WASHINGTON, April 30, 2018 /PRNewswire/ -- Missouri's top two youth volunteers of 2018, Sophie Bernstein, 18, of St. Louis and Katelyn Ravasini, 14, of Lee's Summit, 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. Sophie and Katelyn – 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 Sophie and Katelyn Missouri'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.
Sophie, a senior at Clayton High School, planted more than 35 organic vegetable gardens at preschools and daycare centers in low-income areas, and has conducted 175 workshops on plant science, cooking and nutrition to help financially struggling families make healthy food choices. Six years ago, Sophie built her own vegetable garden and donated the harvest to area food banks. "I was surprised by the drastic shortage of fresh produce available to families in need," she said. "Many of the food banks' shelves were stocked with cookies, chips, and even soda." After the 2014 shooting of a young man in nearby Ferguson and the riots it sparked, Sophie wanted to do something "to promote health, environmental and social justice" in the greater St. Louis area.
She began by reaching out to preschools and daycare centers in low-income communities. Upon receiving an enthusiastic response, she contacted hardware stores for building supplies and seedlings, gardening groups for advice, and high schools for volunteers. She also solicited donations from local gardening clubs and applied for grants to finance her raised gardens. Early on, Sophie realized it wasn't enough to just grow food, since many recipients were not familiar with cooking fresh produce. So, she began offering cooking and nutrition classes for families, as well as botany and environmental workshops for children. Since she began, Sophie's gardens have supplied more than 35,000 pounds of fresh produce for people in need in her community.
Katelyn, an eighth-grader at Bernard C. Campbell Middle School, organized a bowl-a-thon last year to raise money for multiple sclerosis research at an area hospital. When her English teacher challenged each member of her class to do something to make a positive impact on the world, Katelyn thought about her aunt, who had recently been diagnosed with MS. "I had heard my family talk a lot about her recent diagnosis, but I didn't really know what it meant," said Katelyn. So she began researching MS and learned how serious the disease is. She decided she needed to do something to raise awareness of MS and support the quest for a cure.
After brainstorming fundraising ideas with her parents, Katelyn decided to hold a bowl-a-thon. She contacted the owner of a local bowling alley, who was enthusiastic and even suggested adding a raffle to the event. Katelyn set the date and time, arranged to have T-shirts made, got help designing a website where people could make reservations and order shirts, distributed an event flyer throughout the community, and spent weeks visiting local businesses to solicit prizes for the raffle. More than 100 bowlers participated in Katelyn's bowl-a-thon and another 25 gave cash donations, allowing Katelyn to present $2,200 to the KU Medical MS Achievement Center, where her aunt is undergoing treatment.
"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.