WASHINGTON, May 8, 2017 /PRNewswire/ -- South Dakota's top two youth volunteers of 2017, Anneliese Taggart, 16, of Vermillion and Donnie Stoltz, 13, of Sioux Falls, were honored in the nation's capital last night for their outstanding volunteer service during the 22nd annual presentation of The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. Anneliese and Donnie – along with 100 other top youth volunteers from across the country – each received $1,000 awards and personal congratulations from Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps 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 Anneliese and Donnie South 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.
Anneliese, a junior at Vermillion High School, started a free gymnastics class for children with special needs in her community. Anneliese had been a gymnast for 10 years and a gymnastics instructor for the Vermillion Parks & Recreation Department since 2014 when her cousin, who has Down syndrome, came to visit her at work one day. He immediately wanted to try what he saw her students doing, and soon mastered a forward roll. "I will never forget that day," said Anneliese. "He opened my eyes to the joy that children with special needs experience in the gymnastics room."
She immediately felt a calling to spread that joy. She met with special education teachers at local elementary schools to discuss the idea of a special gymnastics class, developed a plan and schedule for the class, and sent letters to the parents of every special ed student in her school district. Anneliese was a little disappointed when only three kids signed up, but over the next two months she found working with those children to be richly rewarding. "Each child grew not only in gymnastics skills, but into a stronger, more confident person," she said. Since then, Anneliese has conducted additional sessions of her class, and believes it will be a part of the Vermillion Parks & Recreation gymnastics program for a long time.
Donnie, a seventh-grader at Patrick Henry Middle School, has collected sports equipment for more than 100 children in need, and undertaken a variety of other volunteer projects to help those who are struggling in his community. When he was just 8 years old, Donnie saw a TV news story about a man who gave small amounts of money to strangers who needed help. "I thought that was really cool," said Donnie, "so I turned to my mom and said 'We should do that, too.'"
Since then, Donnie has recruited friends to help him pack meals for hungry kids, collect clothes for a domestic abuse shelter, provide toys and books to homeless children, gather Halloween costumes for Native American youngsters, and raise money to rebuild a burned playground. But his biggest endeavor is an ongoing drive to collect gently used athletic shoes and sports equipment for kids whose families cannot afford to buy them. Donnie holds two collection events a year, and solicits donations through a Facebook page. He then distributes his sporting goods directly to kids and through local charities. "I think it's important so that kids can be active and healthy, and so that they can make more friends through sports," he said.
"These honorees have done exemplary work to contribute to the health and vitality of their communities, and we look forward to seeing the great things they achieve in the future," said John Strangfeld, chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial, Inc. "Congratulations to each of these extraordinary young volunteers."
"It's a privilege to celebrate these students not only for outstanding volunteer service, but for the example they've set for their peers," said Jayne Ellspermann, president of NASSP. "These honorees prove that one person truly can make a difference."
Youth volunteers in grades 5-12 were invited to apply for 2017 Prudential Spirit of Community Awards last fall through schools, Girl Scout councils, county 4-H organizations, American Red Cross chapters, YMCAs and affiliates of the HandsOn Network. More than 31,000 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 22 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 middle level and high school principals, assistant principals, and school leaders from across the United States. The association connects and engages school leaders through advocacy, research, education, and student programs. NASSP advocates on behalf of all school leaders to ensure the success of each student and strengthens school leadership practices through the design and delivery of high quality professional learning experiences. 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 Association of Student Councils. For more information about NASSP, located in Reston, VA, visit 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 South Dakota's honorees at the 2017 national recognition events, contact Prudential's Harold Banks at (973) 216-4833 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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SOURCE Prudential Insurance