WASHINGTON, May 6, 2019 /PRNewswire/ -- Minnesota's top two youth volunteers of 2019, Annika Kovar, 18, of Frazee and Ryan Stoltz, 14, of Eden Prairie, 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. Annika and Ryan – 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 Annika and Ryan 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.
Annika, a senior at Perham High School, created a charity that has encouraged and helped 105 childcare facilities in 21 states to grow vegetable gardens for their kids, and is engaged in numerous other projects to promote healthy eating and physical activity among young people. In 2012, Annika suffered a concussion in a gymnastics accident and had to refrain from any physical activity for six months. "Over the course of my recovery, I experienced firsthand the effects that lack of exercise and poor eating habits can have," she said. Afterward, "I was determined to become the healthiest version of myself, and inspire others to do the same."
So while she was volunteering as an activities leader at a local day care facility, Annika planted a garden to teach the children "where real food comes from" and to feed them healthy produce. Other day cares in Minnesota heard about her garden, and before long, Annika was providing free vegetable seeds, advice and, in some cases, hands-on planting assistance to 35 childcare facilities. Last year, her "Little Sprouts Garden Gang" program expanded to 21 states, and she published a children's book to extol the virtues of gardening and to help fund her program. Annika also has produced exercise videos and taught a short fitness routine to encourage kids to get at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day. In addition, she promotes both nutrition and exercise through speeches, food drives, benefit concerts, radio public service announcements, social media and a personal website. "Working together, we can educate and encourage today's youth to move more, eat healthier, and help lower childhood obesity," said Annika.
Ryan, an eighth-grader at Central Middle School, has spent more than 1,000 hours over the past four years researching and writing 57 news stories as a reporter for the Scholastic News Kids Press Corps, and is also working to supply free hearing aids to people in need around the world. Concerned about frequent attacks on the news media, Ryan is "inspired to deliver facts to people in a fair and unbiased manner," he said, and considers it his "patriotic duty to uphold and continue the legacy of a free press." He looks for story ideas that can empower and give voice to young people, pitches them to his editor in New York, conducts research and interviews, and submits his finished pieces for publication on Scholastic's website, which is available to more than 35 million students.
Ryan became interested in the subject of hearing loss after doing a story on the Starkey Hearing Foundation. So far, he has led seven work sessions in which more than 150 volunteers recruited by Ryan have assembled nearly 24,000 hearing aids for the foundation. He also is planning to participate in a foundation mission to help fit children in Mexico with hearing aids, and then produce video and print news stories to share his experience with classrooms across the country. "I hope my story will inspire other kids to contemplate the ways in which they can make a positive difference in their communities," he said.
"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 Minnesota's honorees at the 2019 national recognition events, contact Prudential's Harold Banks at (973) 216-4833 or [email protected].
SOURCE Prudential Financial, Inc.