WASHINGTON, May 8, 2017 /PRNewswire/ -- Indiana's top two youth volunteers of 2017, Grace Zhang, 18, of Carmel and Tara Harmon, 14, of Zionsville, 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. Grace and Tara – 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 Grace and Tara Indiana'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.
Grace, a senior at Carmel High School, organized a one-day "street store" in Indianapolis last year that enabled more than 200 struggling families to obtain free, gently used clothing. A couple of winters ago, Grace watched as a homeless man tripped on his baggy pants and fell to the sidewalk. "No one helped him," she said. "I watched as his dog licked the tears off his face." That sad image stuck with Grace and prompted her to begin researching organizations that help the poor. She came across Street Store, an international project started in South Africa to give the homeless and people in need a dignified shopping experience. After obtaining instructions and materials from the organization, Grace went to work.
She enlisted the help of fellow students in her high school club, contacted local organizations that serve the poor, solicited clothing donations at schools and in the community, and lined up sponsors. The week before her event, Grace was devastated to learn that her beloved grandfather in China was dying. She had a choice: cancel the Street Store or risk never seeing him again. "I knew my grandfather wouldn't have wanted his illness to impede on charity for the homeless," she said. So she proceeded to set up her store, and welcomed needy shoppers to choose from among 16,000 articles of donated clothing. Sadly, Grace's grandfather died without hearing about her successful event. "But I saw my grandfather in every shopper," she said.
Tara, an eighth-grader at Zionsville West Middle School, secured $4,000 in grants and donations over the past three years to provide weekend meals, healthy snacks and school uniforms for inner-city kids in her community. While walking around downtown Indianapolis with her family, Tara frequently encountered homeless people, and it broke her heart. But after seeing a homeless mother and son sleeping on the street, "I went home and thought long and hard," she said. With encouragement from her parents, Tara began researching ways to help.
Through an online search, Tara identified an elementary school with a high rate of free and reduced- price lunches, and while visiting the school, learned about its desperate need for uniforms. She then sought a grant from the Indianapolis Colts and a donation from Walmart; the result was 200 new uniforms for the school. Tara also learned that without subsidized lunches at school, many students go hungry over the summer. She responded by securing another grant and more store donations, and used the money to provide 100 weekend meal packages to summer campers. To encourage healthy eating, Tara also planted a vegetable garden and donated 600 pounds of produce for an inner-city summer camp. She estimated more than 500 kids in need have benefited from her activities.
"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
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 Indiana's honorees at the 2017 national recognition events, contact Prudential's Harold Banks at (973) 216-4833 or email@example.com.
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SOURCE Prudential Insurance