WASHINGTON, April 30, 2018 /PRNewswire/ -- Massachusetts' top two youth volunteers of 2018, Kira Andreucci, 17, of Fitchburg and Harrison (Harry) Bennett, 12, of Malden, 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. Kira and Harry – 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 Kira and Harry 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.
Kira, a junior at Montachusett Regional Vocational Technical School, provides backpacks filled with food to more than 225 children every Friday during the school year to keep them from going hungry over the weekend. When Kira was in the fifth grade, she saw a child taking food out of a recycling bin at her school. This touched something deep in Kira, who was adopted from China by her American family when she was 17 months old and who, her parents believe, often went hungry during the early months of her life. She and her father did some research and learned that one in five children go to bed hungry. "I wanted to do something to help children who are less fortunate than me," said Kira.
She first met with her principal and presented her idea of providing a backpack full of nutritious, nonperishable food on Fridays to 10 children the school deemed most in need. After the principal agreed, she asked her family for money instead of gifts for her birthday, then bought food items and began filling and delivering her "kidpacks." That was over seven years ago; Kira's program now has expanded to all four of her town's elementary schools plus children enrolled in a local Head Start program. To raise money for her food packs, Kira solicits donations through a blog and Facebook page, organizes fundraisers and applies for grants. To stretch her donations, Kira clips coupons and buys in bulk. Then she and a team of 10 volunteers pack the kidpacks and deliver them to schools for distribution on Fridays. Her group also collects Christmas gifts and Easter baskets for the children, and provides food to some of their families over the summer.
Harry, a seventh-grader at St. Joseph School, created a nonprofit organization with his younger brother to produce a line of all-natural lip and body balm products that they sell to support Hodgkin's lymphoma research at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. When Harry's friend Timmy was diagnosed with Hodgkin's in May of 2016, Harry "couldn't believe that someone so young, active and healthy could have cancer." He immediately wanted to do something to raise money, but also help his friend feel better during his arduous chemotherapy treatments. "I had heard that cancer patients' lips and skin can get very dry from treatments, so I thought making a lip balm would be a great idea," Harry said.
So, with the help of their family, the Bennett brothers began researching ingredients, testing recipes and hand-producing all-natural, vegan and chemical-free lip and body balm products. A family friend, who is a graphic designer, created a logo for their brand, called "Bennett Brothers Balm." Then they designed labels and packaging, and their parents helped them set up a website and social media accounts. Next, Harry and his brother were ready to start marketing. Most of their sales are made at craft shows and special events, such as 5K races and cancer fundraisers; the products are also available at a local salon, a yoga studio and on Etsy. So far, Bennett Brothers Balm has raised more than $5,300 to help find a cure for Hodgkin's lymphoma. "We feel this work is important because friends help friends," said Harry. "It's just what you do."
"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.