WASHINGTON, May 8, 2017 /PRNewswire/ -- Arkansas' top two youth volunteers of 2017, Emily Richey, 18, of Paris and Gable Sloan, 11, of Fayetteville, were honored in the nation's capital last night for their outstanding volunteer service during the 22nd annual presentation of The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. Emily and Gable – along with 100 other top youth volunteers from across the country – each received $1,000 awards and personal congratulations from Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps 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 Emily and Gable Arkansas' 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.
Emily, a senior at Paris High School, created a nonprofit organization that has raised more than $13,000 to provide nearly 150 special dolls and stuffed animals to dementia patients in eight nursing homes. During her freshman year in high school, Emily was inspired by a motivational speaker to do something unique to impact her community. "Most organizations in my area focused on helping children," she observed. "While this is great, the elderly population was often neglected." As she searched for project ideas, Emily discovered "doll therapy" research indicating that "giving dolls or stuffed animals to dementia patients triggers something in their brains and causes them to feel loved, needed, and calm," she said. Emily immediately recalled visiting her great-grandmother eight years earlier and showing her a new stuffed pink poodle that she had just received as a birthday gift. "She fell in love with it and wanted to keep it," Emily said.
Emily contacted the National Alzheimer's Association to find out what kinds of dolls are most suitable for the elderly. Then she filed for nonprofit status and began applying for grants. She also persuaded her Future Business Leaders of America chapter at school to take on her initiative as its annual project. Working together, they collected $13,500 through grants, sponsorships and other fundraising activities, purchased 147 stuffed animals and lifelike dolls for $50 to $100 each, and delivered them to nursing home residents. Emily's hope is that they "recreate the joy that my great-grandmother experienced with my stuffed animal."
Gable, a sixth-grader at McNair Middle School, operates a nonprofit bakery and catering business that has raised nearly $5,000 for a variety of charities and causes, and is now funding an annual scholarship for graduating high school students who have demonstrated a commitment to volunteerism. Gable has loved to bake since she was very young. One morning, when there wasn't enough space in the pantry for her freshly baked muffins, she took them outside to the curb and began selling them to friends and neighbors. Soon, she was selling her baked goods regularly on Saturdays and Sundays, and then, since she had long admired her parents and teachers for volunteering in her community, Gable decided to donate her proceeds each day to a different charity.
Over the past two years, "Gable's Bakery" has given money to a local food program, a homeless shelter, a flood relief fund, the Susan G. Komen Foundation, the American Heart Association and other charitable causes. More recently, she used a portion of her baking dollars to grant her second $1,000 college scholarship to a deserving community-spirited high school student. "My idea was to send service-minded students up the ladder of higher education in hopes that each one turns back and lends a hand up the ladder to the next," said Gable.
"These honorees have done exemplary work to contribute to the health and vitality of their communities, and we look forward to seeing the great things they achieve in the future," said John Strangfeld, chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial, Inc. "Congratulations to each of these extraordinary young volunteers."
"It's a privilege to celebrate these students not only for outstanding volunteer service, but for the example they've set for their peers," said Jayne Ellspermann, president of NASSP. "These honorees prove that one person truly can make a difference."
Youth volunteers in grades 5-12 were invited to apply for 2017 Prudential Spirit of Community Awards last fall through schools, Girl Scout councils, county 4-H organizations, American Red Cross chapters, YMCAs and affiliates of the HandsOn Network. More than 31,000 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 22 years, the program has honored more than 120,000 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 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
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Editors: For pictures of the Spirit of Community Awards program logo and medallions, visit https://spirit.prudential.com/resources/media.
For B-roll of Arkansas' honorees at the 2017 national recognition events, contact Prudential's Harold Banks at (973) 216-4833 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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SOURCE Prudential Insurance