WASHINGTON, Feb. 7, 2017 /PRNewswire/ -- Ayomide Okuleye, 17 and Debora Abera, 11, today were named the District of Columbia'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, Ayomide and Debora each will receive $1,000, an engraved silver medallion and an invitation to the program's national recognition events in Washington, D.C., where they will join the top two honorees from each U.S. state in early May 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 the District of Columbia's top youth volunteers of 2017:
High School State Honoree: Ayomide Okuleye
Nominated by School Without Walls Senior High School in Washington
Ayomide, a senior at School Without Walls Senior High School, started a club at her school that provided hygiene supplies and winter clothing to homeless people in its first year, and is dedicated to addressing a different social issue each year. Ayomide became passionate about volunteering while working with a nonprofit that teaches students how to cook, as well as how to teach cooking skills to others. "That experience empowered me to help people in many ways," she said, and so eventually she wanted to start her own service project.
After discussing issues that affect the African-American community, Ayomide decided to create a school club called "Black Teen Alliance." "When a problem arises in your community, people should ban together and try to find a way to mitigate or solve the issue," she explained. As fellow students came together to participate in Ayomide's club, they talked at length about problems they wanted to solve and decided to focus initially on homelessness. Ayomide gave presentations about their plan at school assemblies, set up a fundraising website, and coordinated events in which club members sold milkshakes, waffles, pizzas and cotton candy. The $1,000 raised was used to assemble 100 healthcare bags for a homeless coalition in Washington. The club also conducted a winter clothing drive for the coalition.
Middle Level State Honoree: Debora Abera
Nominated by St. Augustine Catholic School in Washington
Debora, a sixth-grader at St. Augustine Catholic School, is a firm believer in the power of volunteerism and has actively looked for ways to serve others since her earliest school days. Debora said she likes to volunteer because "when we volunteer our time, money or talents, we help make our planet a better, happier home where people work together to make life easier for all," she said. "Also, I do it because it makes me feel good."
Debora first got involved in volunteering by reading to children at her school and sorting books in the library. "I always loved when someone read to me when I was little," she said. "The love I have for reading emanates from that experience." She also found it particularly meaningful to volunteer at an annual Thanksgiving feast for nearly 5,000 community members, where she served beverages to homeless people. "It was a humbling experience to see the smiling faces of people who were very grateful for a Thanksgiving meal," said Debora. She also volunteers at her school by doing things like assisting younger students at Mass and running errands for her teacher.
The program judges also recognized two other District of Columbia students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are the District of Columbia's Distinguished Finalists for 2017:
Daniela Romualdo Castro, 17, of Washington, D.C., a junior at Benjamin Banneker Academic High School, has spent the past two summers volunteering at her old elementary school by volunteering in its iPad lab, assisting in the office and translating for Spanish-speaking parents. In addition to her service with Thomson Elementary School, Daniela has also provided volunteer office assistance to College Bound, a college preparation nonprofit for middle and high school students.
Gaia Jacobs, 17, of Washington, D.C., a member of the Virginia Cooperative Extension-Alexandria Unit and a senior at School Without Walls Senior High School, is an enthusiastic volunteer who traveled to the Dominican Republic to help build a school for children in need, and she also works with friends to raise money to support kids living in the slums of Brazil. Inspired by a documentary about a woman and her experience living in one of Brazil's favelas, Gaia helped to form a club that, in addition to weekly bake sales, is working on a number of initiatives to help Brazilian kids in need.
"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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