PIERRE, S.D., May 4, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- South Dakota's top two youth volunteers of 2020, Eleanor Abraham, 18, of Brookings and Bennett Gordon, 13, of Whitewood, 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, Eleanor and Bennett – 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 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 Eleanor and Bennett South 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, Eleanor and Bennett 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
Eleanor (pictured left), a senior at Brookings High School, founded and chairs a community service committee at her church that has conducted monthly projects included raising money to provide 20 beds for children in need, helping to collect cold-weather gear for more than 300 families, roofing a garage for a mother and her adult daughter, and delivering meals to senior citizens. In 2018, Eleanor attended a national church youth gathering in Houston, where part of her time was spent doing yard work for elderly people in a low-income neighborhood. "I was struck by how such a small effort on my part could make such a huge difference in someone else's life," said Eleanor.
When she returned home, she asked her pastor if she could form an "action team" of volunteers at church that would "connect people with time, talents, and monetary gifts to assist others." Soon after, the "Face of Grace" committee was formed with the mission of performing one or more monthly acts of kindness. Eleanor's committee, comprised of both students and adults, meets once a month to assess needs in the community and decide on projects to address those needs. One such project was a breakfast fundraiser for a nonprofit that builds and delivers beds for children who don't have a comfortable place to sleep. Eleanor and her team raised $3,000, enough to purchase materials to build 20 beds. They then built, delivered and set up the beds in homes around their community.
Bennett (pictured right), a seventh-grader at Sturgis Williams Middle School, raises awareness of the need to recycle by organizing collection and recycling drives, conducting a recycling workshop for elementary school students, and sponsoring an annual essay contest that challenges middle schoolers to envision how they can make the world a better place by recycling. Two years ago, Bennett went on a tour of the local landfill and was shocked by what he saw. "I remember the horrible smell of the garbage from the parking lot," he said. "But once inside, what made my jaw drop most was seeing the mountains of trash." During the tour, Bennett learned that 75 percent of the items people throw away can be recycled. But, in fact, only about 30 percent are. He went home determined to change that.
He started small, setting up a recycling bin for his family along with a donation box, so household items and clothing could be given away instead of trashed. And he began researching what others were doing for the planet. This gave him the confidence, he said, to initiate a project at school. His first step was to collect 200 pairs of gently used shoes to be reused by people in need. He then set up a Facebook page (named "Recycle: There is No Planet B") to share tips for where and how to recycle or reuse everything from eyeglasses to electronics. He also hosted a statewide essay contest, coordinated a recycling workshop for elementary school students in a local after-school program, and led a drive that collected 150 books to set up small libraries in area laundromats.
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.