WASHINGTON, April 30, 2018 /PRNewswire/ -- Hawaii's top two youth volunteers of 2018, Mahealani Sims-Tulba, 18, of Ewa Beach and Grace Kennedy, 13, of Kailua, were honored in the nation's capital last night for their outstanding volunteer service during the 23rd annual presentation of The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. Mahealani and Grace – along with 100 other top youth volunteers from across the country – each received $1,000 awards and personal congratulations from Olympic gold medalist and World Cup champion Lindsey Vonn 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 Mahealani and Grace Hawaii'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.
Mahealani, a senior at Sacred Hearts Academy, created a nonprofit foundation to communicate about the problem of bullying to students throughout Hawaii. After Mahealani experienced firsthand the destructive power of bullying in the fifth grade, she wrote a book about it and began using the book as a tool to reach out to other young people. "I realized that there are many others in the same situation as me," she said. "I wanted to spread my message of positivity, encouragement, kindness and respect for others."
Mahealani formed her foundation, and then started asking schools and libraries if she could come and read to their kids and talk about bullying. On these visits, she distributes copies of her book, It's Okay to Be Different, along with silicon bracelets, and sometimes brings along her mascot Buddy the Bulldog. Mahealani has spoken in front of thousands of elementary, middle level and high school students statewide, and participated in numerous community events to make both youngsters and parents aware of bullying issues. She also created a music video on the subject, appeared on a weekly television program, and conducted an annual toy drive for children in need. By her count, Mahealani's "B.R.A.V.E." campaign (which stands for "Be Respectful and Value Everyone") has so far reached more than 40,000 students across Hawaii.
Grace, an eighth-grader at St. Anthony School Kailua, has raised thousands of dollars to benefit sick and abused children as a board member of a Hawaii-based student philanthropic organization. Grace was invited to a meeting of the organization "Kidz For A Cause" in 2014, and was quickly inspired to help with the group's fundraising. "I learned that there are many kids having a really hard time growing up," she explained. "I felt bad for the kids who are sick and abused."
Grace began by selling tickets to a benefit theater show, raising $1,000 to help buy clothes, toys and school books for abused or neglected kids at the Children's Justice Center on Oahu. The next year, she recruited a group of friends to help her organize a celebrity chef dinner, where several of Hawaii's most famous chefs provided a gourmet meal for 100 people. That event generated more than $6,000 to help expand a local hospital's neonatal intensive care unit. Last year, Grace led fellow volunteers in staging a variety concert featuring local singers, dancers and comedians, along with a silent auction, that raised more than $17,000 for Ronald McDonald House Hawaii. "It feels great to know I helped the kids in my community!" said Grace.
"These honorees exemplify something we've known for a long time – that young volunteers have the power to bring meaningful change to their communities," said John Strangfeld, chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial, Inc. "These students have shown leadership and determination well beyond their years, and it's a privilege to celebrate their service."
"Through their acts of service, these honorees drive home a powerful lesson for their peers: that one student really can make a difference," said Daniel P. Kelley, president of NASSP. "We are honored to shine a spotlight on the compassion, drive and ingenuity of each of these young volunteers."
Youth volunteers in grades 5-12 were invited to apply for 2018 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 23 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 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.
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