WASHINGTON, May 6, 2019 /PRNewswire/ -- Massachusetts' top two youth volunteers of 2019, Julia Cuddy, 17, of Needham and Will Gladstone, 14, of Arlington, 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. Julia and Will – 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 Julia and Will 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.
Julia, a senior at Needham High School, founded the Boston chapter of The Shoebox Project for Shelters, a nonprofit organization that distributes beautifully wrapped shoeboxes filled with $50 worth of new personal care items and gifts to homeless women across the United States and Canada during the holidays. Community service trips to impoverished villages in Rwanda and India opened Julia's eyes to the injustices and lack of opportunities that many women around the world face. But even that didn't prepare her for the burgeoning population of homeless women and families in her own area. "Boston's homeless population of 21,000 has doubled since 1990," Julia said. "How could such a dramatic disparity exist in the heart of a city known as a leader in higher education, healthcare and strong employment?" Julia began researching the needs of homeless women and the services available to help. When she heard about The Shoebox Project, she knew she wanted to start a chapter in Boston.
After an interview, the organization gave Julia the go-ahead. She researched local charities to see which could benefit from receiving shoeboxes and selected The Women's Lunch Place, a day shelter for women. She then recruited five friends to join her in seeking donations of cash and completed shoeboxes through a website, social media, local news media and flyers distributed to businesses and homes. Julia and her fellow volunteers used the cash donations to purchase warm clothing accessories, toiletries, treats, cosmetics, gift cards and other items, and then boxed them up at wrapping parties at Julia's home. They distributed 225 shoeboxes the first year. The following year, Julia delivered shoebox gifts to Boston Health Care for the homeless "HER Saturday" program. For many of the recipients, the boxes were the only Christmas presents they received.
Will, an eighth-grader at The Fessenden School, has raised more than $60,000 by selling bright blue socks to help discover why the reproductive rate of an iconic blue-footed bird is declining on the Galapagos Islands. When Will became interested in birds three years ago in his science class, he learned that the population of blue-footed boobies on the islands had dropped almost 60 percent over the past 30 years. "I wanted to help it because it is such a special bird," he said. "It has bright blue feet and dances to attract a mate. It is a symbol of the Galapagos, one of the most special places on Earth." So he came up with a plan to sell blue socks with a booby logo to benefit the birds.
Will and his younger brother started The Blue Feet Foundation, and their father found a manufacturer to make the socks. Will then designed a website and began posting pictures and facts about the blue-footed birds on social media. For the first three months, the boys didn't have a single order. "We almost gave up," Will said. But then they figured out how to use social media more effectively to market their socks, which sell for $12.50 a pair. Today, much of Will's time is spent filling orders and writing a personal thank you note to go with each one. He gives interviews to the media about his cause and promotes other environmental issues on his website. So far, Will's foundation has sold more than 6,000 pairs of socks to people in 50 states and more than 40 countries. The proceeds are donated to the Galapagos Conservancy, which has hired an expert to solve the mystery of the blue-footed booby's declining birthrate, and to the Charles Darwin Foundation.
"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
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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 2019 national recognition events, contact Prudential's Harold Banks at (973) 216-4833 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
SOURCE Prudential Financial, Inc.