SALT LAKE CITY, May 4, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- Utah's top two youth volunteers of 2020, Sydney Ward, 17, of Salem and Owen Hughes, 14, of Bountiful, were recognized this weekend for their outstanding volunteer service during the 25th annual, and first-ever virtual, Prudential Spirit of Community Awards national recognition celebration.
In recognition of the spirit of service that they have demonstrated in their communities, Sydney and Owen – along with 100 other top youth volunteers from across the country – were also each given $2,500 to donate toward the local COVID-19 response efforts of a nonprofit organization of their choice. These funds come in addition to the $1,000 scholarship and engraved silver medallion they earned as Utah's top youth volunteers of 2020.
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program, sponsored by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), named Sydney and Owen Utah's top high school and middle level youth volunteers in February.
"Over the past 25 years, this program has honored students spanning three generations, and the common thread between them has been the determination of young people to respond to the challenges of the moment," said Charles Lowrey, chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial. "Who better than this group of young leaders from all over the country to help identify and direct resources to community needs arising from COVID-19?"
As State Honorees, Sydney and Owen also earned an all-expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C. for the program's annual national recognition events; the trip, however, was canceled due to COVID-19 and changed to a three-day online celebration this past weekend. In addition to remarks and congratulations from actress Kristen Bell, honorees had opportunities to connect with each other through online project-sharing sessions, learn about service and advocacy from accomplished past Spirit of Community honorees, hear congratulatory remarks from Lowrey and NASSP Executive Director and CEO JoAnn Bartoletti, and more.
"We admire these young leaders for their ability to assess the needs of the communities they serve and find meaningful ways to address them," said Bartoletti. "At a time when everyone is looking for optimism, these students are a bright light for their peers and the adults in their lives."
About the Honorees
Sydney (pictured left), a senior at Salem Hills High School, works to mobilize young people in her community to become better informed about issues affecting their lives and more engaged in local politics by staging mock elections, organizing town hall meetings with local and state representatives, and spearheading voter registration drives at high schools. When Sydney was 13, her mother took her to a political convention to nominate county and state candidates. She spent most of her day there handing out fliers in support of their candidate and collecting political T-shirts. "I realized then and there that I wanted to have my own voice heard in that process," Sydney said.
On the day before Election Day 2016, Sydney, with the help of her history teacher, organized a mock election at her school that drew participation from 75 percent of the student body. The ensuing conversations fueled her desire to do more. So in 2019, she founded "Project 320" to encourage young people to get involved in the political process. As executive director, Sydney spends roughly 30 hours a week planning social media campaigns, posting candidate platforms on a website, coordinating events with local officials, recruiting volunteers, writing grant applications and securing support from the community. To increase young people's awareness of governmental issues and the political process, her group has hosted a series of town hall meetings to bring students and elected officials together. At one of her meetings, 100 students heard their state representatives talk about upcoming bills that affect them. "After the event, many students said they had no idea state government had such an influence on their lives," she said.
Owen (pictured right), an eighth-grader at Bountiful Junior High School, converted a library into a music and game room at Valor House, a transitional housing facility for veterans, and then initiated a monthly game night for its residents. Owen has always had the utmost respect for America's servicemembers; three of his great grandfathers served in World War II and his brother was in the United States Air Force. "So when I see veterans who are homeless, it makes me feel bad," he said. "I can't really solve their struggles with addiction, homelessness and mental health," he continued, "but I can try to help make their lives a little more fun and help them form friendships."
After gaining approval from Valor House administrators, Owen asked members of his Boy Scout troop to help distribute fliers all over his neighborhood, soliciting donations of games and musical instruments. He also placed a collection box at his church. After he had enough donations, he and some friends cleaned out books from a room that had been used as a library, checked all the games to make sure they were intact, cleaned the games and instruments, and organized them into categories. They also built an outdoor game cupboard so residents could play on the patio while enjoying the sunshine. When the game room was ready, Owen coordinated a game night, inviting members of a national veterans group and his soccer team to join veterans at Valor House for games, snacks, a raffle and two hours of fun. "The most memorable part was playing the games and laughing so hard we almost cried," he said.
About The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards
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 25 years, the program has honored more than 130,000 young volunteers at the local, state and national level. For more information about The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards and this year's honorees, visit http://spirit.prudential.com. For more information about the National Association of Secondary School Principals, visit www.nassp.org. For more information about Prudential Financial, visit www.news.prudential.com.
Learn more at spirit.prudential.com
SOURCE Prudential Financial, Inc.