WASHINGTON, May 8, 2017 /PRNewswire/ -- West Virginia's top two youth volunteers of 2017, Elena Polinski, 17, of Moundsville and Mallory Marks, 12, of Mineral Wells, 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. Elena and Mallory – 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 Elena and Mallory West 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.
Elena, a member of the YMCA of Wheeling West Virginia and a junior at John Marshall High School, initiated a music instruction and therapy program for people with special needs. In 2015, while volunteering at a prom-like event for teens with special needs, Elena was asked to play guitar and sing to a group of kids. "We had an immediate connection," she said. "I witnessed firsthand what a deep effect music had on them. After this experience, I knew I had to pursue the concept of music as a source of therapy for the special needs community."
Elena researched the topic in books, on the Internet, and by talking to parents of children with disabilities. She then got approval to start a "Miracle of Music" program for The Miracle League of the Ohio
Valley and handed out pamphlets about the classes she wanted to teach. Her classes filled up in no time. She began by teaching 10 students basic guitar chords and strumming in one-on-one sessions, and quickly discovered that she needed to tailor her lessons to the individual needs of each pupil. "The littlest accomplishments led to big smiles, which made it all worthwhile," said Elena. "It's not what the children learned that amazes me," she continued. "Rather, it is the impact that each of them has had on my life."
Mallory, a member of Wood County 4-H and a sixth-grader at Edison Junior High School, collected hygiene and other items to make holiday gift bags for teens and adults with developmental disabilities. At a meeting of her 4-H club, Mallory heard about a "Secret Christmas Program" operated by The Arc, a nonprofit organization that provides services to teens and adults with intellectual, cognitive or other developmental disabilities. "I decided to get involved because I felt that many give to younger kids, but older kids and adults also need to get gifts," she said.
Mallory made a flier appealing for donations, and handed out copies at her school and church. She also asked friends, relatives and her 4-H club to help, and posted information about her drive on Facebook. "We collected a lot of things," she said, including soap, shampoo, toothpaste, razors, deodorant and hair brushes.
After Mallory delivered her items to The Arc, she signed up for the organization's "Secret Shopper Program," and went shopping for items on clients' wish lists. "I really felt good knowing that we helped so many individuals who often get overlooked at the holidays," she said. Mallory also asked friends on her birthday to bring items for a homeless shelter instead of gifts for her.
"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
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Editors: For pictures of the Spirit of Community Awards program logo and medallions, visit https://spirit.prudential.com/resources/media.
For B-roll of West Virginia's honorees at the 2017 national recognition events, contact Prudential's Harold Banks at (973) 216-4833 or email@example.com.
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SOURCE Prudential Insurance