WASHINGTON, May 8, 2017 /PRNewswire/ -- Kansas' top two youth volunteers of 2017, Grace McGowan, 18, of Overland Park and Sydney Smith, 13, of Hiawatha, 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 Sydney – 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 Sydney Kansas' 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 The Barstow School, has conducted fundraisers and collection drives over the past five years that have yielded more than $33,000, 650 jars of peanut butter, and 834 books to help feed and educate kids in several orphanages in Haiti. Before embarking on a service trip to Haiti when she was in the eighth grade, "I wanted to do something meaningful for the people I would be meeting," said Grace. She put on a talent show and recruited friends to perform. That raised more than $8,000 to buy 800 chickens for the orphanages she was planning to visit.
Since that first trip, Grace founded a nonprofit organization to benefit Haitian orphans. She organized community-wide carnivals each year featuring games, entertainment, food and other attractions, with help from more than 100 volunteers and the support of local sports teams and corporations. All proceeds and donations from these events have gone to buy uniforms, textbooks and other school supplies in Haiti, and helped pay for teacher training and salaries. Grace also collected jars of peanut butter to provide orphans with badly needed protein, and conducted school book drives that enabled her to create a library at one of the orphanages she is supporting. During the four trips that Grace has taken to Haiti so far, she has especially enjoyed spending time with the kids at the orphanages. "That's what makes all of my hard work worthwhile," she said. "They are full of joy despite living in poverty."
Sydney, a seventh-grader at Hiawatha Middle School, raised nearly $1,800 for diabetes research by soliciting donations and selling homemade crafts in conjunction with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) annual fundraising walk in Kansas City. Sydney has had Type 1 diabetes since she was 16 months old. "Currently, there is no cure," she said. "Forty thousand people are diagnosed each year. In my middle school alone, I am one of two Type 1 diabetics. So, my reason for fundraising really hits home."
As the captain of a walk team in JDRF's One Walk in Kansas City, Sydney recruited friends and family members to participate in the walk and help with fundraising. To get people to donate, she shared her story about what it's like to live with diabetes. "To get results, you have to work hard," she said. "You have to show them why they should spend their money on your cause." Sydney also raised money by painting quotes on canvases and spraying designs on T-shirts, and selling those crafts at a flea market and a gift shop. "It really makes me feel good when I see articles on the news about new technological advances in the diabetes field, and I can think to myself, my fundraising helped make that happen," 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
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Editors: For pictures of the Spirit of Community Awards program logo and medallions, visit https://spirit.prudential.com/resources/media.
For B-roll of Kansas' 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