WASHINGTON, May 6, 2019 /PRNewswire/ -- Louisiana's top two youth volunteers of 2019, Kate Walker, 15, of Ruston and Nikki Leali, 13, of New Orleans, were honored in the nation's capital last night for their outstanding volunteer service during the 24th annual presentation of The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. Kate and Nikki – along with 100 other top youth volunteers from across the country – received a $1,000 award and personal congratulations from award-winning actress Viola Davis 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 Kate and Nikki Louisiana'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.
Kate, a sophomore at Cedar Creek School, has raised more than $70,000 to find a cure for a rare neuro-muscular disease that makes it difficult for her to walk, and employs different kinds of media to spread awareness and educate the public about disabilities in general. In 2016, Kate was diagnosed with Friedreich's ataxia (FA), an inherited degenerative condition that has no cure or treatments. "After months of wrapping my brain around the fact that I was going to be disabled, I knew I did not want to sit on the sidelines for the course of this disease," she said. "I wanted to help find a cure." She also wanted to teach people the importance of treating people with disabilities the same as everyone else.
While attempting to learn as much as possible about her disease, Kate discovered a national organization, the Friedreich's Ataxia Research Alliance (FARA), dedicated to FA research. Soon after, she formed a team to participate in FARA's annual cycling fundraising event, rideATAXIA. Working with family and friends, she arranged T-shirt and bake sales, art parties, restaurant nights and donations. She also hosted a local screening of a documentary film about FA, built a website, launched a social media campaign, helped convene web-based meetings for teens with FA, and started a YouTube channel featuring weekly videos about the challenges facing people with disabilities. "My goal is not only to raise awareness about FA, but to help knock down the border between those who are disabled and those who are able-bodied," said Kate.
Nikki, a seventh-grader at Ursuline Academy, organized a reading club that brings middle level students together with younger children once a month to read and work on craft projects, after conducting an annual book donation and swap drive for several years that redistributed more than 55,000 books in her community. When she was 6, Nikki won a small city grant to host a neighborhood book exchange in conjunction with the national Little Free Library initiative. Each year, she continued to collect and give away books to encourage reading and literacy, and eventually became a volunteer with the Friends of the New Orleans Public Library, too. While volunteering one Saturday in 2017, Nikki came up with the idea of starting a reading club to "provide opportunities for younger children to feel confident reading in a safe and fun environment," she explained, "and to encourage middle school students to serve their community."
Nikki recruited fellow middle schoolers to join her club, and invited kids from ages 2-9 to come to monthly gatherings through social media. At first, she held meetings of her "Crescent City Reading Buddies" club at places like pet stores and coffee shops, but then found a regular home at a library branch. Each meeting features a different theme and a hands-on craft project, in addition to reading time. Attendance was meager at first, but now that Nikki has created a website and provides incentives from corporate sponsors, between 15 and 30 children are regularly attending club meetings. She hopes to eventually hold club meetings at additional library branches around the city.
"We're impressed and inspired by the way these honorees have identified problems facing their communities and stepped up to the challenge to make a difference," said Charles Lowrey, chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial, Inc. "It's a privilege to celebrate their leadership and compassion, and we look forward to seeing the great things they accomplish in the future."
"These students have not only done important work in support of people in need – they've also shown their peers that young people can, and do, create meaningful change," said Christine Handy, president of NASSP. "We commend each of these young volunteers for all they've contributed to their communities."
Youth volunteers in grades 5-12 were invited to apply for 2019 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 24 years, the program has honored more than 125,000 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.
Editors: For pictures of the Spirit of Community Awards program logo and medallions, visit https://spirit.prudential.com/resources/media.
For B-roll of Louisiana's honorees at the 2019 national recognition events, contact Prudential's Harold Banks at (973) 216-4833 or email@example.com.
SOURCE Prudential Financial, Inc.