My issues are small compared to a veteran with no home or a single mom living in a car with her kids," he said.
Riley (pictured right), a seventh-grader at Haut Gap Middle School, is an active hunger-fighter in his community whose efforts include helping to pack weekend meals for students in need, maintaining a school vegetable garden that provides fresh produce to a local shelter, and raising money to pay off student lunch debts. Since he was 5 years old, Riley has enthusiastically participated in his older brother's nonprofit to provide lunch bags for kids who didn't have enough to eat on weekends; as "snack chef," he's helped prepare healthy snacks, and given demonstrations on how to make them at home, for nearly 3,000 kids and parents volunteering at the group's packing parties. And as the co-founder of an initiative called "Catch Up on Lunch," he has partnered with two groups to hold restaurant "spirit nights" that raised $25,000 to cancel the lunch debts of students at four schools. "When kids are hungry, they can't enjoy school, and then won't get the good grades that matter to get started in life," explained Riley.
Riley is also an active "grower" with Katie's Krops, an organization that mobilizes kids across the country to grow fresh produce for people in need. To further address the issue of hunger, he asked his principal for permission to plant three vegetable garden beds on his school grounds, then bought supplies, recruited volunteers, and ultimately donated 25 pounds of green peppers, squash and basil to a local shelter. He also conducted hands-on planting workshops for 55 kids. "These projects make the world a better place," said Riley, "and they also helps kids think more about other people."
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.