WASHINGTON, May 8, 2017 /PRNewswire/ -- Iowa's top two youth volunteers of 2017, Jennifer Jenks, 17, of Aurora and Aliza Woodford, 14, of Emmetsburg, 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. Jennifer and Aliza – 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 Jennifer and Aliza Iowa'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.
Jennifer, a senior at Linn-Mar High School in Marion, developed a program in which students from several high schools interview senior citizens in a residential care facility about their lives, and then write up their stories for portfolios that are presented to the families of the patients and shared with other residents, visitors and staff members. "After volunteering in Mercy Medical Center's gift shop for an extended period, I witnessed the debilitating effects of mental and degenerative ailments on individuals and their loved ones," said Jennifer. She wanted to do something to preserve the memories of elderly patients and share their unique experiences and perspectives with others.
After meeting with hospital staff members, Jennifer and a classmate created the idea of a writing-based therapy program they called, "Mercy Storytellers," but then it took nine months of weekly meetings and late- night work sessions to flesh out the details. Once the plan was in place, Jennifer began recruiting fellow high school students to interview the nursing home residents and prepare their life stories. When each story is completed, it's placed in a portfolio for the patient and his or her family. These stories are then featured in a collective "community story binder" for staff members and visitors to read. Jennifer hopes to expand her program to include more patients, more student volunteers and perhaps more hospitals in the future.
Aliza, a member of Palo Alto 4-H and an eighth-grader at Emmetsburg Catholic School, helped her local 4-H coordinator run an after-school program for about 50 elementary school kids twice a month throughout the school year. Aliza's school requires at least 15 hours of service work in order to earn a medal, but Aliza knew she could do more. Recalling that her mother had helped out when Aliza took part in the "Clover Kids" program years earlier, Aliza thought it would be fun for her to do the same.
During two-hour sessions every other week, Aliza passed out name tags to the kids in the program, prepared snacks, played games, supervised science experiments and craft projects, and watched the youngsters at recess "to make sure they didn't get into trouble," she said. After the kids had gone home, Aliza helped clean up by sweeping the floor and wiping off tables. The most challenging part of the job, said Aliza, was disciplining children who were not behaving. "I don't like being stern to kids. It makes me sad," she said.
"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 Iowa's 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