WASHINGTON, April 30, 2018 /PRNewswire/ -- Pennsylvania's top two youth volunteers of 2018, Praneeth Alla, 16, of Exton and Ashley Geesey, 13, of Bainbridge, 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. Praneeth and Ashley – 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 Praneeth and Ashley Pennsylvania'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.
Praneeth., a junior at The Episcopal Academy, spent more than 1,500 hours creating a product for a nonprofit benefiting rural villages in India, improving its ability to collect and manage donations, publicize projects and track income and expenditures. He also founded a network of youth clubs to raise money to improve the education of children in India. When Praneeth was a child, his father told him stories about growing up poor in the countryside of India. "He recounted the difficulties in receiving a quality education, the insufficient health conditions, and the limited amount of opportunities," said Praneeth. In 2015, Praneeth traveled to India to see for himself. While observing dire conditions of poverty, he also was impressed with the work of the District NRI Foundation, which seeks to improve education, develop rural villages and provide people with basic necessities. After speaking with its leaders, he learned that they badly needed a user-friendly website to raise funds and awareness.
Praneeth returned home determined to design such a tool for them. Using his computer coding skills, he created an all-in-one software product that allows website users to track NRI projects, donate through PayPal, and see exactly how their donations are being used. The site so far has helped the District NRI Foundation raise more than $250,000, and is now being used by another Indian nonprofit to collect food for food banks. To get other students involved, Praneeth organized NRI Youth Clubs in the U.S., mobilizing high schoolers to participate in projects benefiting both their local communities and rural villages in India. There are now 25 of these clubs operating in several states. The youth clubs in Praneeth's area alone have donated 55,000 pounds of food to the local community, and have made donations to India that include 100 prosthetic limbs, 100 television sets and 44 wheelchairs.
Ashley, an eighth-grader at Elizabethtown Area Middle School, raises money for sick children and other causes by working with her sister and two friends to sell jewelry through local businesses and their Instagram account. In the past, Ashley had raised money to help others through bake sales and other activities. But she really enjoys making jewelry and thought that might be a way to help those less fortunate, particularly sick children. "I got started by picking up some jewelry and messing around," she said. "I really didn't have a motive. I just knew that I was a kid, in great health, and I wanted to help those who were not."
After getting their parents' permission, Ashley and her friends bought beads and other supplies and got to work making jewelry. To advertise their creations, they created their own company, "Jewelry4acause," and marketed their work to local businesses and on an Instagram account. As treasurer, Ashley's job is to post updates and events on their account and handle the money they collect. When they started in the summer of 2016, their goal was to raise $200. But as word spread, the orders exceeded their expectations and it wasn't long before the group had $2,000 to donate to the Children's Miracle Network. Since then, they also donated $300 to the victims of Hurricane Harvey, and are now focusing their fundraising efforts on behalf of the Four Diamonds Fund, which supports cancer care for children being treated at Penn State Children's Hospital.
"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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