WASHINGTON, May 8, 2017 /PRNewswire/ -- Massachusetts' top two youth volunteers of 2017, Casey Arruda, 17, of Somerset and Ella Morrison, 11, of Middleboro, 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. Casey and Ella – 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 Casey and Ella Massachusetts' 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.
Casey, a junior at Somerset Berkley Regional High School, started a foundation with his sister in 2013 that raised more than $20,000 to help people suffering from tragedies or natural disasters. The impetus for the siblings' foundation was the Boston Marathon bombings. Their family would have been standing near the finish line, in close proximity to where the bombs exploded, had they not overslept. "I was reminded that things like this can happen anywhere, even in our own backyards," said Casey. "Watching countless people run toward the danger, rather than away, inspired us."
They started the "We Stand Strong Foundation" and made the original "Boston Strong" wristbands to raise money for bombing victims, and then recruited family, friends, classmates and community members to help. They also set up social media accounts to publicize the fundraiser, which has netted more than $11,000 for victims of the bombings. Since then, the foundation raised money to purchase art supplies for a young cancer patient; helped a Greek pensioner who could not access his bank account; and supported causes such as ALS research. Casey and his sister also collected more than 1,650 pairs of gently-used eyeglasses for earthquake victims in Haiti, a clinic in Honduras, impoverished Greeks, and Syrian refugees. And, they distributed $3,000 worth of books to inner-city kids in Washington, D.C. "A tragedy does not define who we are, but, how we respond to it does," said Casey.
Ella, a fifth-grader at Henry B. Burkland School, has raised more than $35,000 to support pediatric cancer research and brighten the lives of kids battling this devastating disease by selling lemonade at a stand she started four years ago. Ella came up with the idea of selling lemonade to raise money so a friend with an inoperable brain tumor could do something fun. Ella raised $88 the first day and decided to do it again the following weekend. "I knew then that I wanted to do more for other kids with cancer," she said.
With help from her parents, Ella began selling lemonade every Saturday at a local farmer's market. "Some days it was brutally hot or it would rain, but it was OK because I was always working toward a goal of spreading awareness about childhood cancer," said Ella. It wasn't long before she was invited to sell her lemonade at other events and to speak to school and business groups about her project. Ella donates much of what she earns to childhood cancer research, but she also likes to buy gifts to give directly to young cancer patients. In addition, she has funded "hero" packages, consisting of an iPad, iTunes cards, headphones and other items in order to distract young patients during their treatments. In addition, she collected more than 700 pairs of pajamas to distribute to kids in local hospitals.
"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 Massachusetts' 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