WASHINGTON, May 6, 2019 /PRNewswire/ -- Delaware's top two youth volunteers of 2019, Harrison Barnes, 17 and Shelby Farris, 13, both of Bridgeville, 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. Harrison and Shelby – 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 Harrison and Shelby Delaware'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.
Harrison, a senior at Woodbridge High School, founded a nonprofit organization called "GearUp" that promotes bicycle riding as a way for young people to overcome personal challenges. He does this by refurbishing and giving away free used bikes, offering prizes for reaching weekly cycling goals, hosting an annual multi-state bicycle event for children of military families, and mentoring young cyclists who have physical or developmental disabilities. When Harrison was diagnosed with an autistic spectrum disorder as a young child, experts said he would probably not graduate from high school or ever become independent. But at age 12, his parents took him to a bicycle racetrack, "and a whole new world opened up for me," he said. As he became a racing enthusiast, Harrison's social and academic skills improved dramatically. Wondering if there really was a connection between bike riding and the challenges that come with having special needs, he researched the subject and discovered that kids who ride bikes regularly have improved self-esteem, confidence, social skills, communication abilities and school grades. "I decided I wanted to help make sure as many kids as possible could ride bikes," he said.
To date, Harrison's GearUp initiative has recruited mentors to help more than 150 children with disabilities enjoy the benefits of bike riding. He and his partners, plus numerous volunteers, have collected used bikes and refurbished them for kids who cannot afford to buy a bicycle. Last summer, over 120 kids in 20 states and three other countries signed up to ride at least 10 hours a week in GearUp's Summer Bike Challenge, earning prizes and rewards provided by sponsors; plans are now underway for this year's summer challenge. And at Harrison's "Grab Life by the Bars" event, more than 300 volunteers in nine states helped 1,500 children from military families learn to ride bicycles. In total, GearUp initiatives have reached approximately 4,500 children. "Riding a bike can make a difference in the life of other kids just like it did for me," he said.
Shelby, an eighth-grader at Woodbridge Middle School, creates pre-printed greeting cards and then encourages people across the country to color them and send them to veterans, hospital patients, the elderly, grieving families and others who need a little cheer in their lives. A few years ago, Shelby's mother was staffing an event booth and asking attendees to make greeting cards for veterans and disaster victims, with relatively little success. "I came up with the idea of making cards that looked like a coloring book page, figuring that maybe if all people had to do was color, they wouldn't be as reluctant to make a card," said Shelby. It worked! At the next event, nearly 100 people created cards.
Realizing that this was a way to use her love of art to serve others, Shelby began creating coloring card templates and distributing them to individuals and organizations such as Girl Scout troops, American Red Cross chapters, schools, churches, summer camps and children's hospitals. She also traveled to fairs, festivals and other events to solicit participation in her card project. In addition, Shelby uses a website and social media to suggest other things people can make to brighten someone's day. So far, she has personally collected and distributed more than 10,000 coloring cards, and over 4,000 other volunteers have reported completing more than 12,000 projects in concert with Shelby's "HeartArt" campaign, from knitting caps for the homeless to painting rocks for a base in Iraq. "Simple acts of kindness, like helping someone make a greeting card and then sending it to someone to give them a smile, can make a world of difference," said Shelby.
"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 Delaware's honorees at the 2019 national recognition events, contact Prudential's Harold Banks at (973) 216-4833 or email@example.com.
SOURCE Prudential Financial, Inc.