WASHINGTON, April 30, 2018 /PRNewswire/ -- Washington's top two youth volunteers of 2018, Phillip Meng, 15, of Vancouver and Sophia DeMarco, 14, of Enumclaw, 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. Phillip and Sophia – 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 Phillip and Sophia Washington'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.
Phillip, a junior at Union High School, founded a nonprofit organization that develops curricula and programs to improve geographic education for students throughout the U.S. and in more than 25 nations around the world. When Phillip was in kindergarten, he was asked whether he wanted a party for his birthday or to go on a hike. He chose the hike, calling it "among the best choices I ever made" because it led to a series of trips that sparked his love of geography and his participation in the National Geographic Bee. When he realized just how little the average student, even those in developed countries, knows about geography, Phillip wanted to do something to change that. "Cultural, ethnic, and ideological divides threaten to tear entire societies apart," he said. "Geography is essential to bringing fractured societies together through cultural understanding and global perspectives."
So, six years ago he started the "International Association of Young Geographers" (IAYG) to educate students around the world about their world. Initially, Phillip wrote a blog and developed a resource platform on social media where students could access geographic information. Later, he built a website and began attracting volunteers, including geography experts, professors and educators. Over time, as the organization expanded, his team developed programs including lectures, seminars, workshops, conferences, a world geography competition for students and educational curricula. His organization has also partnered with institutions and governments to disseminate and implement these programs. Today, Phillip leads a team of over 5,000 volunteers that serves more than 50,000 students and teachers on six continents.
Sophia, an eighth-grader at Enumclaw Middle School, has been a leader in her school and community in promoting environmental protection and other important causes. "I have always tried to create positive change in my school, neighborhood and community," Sophia said. So, when she entered middle school, she sought a position on the school's Associated Student Body (ASB) council because "I realized we could do more collectively than I could do alone." One of her principal interests on the council has been to work on projects to protect the environment and to teach others how they can support that mission. "Our beautiful Earth has the ability to take care of all its residents if we will take care of it and each other," she said.
Sophia and her fellow council members started small, by staffing a table at lunchtime to show students the difference between items that can be recycled, composted and thrown away. They then ran a campaign to encourage students to use water bottle filling stations with reusable bottles, and planted a sustainable garden at their school. Their recycling and water conservation efforts have reduced the school's overall waste by 70 percent and saved more than 100,000 plastic bottles from being deposited in landfills, said Sophia. To broaden their impact, Sophia and other ASB members have spoken about environmental topics in classrooms and a senior center, and made videos for their entire school. In addition, Sophia has volunteered at a local food bank, handed out backpacks filled with food for hungry kids, and helped raise money to support women and children in Africa.
"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.
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.