WASHINGTON, May 6, 2019 /PRNewswire/ -- New Jersey's top two youth volunteers of 2019, Czarina Alfonso, 17, of Clifton and Rylee Howerton, 13, of Vineland, 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. Czarina and Rylee – 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 Czarina and Rylee New Jersey'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.
Czarina, a junior at Academy of the Holy Angels, started a program that has provided free pneumonia vaccinations to hundreds of daycare-age children in the Philippines over the past two summers. As the daughter of Filipino parents, Czarina has visited the Philippines during her summer vacations and seen firsthand that many people there do not have ready access to health care. She also appreciated the importance of vaccines, having watched her father struggle with polio. Those two experiences led her to develop a program called "Give It a Shot," which raises money to vaccinate Filipino kids in need against pneumonia, one of the leading causes of death in the island nation. "This program helps me to do something meaningful for the country where the majority of my family lives, and for my heritage," said Czarina.
She initially conducted extensive research to determine which vaccine would do the most good. Then, during her freshman year in high school, she raised $8,000 to vaccinate 145 children. She coordinated with health officials in the province of Antipolo Rizal to disseminate information about the vaccinations and obtain parental consent. Then she found a local pediatrician to store the vaccine and administer the shots. The next year, Czarina raised enough money for 200 vaccinations. Each summer, she attends the vaccinations and assists in filling out paperwork and calming the children after they receive their injections. "I remember a mother hugging me after her son and daughter were vaccinated, and explaining how they had walked two hours in the heat to come to my program," said Czarina. "That made me realize how much of a difference it was making."
Rylee, a seventh-grader at Lincoln Avenue Middle School, educates people on the importance of using words that do not offend others, through speaking engagements, public service announcements, appearances at community events and a children's book that she wrote. "I am a 13-year-old girl who has autism," said Rylee, "and I don't like when people say 'retarded'." In fact, when she heard two girls use that term at a dance recital, "I was so hurt and went home crying," she said. "That night I decided I would do everything I possibly could to teach others to choose the right words so no one has to feel like I did at the dance recital."
"Choose the Wise Words" became the name of Rylee's initiative. She puts a lot of effort into arranging speaking engagements to urge audiences to be thoughtful when referring to someone's disability, race, religion or sexual orientation. After her speeches, she asks her listeners to sign pledge cards vowing to use sensitive language. Rylee also has recorded public service announcements that have aired on a local radio station and on her school's morning announcements. In addition, she wrote a children's book to use as a companion teaching tool and further promotes her message by setting up booths at community events and utilizing social media. "There's too much hurt in the world," said Rylee. "I want hurtful words to one day be extinct from everyone's vocabulary."
"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 New Jersey'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.