WASHINGTON, April 30, 2018 /PRNewswire/ -- Minnesota's top two youth volunteers of 2018, Ryan Guggenheim, 18, of St. Paul and Shrey Pothini, 14, of Savage, 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. Ryan and Shrey – 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 Ryan and Shrey Minnesota'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.
Ryan, a senior at Mounds Park Academy, helps provide dental care in impoverished communities in Guatemala by serving as a youth ambassador for the Open Wide Foundation (OWF) and raising awareness and money to fund scholarships for dental students who want to volunteer there. Having grown up in a family that values community service, Ryan began his volunteering at Minnesota Children's Hospital because of an interest in medicine. He was also interested in Spanish and Latin American culture, so when an opportunity to work with OWF presented itself, he jumped at the chance. "I felt Open Wide Foundation was important because it provides essential dental care in Guatemala by arranging dental professionals from the United States and Canada to work alongside a full team of local dentists and dental hygienists," said Ryan.
In 2016, Ryan, who is fluent in Spanish, traveled with an OWF team to Peronia, Guatemala. As the organization's first youth ambassador, Ryan delivered a speech at a press conference, met with the president of Guatemala and other local dignitaries to discuss medical and dental projects, and assisted dental professionals in a clinic during tooth extractions, cavity fillings and root canals. He also helped teach children about dental hygiene. After he returned home, Ryan began working to raise money to fund scholarships for dental students. He established contacts with dental schools, created an online fundraising page, and wrote articles to elicit support. By last fall, he had raised $5,000 and selected the first two scholarship recipients. Ryan said he plans to continue his work. "I have experienced how life-changing dentistry can be," he said.
Shrey, an eighth-grader at Eagle Ridge Middle School, has organized an annual citywide "day of service" for the past three years to mobilize community members to help others. Shrey has been passionate about community service ever since he collected new bath towels for a local homeless youth shelter when he was 5 years old. That effort led him to start a service club at his school, and then to encourage volunteerism throughout his entire city. "I wanted children and families in my city to be exposed to the needs in our community and learn how to make a difference while having fun," said Shrey.
Shrey took his idea for a "Service Day Saturday" to the city's mayor, city council and city administrator. After receiving permission, he put an ad in the local paper letting people know about the event and then formed a planning committee. He also talked to the city fire, police and communications departments; the local library; every school in the area; and local businesses and nonprofits. On the day of Shrey's event, residents were encouraged to conduct their own volunteer projects or participate in one of 12 that Shrey had organized. More than 1,500 people participated in last year's Service Day Saturday, collecting 4,000 pounds of food, donating 2,000 books to nonprofits, decorating 4,000 lunch bags for Meals on Wheels, assembling 500 bracelet kits for hospitalized kids, putting together 375 dental kits for homeless youth, and raising money to purchase 20 goats for families in Kenya. "I'm so grateful that people listened to my ideas and didn't think I was just being a silly child," said Shrey. "I would tell other young people to never let anybody tell them they cannot make a difference."
"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.
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