WASHINGTON, May 6, 2019 /PRNewswire/ -- Nebraska's top two youth volunteers of 2019, Pranav Rajan, 17, of Lincoln and Jorja Boller, 10, of Beatrice, 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. Pranav and Jorja – 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 Pranav and Jorja Nebraska'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.
Pranav, a junior at Lincoln East High School, co-founded a statewide organization that gives high school students the chance to combine volunteer service with experiential learning by working on computer-based technology projects for community organizations. When he was in ninth grade, Pranav began to question the usefulness of what he was learning in school. He concluded that learning by doing, rather than just studying, would be much more effective. "When students realize the real-life applications of the concepts learned in school, they begin to show interest and take initiative," he said. Pranav also reasoned that if his peers could work on educational projects for local nonprofits and other organizations, both the students and society would benefit.
After many conversations with fellow students and his geography teacher, Pranav found four nearby organizations that needed help solving technological issues, and then assembled teams of high school students to work on them. Over time, Pranav forged partnerships with other organizations, enlisted the support of two university professors and two school district administrators, and recruited more than 50 students to participate in projects. These have included developing an application to reduce doctors' stress levels for a health nonprofit, creating a database for a student-loan concern, building a website for an entrepreneurship organization, and designing an automated data process for an analytics company. With projects now all over Nebraska, Pranav's "CodeForChange" organization is starting to take root in California and New Jersey as well. "Our overarching goal is to get students into volunteering while simultaneously learning computer science and entrepreneurship," said Pranav.
Jorja, a fifth-grader at Stoddard Elementary School, created a charity that distributes gift bags to residents of several retirement homes every year at Christmastime. Jorja has been volunteering at Beatrice Good Samaritan Center since she was 5 years old, and still spends 12-20 hours a month there. Several years ago, she wanted to make sure one of the residents received a Christmas gift, so she set up a lemonade stand to raise money. But as Christmas drew closer, Jorja decided she couldn't just do this for one resident; she had to give presents to everyone at the nursing home. "There are many people who don't get visited often," she explained. "It can be very lonely." Her desire, she said, is to "make sure that at Christmastime no one is left out."
The first year, Jorja's family and the staff at the Good Samaritan Center helped her collect enough money and other donations to give out 108 gift bags. "It was so fun delivering them the week of Christmas and giving lots of hugs," she said. The next year, she named her project "Gifts for Grands," sold lemonade to raise funds and collected gift cards at her birthday party. Then her 4-H club joined the effort, helping Jorja conduct bake sales, trash pickups and other fundraisers; make greeting cards; and assemble gift bags. When Christmas comes, they load up a big cart and pass out bags while walking through the halls of the nursing homes wearing Santa Claus hats. Jorja expected to deliver 400 gift bags in seven different retirement facilities this past Christmas, and is now helping a girl in Oklahoma start her own "Gifts for Grands" chapter there. In addition to her work with her gift bag charity, Jorja also works with local Special Olympics swimmers, helping people with disabilities learn to swim and have fun in the water.
"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 Nebraska'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.