WASHINGTON, April 30, 2018 /PRNewswire/ -- Iowa's top two youth volunteers of 2018, Kaleb Cook, 18, of Robins and Arika Hammond, 14, of Cherokee, 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. Kaleb and Arika – 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 Kaleb and Arika 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.
Kaleb, a senior at Linn-Mar High School, created an organization that facilitates inclusive dance therapy for people with special needs, and has raised thousands of dollars for a year-round camp for people with disabilities. After a girl with Down syndrome became Kaleb's best friend in kindergarten, he began to notice that "people were treating her differently because of her disability," he said. But "our friendship allowed me to learn that we were more alike than different. This opened my eyes to a whole world full of social issues surrounding the population that has special needs."
Kaleb started volunteering for organizations that promote inclusion and equality for special needs individuals, such as Special Olympics, Best Buddies and Camp Courageous. While volunteering at the camp, he attended a dance party and was struck by how easy it was for everyone to participate, regardless of disability. Afterward, he researched dance therapy, recruited a team of fellow high school students, and began teaching dance classes in special education classrooms in several school districts. Then, he and his team organized their own dance party, which raised $3,000 for Camp Courageous. Most recently, Kaleb has been working with professional dance teachers to develop a 10-lesson online dance therapy curriculum that could be used by students with special needs across the country. "I have seen firsthand that individuals' disabilities need not hold them back," he said. "A majority simply are not given the opportunities they deserve."
Arika, an eighth-grader at Cherokee Middle School, promotes awareness of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) suffered by military veterans and helps raise money to purchase and train PTSD service dogs as a youth board member and ambassador for the Puppy Jake Foundation (PJF). For a project at her school, students were each given $5 to use to make someone's life better. Arika chose to donate her money to PJF in memory of a veteran friend who had committed suicide after struggling with PTSD. Afterward, Arika met with the foundation's CEO and was asked to join the organization's board.
Since then, Arika has traveled around Northwest Iowa giving speeches about PJF. In addition, she has helped raise money for the foundation by bathing dogs at a local dog grooming salon, hosting a bake sale, and collecting donations at a charity golf tournament, running a concession stand at a youth volleyball tournament, and staffing a PJF booth at the Iowa State Fair. "Each day, 22 veterans commit suicide," said Arika. "I feel that because of my involvement with Puppy Jake Foundation and what they do for veterans, someday that number will decrease."
"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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