WASHINGTON, May 6, 2019 /PRNewswire/ -- Idaho's top two youth volunteers of 2019, Sarah Picker, 17, of Boise and Alexander Knoll, 14, of Post Falls, 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. Sarah and Alexander – 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 Sarah and Alexander Idaho'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.
Sarah, a senior at Boise Senior High School, has raised and trained five puppies over the past eight years to be service dogs for the Boise chapter of Guide Dogs for the Blind. Sarah became involved after her older sister read a book about a "puppy raiser" and decided to give it a try. "When I first joined I thought it would be fun because it involved dogs, but it has ended up being so much more to me," said Sarah. "Through this organization I have discovered what I want to do with my life."
Initially, Sarah had to attend weekly meetings and outings to begin learning about service dogs. Then, she had to study paperwork and a training manual, and watch a few dogs for a couple of weekends. Finally, she received her own puppy to train. Sarah gets her dogs when they are eight weeks old, and spends the next 14 months teaching them things like how to remain calm and relaxed in all situations, how to go to the bathroom on command, how to ignore food unless it's specifically offered, and how to exhibit proper house manners. The hardest part, of course, is saying goodbye to her dogs when they're ready to move on to learn specialized skills. "It's hard to let go of these dogs that you have put lots of sweat and tears into and have had constantly by your side for almost two years, but once you realize that they are going to give someone independence, it makes it a little easier," said Sarah, who eventually wants to work as a mobility instructor at Guide Dogs for the Blind.
Alexander, a home-schooled eighth-grader, is developing a free mobile application that can help people with disabilities around the world navigate public spaces, find safe and reliable services, and identify employment opportunities. When he was 9 years old, Alexander witnessed a man in a wheelchair trying to get through a heavy door at a sporting goods store. "I wondered if there was an app that could have told him, before he left his house, about other stores in the area that might have an automatic door," he said. He checked; there wasn't. So he decided to create his own.
He began interviewing people with disabilities and caregivers to learn as much as he could about their challenges. Then he started spending 3-4 hours almost every day building an application with a database full of accurate information about things like accessible restrooms, wheelchair ramps, Braille menus, service animal relief areas and visual alerting devices. Thanks to a grant and a GoFundMe page, he was able to hire a group of engineers to help him, but he still has to work hard soliciting sponsors and donors to fund his project. In addition, Alexander has been posting on social media and traveling widely to speak to service groups, businesses and organizations about the importance of inclusion and accessibility for people with disabilities. His "Ability App" is currently being tested and is expected to launch globally in 2019.
"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 Idaho'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.