WASHINGTON, May 6, 2019 /PRNewswire/ -- Missouri's top two youth volunteers of 2019, Shae Smith, 15, of Bolivar and Chloe Christensen, 14, of Lake Lotawana, 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. Shae and Chloe – 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 Shae and Chloe 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.
Shae, a freshman at Bolivar High School, created a campaign called "Catching The Curve" to raise awareness of scoliosis, prevent spinal deformities through early screening, and boost the confidence of people living with this condition. When Shae was 11, she was diagnosed with scoliosis, an abnormal curvature of the spine that, if left untreated, can cause chronic back pain, disfigurement, and even heart and lung problems. "In three years I have seen numerous orthopedic specialists, was braced 23 hours per day for six months, and discussed the placement of a metal rod in my back," Shae said. The emotional toll can be just as bad, she added, as children with this condition may suffer low self-esteem or be bullied because of surgery scars or the braces they must wear under their clothes.
Knowing how critical early detection is to slow or even halt the progression of scoliosis, Shae created a website in 2017 to increase public awareness about diagnosis and treatment, and to raise money for her cause. She also has been active politically, lobbying state lawmakers to pass legislation that would mandate scoliosis screening in schools. She also succeeded in having September 1 designated by her state's governor as Scoliosis Awareness Day. To bolster patients' self-esteem, Shae organized a fashion show where 11 models with scoliosis strutted down the runway, "proudly modeling their scars, uneven shoulders and hard-shelled braces," she said. She also has described her own journey in a self-published book and delivered more than 300 copies to schools across Missouri. In addition, Shae has raised $30,000 to help with medical expenses for scoliosis patients at Shriner's and Children's Miracle Network hospitals.
Chloe, an eighth-grader at Bernard C. Campbell Middle School, has collected and donated approximately 50,000 pairs of shoes and $1,000 to Soles4Souls, a nonprofit organization that sends shoes around the globe to children and adults who can't afford footwear. In 2012, Chloe informed her family that she "already had enough toys and belongings," so in lieu of birthday gifts, she wanted shoes that she could give to people in need. "My main concern was always that without shoes, children cannot go to school; they may develop cuts on their feet that lead to infection, which may result in the spread of disease and even death," Chloe said. That first year she collected 86 pairs. Later, she saw an online ad about a girl collecting shoes for Soles4Souls and knew right away that she wanted to collect year-round.
To motivate her friends to collect footwear, Chloe held a contest with her soccer team to see who could collect the most shoes, and hosted a skate night, a dinner at a restaurant and other events. She began talking to school groups and community organizations about the impact a single pair of shoes can have on a person, worked with a local television station to make a commercial for PBS Kids Network, and, with the help of her mother, created Facebook and Instagram accounts to publicize her cause. When people have shoe donations for Chloe, they drop them off either at her home or at a warehouse where she stores the shoes. When the warehouse is full, Chloe and her team of volunteers load the shoes into a large truck, which transports them to Soles4Souls. In addition to all the shoes she has collected, Chloe said she is happy to have inspired many of her friends to get involved in community service. Like her, many of them now ask for donations to their favorite charities instead of gifts on their birthdays, she 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 Missouri's honorees at the 2019 national recognition events, contact Prudential's Harold Banks at (973) 216-4833 or email@example.com.
SOURCE Prudential Financial, Inc.