WASHINGTON, April 30, 2018 /PRNewswire/ -- Rhode Island's top two youth volunteers of 2018, Alison Hornung, 18, of North Kingstown and Sarah Lavoie, 14, of Coventry, 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. Alison and Sarah – 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 Alison and Sarah Rhode Island'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.
Alison, a senior at North Kingstown High School, organized a fashion runway show and other fundraisers over a six-week period that yielded $43,000 to help find a cure for blood cancers after a close friend was diagnosed with leukemia. Alison was devastated as she watched her friend Grace struggle with her disease. "During the treatment, she lost her eyesight, use of her legs, and the ability to be a child," said Alison. When Grace nominated her to participate in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's Student of the Year fundraising competition, "there was no doubt in my mind that it was something I wanted to do," said Alison.
Alison knew she wanted her main fundraising event to be a fashion runway show. She contacted two designers from the TV program Project Runway as well as two local clothing designers, all of whom committed to the event. She asked local businesses for raffle and silent auction items, found a free venue and a caterer, and secured donated lighting, music, a photo booth, and hair and makeup services. On the day of the event, Grace, who is now cancer-free, and 14 other cancer patients walked the runway. "Seeing Grace powerfully, confidently, and gracefully strut down the runway was the best feeling I have ever felt," said Alison. The event raised $12,000, but Alison wanted to donate more, so she planned other fundraisers including fitness events and a battle of the bands. While she ended up a little short of her $50,000 goal, she won the competition and says she will continue raising money to make a difference in the lives of cancer patients.
Sarah, an eighth-grader at Alan Shawn Feinstein Middle School of Coventry, helps resolve conflicts between students at her school peacefully through her role as a peer mediator. When Sarah was in seventh grade, she took a class called "Teen Issues," which explored topics such as peer pressure and substance abuse. One of the units was about peer mediation and at its conclusion, the teacher asked Sarah if she wanted to be a peer mediator. "My teacher and guidance counselor told me that I had the right personality, was a good listener, and that they believed I would be a good peer mediator," she said. "Their belief in me was what inspired me to get involved, because I had never felt recognized for being who I am."
Sarah and the other chosen students undertook 21 hours of training to learn how to help when students are involved in conflict situations. She then led her fellow mediators in brainstorming ideas for a presentation to students in the school. When students are in a conflict, two peer mediators are called in to help them work together to solve the problem, she said. Mediators try to get each party to understand how the other feels, to really listen to the other side of the argument, and to try to come to a mutually acceptable resolution. "If everyone understands how the people around them feel and work it out when someone is hurt, then they can have a healthy mindset when going to school and not be distracted or stressed," Sarah said.
"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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