WASHINGTON, April 30, 2018 /PRNewswire/ -- Virginia's top two youth volunteers of 2018, Jocelyn Marencik, 17 and Gretchen Gregor, 13, both of Glen Allen, 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. Jocelyn and Gretchen – 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 Jocelyn and Gretchen Virginia'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.
Jocelyn, a junior at Deep Run High School, has delivered nearly $22,000 worth of technology equipment to 60 classrooms in more than 28 underserved schools in the Richmond area, and offered computer coding instruction to students in six of those schools. Jocelyn, who is passionate about technology and about helping others, was inspired to start her "Got Tec Richmond" initiative after reading that only 17 percent of computer science majors in the U.S. are women and less than 8 percent of either gender are African American or Hispanic. Around the same time, a local television station ran a report about the discrepancy between the technology available in inner-city schools and the tech resources in wealthier suburban areas. "This seemed highly unfair in that it doesn't allow every student the same opportunity to learn important 21st century skills to succeed and have their own voice," said Jocelyn. "I wanted to find a way to balance this inequitable situation."
She first contacted principals and board members in inner-city schools and discussed with teachers her idea of offering events to teach students computer coding. Everyone was enthusiastic, so Jocelyn began fundraising by selling hats, scarves and blankets that she crocheted, organizing aluminum recycling drives, and seeking grants and donations. With funds in hand, Jocelyn asks schools what they need, shops for equipment, and makes deliveries. Additionally, 144 elementary and middle school students have attended the "Learn to Code" events that she has organized. One such event sparked so much interest that students at that school have now started a coding club, said Jocelyn. "If you can combine your volunteerism with your passion, then it is life-changing for you and for those you've helped," she said.
Gretchen, a seventh-grader at Holman Middle School, conducted collection drives to provide new blankets to the homeless at Christmastime in Richmond, and to provide school supplies to a school in a low-income part of her community. "My motivation for both of these drives was my desire to help others," said Gretchen. When her parents asked her in 2016 what she wanted for Christmas, she told them blankets for the homeless. She was motivated to do something to help people living on the streets of nearby Richmond. "I wanted them to feel like they mattered," Gretchen said. "No one should be forgotten just because they can't afford a home."
After asking her family to donate, she set up bins where people could drop off blankets and publicized her cause through fliers and the local media. Her efforts yielded 450 brand-new blankets, which she and her mother delivered to a local shelter. Several months later, Gretchen began collecting school supplies after her math tutor moved to a school in a low-income area and told her that many of the students there couldn't afford to buy supplies, so teachers had to use their own money. Once again, Gretchen promoted her drive through the media and collected "bins, boxes, and bags" of markers, glue sticks, notebooks and other items children need to start the school year. "It's hard to succeed in school when you don't have the necessary supplies," said Gretchen.
"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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