WASHINGTON, May 6, 2019 /PRNewswire/ -- Alabama's top two youth volunteers of 2019, Jessica Bradley, 18, of Hoover and Breanna Bennett, 11, of Montgomery, were honored in the nation's capital last night for their outstanding volunteer service during the 24th annual presentation of The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. Jessica and Breanna – along with 100 other top youth volunteers from across the country – received a $1,000 award and personal congratulations from award-winning actress Viola Davis at an award ceremony and gala dinner reception held at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History.
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program, sponsored by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), named Jessica and Breanna Alabama's top high school and middle level youth volunteers in February. In addition to their cash awards, they each received an engraved silver medallion and an all-expense-paid trip with a parent to Washington, D.C., for four days of recognition events.
Jessica, a senior at Hoover High School, empowers young women interested in science, technology, engineering and math by holding monthly meetings that bring them together to learn about STEM subjects and work on technology-related projects. As a young Latina, Jessica said people have often underestimated her abilities. Once, for example, after a marketing teacher announced that Jessica was starting her own business, a boy mumbled, "girls can't work as hard as boys — much less a Mexican." Luckily, Jessica, who is Colombian, had a strong role model in her mother, who had started her own business. Wanting to follow in her mom's footsteps, Jessica decided to focus on computer science and business, where women are often underrepresented and paid lower salaries, she said.
About two years ago, she decided to form a service organization that could give girls the skills and confidence to overcome gender barriers and succeed in STEM fields. With help from her computer science teacher, Jessica asked every elementary and middle school principal in her school district to distribute information about her initiative and invite their female students to a series of monthly workshops. For each meeting, Jessica prepares a short STEM lecture and organizes a technology-related activity, such as 3D jewelry printing, a fun binary calculator, MicroBit programming, and tearing apart an old computer. Only three girls showed up for the first meeting, but attendance has since grown to more than 30. Jessica also has organized STEM days at elementary and middle schools. "No time is more well-spent than by teaching girls to be proud of themselves," Jessica said.
Breanna, a member of Montgomery County 4-H and a sixth-grader at St. James School, produced a 30-minute educational film with her twin sister, Brooke, about the struggles of the civil rights movement that premiered at the Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery. The girls decided they wanted to become filmmakers and teach children about black history after their family moved from Dubai to Miami and joined a church attended by leaders in the African-American community there. But the project didn't get far because they soon moved again, this time to Alabama, where they joined the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, where the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. served as pastor at the peak of the civil rights movement. That was when Breanna and her sister decided to produce a film called "Architects of Change" to educate children about the heroes who strived to bring equal rights to all Americans.
Working with her sister, Breanna began the yearlong project by interviewing church elders about their experiences in the civil rights movement. Next, they started researching those turbulent times, visited landmarks in Alabama, and enrolled in the Rosa Parks Museum Architects of Change Summer Camp to learn more. They borrowed professional video equipment from the Rosa Parks Museum at Troy University and began filming interviews and gathering historical footage. Then they selected background music, and received editing assistance from the Baltimore School of Arts in Maryland. A short version of the film premiered last December at the museum and, a few months later, the full version premiered at Montgomery's Civil Rights Memorial Center. "Our ultimate goal is to distribute the film to public and private schools throughout the country to educate children about this valuable part of world history!" said Breanna.
"We're impressed and inspired by the way these honorees have identified problems facing their communities and stepped up to the challenge to make a difference," said Charles Lowrey, chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial, Inc. "It's a privilege to celebrate their leadership and compassion, and we look forward to seeing the great things they accomplish in the future."
"These students have not only done important work in support of people in need – they've also shown their peers that young people can, and do, create meaningful change," said Christine Handy, president of NASSP. "We commend each of these young volunteers for all they've contributed to their communities."
Youth volunteers in grades 5-12 were invited to apply for 2019 Prudential Spirit of Community Awards last fall through schools, Girl Scout councils, county 4-H organizations, American Red Cross chapters, YMCAs and affiliates of Points of Light's HandsOn Network. More than 29,000 middle level and high school students nationwide participated in this year's program.
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 24 years, the program has honored more than 125,000 young volunteers at the local, state and national level.
The National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) is the leading organization of and voice for principals and other school leaders across the United States. NASSP seeks to transform education through school leadership, recognizing that the fulfillment of each student's potential relies on great leaders in every school committed to the success of each student. 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 Student Council. Learn more at 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.
Editors: For pictures of the Spirit of Community Awards program logo and medallions, visit https://spirit.prudential.com/resources/media.
For B-roll of Alabama's honorees at the 2019 national recognition events, contact Prudential's Harold Banks at (973) 216-4833 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
SOURCE Prudential Financial, Inc.