WASHINGTON, April 30, 2018 /PRNewswire/ -- Kentucky's top two youth volunteers of 2018, Anjali Chadha, 15, of Louisville and Rachel Ritchie, 14, of Vine Grove, 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. Anjali and Rachel – 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 Anjali and Rachel Kentucky'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.
Anjali, a junior at duPont Manual High School, founded a nonprofit organization to educate and empower minority high school girls in the world of technology, and began her mission last summer by offering 10 girls a seven-week program of classroom training and real-world experience. While participating in a math/science/technology magnet program in middle school, Anjali came to realize that most non-magnet students from the school's inner-city neighborhood, especially the girls, wanted nothing to do with math or science fields. "They were simply too fearful to even give STEM or technology fields a chance," she said. Anjali, who was programming computers and building websites by the time she was 9 years old, worried that they were missing out on potentially exciting and rewarding educational and career opportunities.
After forming her nonprofit, called "Empowered," Anjali applied for and received more than $30,000 in grants to develop her program. She recruited her precalculus teacher as program manager, spent many hours researching and planning a teaching curriculum, and identified a group of girls who could benefit most from the training. During Anjali's seven-week program, the girls learned computer coding skills for designing and building websites, and heard a series of presentations from 10 successful minority women, including Kentucky's lieutenant governor. They also worked on real technology projects for eight local businesses and the Jefferson County Public Education Foundation. Anjali has received more than 40 requests to sign up for her next program, which she is now working to expand into a year-round endeavor. And, recently, she secured an additional grant to train a new group of students over the summer.
Rachel, an eighth-grader at James T. Alton Middle School, spearheaded a five-year campaign that raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to build a playground where all children – including those with disabilities – can play and have fun. When she was 9, Rachel would play at a local playground with her friends, but "saw disabled children not being able to play, and I thought it wasn't fair," she said. She realized that no one was focused on addressing this problem, so "I just knew I had to do my part in making sure everyone, no matter his or her ability, got to participate in play."
Rachel proposed the idea of a "playground for everyone" to her parents, and then to her town's city council, which agreed to help her. With additional support from her family, friends, community organizations and local and national businesses, Rachel began promoting a series of fundraisers, including car and bike shows, 5K runs, motorcycle rides, golf scrambles, benefit dinners and picnics, and T-shirt and bracelet sales. By last summer, enough money had been raised through events and donations to begin building Rachel's playground in a city park. The playground, which officially opened on August 26, 2017, features a curved balance beam, a curved rock wall, swings, two zip lines, sensory panels, a stationary cycler, a roller slide, a cozy dome, "talk tubes," and a rubberized base for easy movement of wheelchairs and walkers. "My life," she said, "is impacted every day by the smiles on the kids' faces whenever I visit the playground."
"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.
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.