WASHINGTON, April 30, 2018 /PRNewswire/ -- North Dakota's top two youth volunteers of 2018, Ashlen Wright, 18, of West Fargo and Macy Vasquez, 14, of Grand Forks, 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. Ashlen and Macy – 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 Ashlen and Macy North Dakota'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.
Ashlen, a senior at Sheyenne High School, advocates for teen mental health and suicide prevention by raising money and awareness in her community and by working to connect at-risk teens to people who can help them. When Ashlen was a sophomore, she made the difficult decision to change schools. It was a tough transition, she said, but her "saving grace" was a boy named Justin, a star student, athlete and musician who took her under his wing and became one of her closest friends. A few months later, two hours after speaking with Ashlen, Justin took his own life. "At first I was numb. The next wave that hit me was pure grief," said Ashlen. "Grief not only that Justin was gone, but that I had done nothing to stop it."
Three weeks after her friend's death, Ashlen joined the student board of Imagine Thriving, a regional nonprofit that promotes mental health education for young adults, provides support for those struggling emotionally, and supports a full-time mental wellness facilitator in every school district in the region to help identify those at risk. Ashlen also serves as the student representative to the adult board of directors, and helps with long-term planning for the organization. After undergoing training, she began fundraising for the organization and speaking to student groups about the growing problem of depression and suicide for young people. She also founded a mental health club at school, and organized her school's participation in an "Out of Darkness Walk" to raise money for suicide prevention. Since her friend's death, Ashlen has spoken to hundreds of teens in schools, church groups and youth organizations, and participated in events that have raised more than $320,000 to help promote mental health and prevent suicide.
Macy, an eighth-grader at Valley Middle School, has volunteered in numerous activities in both her school and city, from helping out at a local daycare to cleaning up trash at local parks. Macy was inspired to volunteer when she was in the sixth grade and saw posters and heard intercom announcements about various volunteer opportunities. "I became a volunteer because I enjoy helping people and places that need help," she said. When she attended her first volunteer meetings, "it was like a spark of something that told me I should be doing this."
As a member of several school groups that emphasize service to others, Macy has washed cars for Special Olympics, counted money at concession stands, cleaned up trash along the Greenway, helped build a mini-library for elementary students, mentored new students at her school, and attended city council meetings with fellow students to brainstorm ways to improve their town. She also volunteered for a whole summer at a local daycare facility. "I love to be involved," said Macy. "It is very rewarding to help others."
"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.
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