RICHMOND, Va., Feb. 4, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- Rayan Yu, 16, of Vienna and Ryan Janaske, 12, of Ashburn today were named Virginia's top two youth volunteers of 2020 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism. As State Honorees, Rayan and Ryan each will receive $1,000, an engraved silver medallion and an all-expense-paid trip in early May to Washington, D.C., where they will join the top two honorees from each of the other states and the District of Columbia for four days of national recognition events. During the trip, 10 students will be named America's top youth volunteers of 2020.
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, now in its 25th year, is conducted by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).
These are Virginia's top youth volunteers of 2020:
High School State Honoree: Rayan Yu
Nominated by James Madison High School
Rayan, a junior at James Madison High School, worked with a partner to create free STEM-education mobile apps to help level the playing field for students around the world who otherwise might not have the resources to reach their full potential. Two summers ago, Rayan tutored students in his father's hometown, an underserved village in China. He saw a real desperation to learn, but the obstacles were great. "Their schools lacked textbooks, curriculums and even teachers," said Rayan. "It was heartbreaking to see so many lose their potential simply because they did not have access to quality education."
When Rayan returned home, he founded "inGenius X," a nonprofit whose mission is to provide "easy access to education anywhere and everywhere." With the help of a partner, Rayan set out to create a math-based app. The pair spent a year coding, creating graphics, developing a curriculum, programming problem sets for practice, and testing it out on themselves, friends and family. Since their first app, "Mathtivity," was certified and published, it has been downloaded more than 10,000 times, said Rayan. Two more apps that deal with science-related subjects are finished and awaiting certification, and three more are in development, all incorporating hours of interactive practice and video lectures. In addition to building their apps, Rayan persuaded a local university to sponsor and host a 24-hour hackathon featuring a computer science competition, coding workshops and speaker panels made up of rising tech leaders. The free event is designed for local students who otherwise might not have the same opportunities in computer science as those who go to school in affluent areas.
Middle Level State Honoree: Ryan Janaske
Nominated by Trailside Middle School
Ryan, a seventh-grader at Trailside Middle School, stuffs up to 100 backpacks with school supplies each summer and donates them to elementary schools in her area for students who can't afford to start the school year with everything they need. Ryan used to help with a school-supply drive led by her mother at her workplace, but after her mom got a new job, Ryan knew that many of the kids who got help were no longer going to get the school supplies they needed. "I came up with the idea of starting my own charity because I liked what my mom did and how it made me feel when I helped people," said Ryan. She called her charity "Kids Helping Kids."
Before the start of summer, Ryan kicks off her fundraising efforts by sending letters to family members and friends to solicit donations. Next, she goes shopping to buy backpacks, pencils, glue sticks and other items. Then Ryan, with the help of three friends and her mother, stuffs the backpacks and gets them ready for delivery. At the end of the summer, she and her team load up her mother's car and take the backpacks to school principals around her community. "I know the work I do each summer puts smiles on kids' faces," said Ryan. "I feel like I am making the world a better place, one backpack at a time."
The program judges also recognized six other Virginia students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are Virginia's Distinguished Finalists for 2020:
Lina Alkarmi, 17, of Sterling, Virginia, a senior at Dominion High School, started and runs "Princess Packages," a nonprofit that has given more than 400 princess-themed care packages to young patients in hospitals; her efforts include spreading awareness of her cause, recruiting volunteers, organizing packaging events and delivering the care packages. Lina was first inspired to start her project to help cheer up patients after visiting a young family member in the hospital.
Perisa Ashar, 16, of Glen Allen, Virginia, a member of Henrico County 4-H and a junior at Maggie L. Walker Governor's School, started "STEMinate," through which she hosts coding, robotics and chemistry workshops for elementary and middle school students; she also developed a website that includes tutorials on coding and making DIY science kits. Perisa was inspired to start this project after learning about the lack of women and African Americans in STEM fields.
Azaria Cherry, 15, of Norfolk, Virginia, a sophomore at Maury High School, started and runs "ZincGirlz," holding regular meetings and STEM-related workshops for elementary school girls from underserved communities; she has also donated care packages for people experiencing homelessness, backpacks to students in need, and 100 copies of "The King of Kindergarten" to local kindergarten classrooms. Azaria started ZincGirlz to encourage young girls' interest in STEM fields.
Neeyanth Kopparapu, 18, of Herndon, Virginia, a senior at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, co-founded "GirlsComputingLeague," which provides STEM-related learning opportunities for students from underserved communities; his efforts include securing funds and helping organize several hackathons and more than 50 workshops. The league also hosted a high school AI conference, awarding grants to students who harness AI for social good.
Logan Speckhard, 17, of Ashburn, Virginia, a senior at Briar Woods High School, runs "Athletes Crush Cancer," which raises money for families affected by cancer; through her program, local sports teams secure sponsors for their athletic season, who donate each time players get hits or score goals. Logan, who also spreads awareness of her cause through social media, was first inspired to start her project after losing a childhood friend to cancer.
Shreyaa Venkat, 17, of Ashburn, Virginia, a senior at Broad Run High School, started and runs "NEST4US," which provides volunteer and leadership opportunities to young people; she has participated in a variety of causes, including collecting and delivering donations for food shelters, assembling care packages for people affected by hurricanes, running book drives and establishing a free tutoring program. Through NEST4US, Shreyaa has recruited more than 500 volunteers and served thousands of people.
"In our 25th year of honoring young volunteers, we are as inspired as ever by the work students are doing to address the needs of a changing world," said Charles Lowrey, chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial, Inc. "We hope that their resolve, their initiative and their perspectives on society's challenges move others to consider how they can make a difference, too."
"Middle level and high school students are doing remarkable things to shape the future of their communities through volunteer service. They inspire all students and schools to drive learning with real-world challenges," said JoAnn Bartoletti, executive director of NASSP. "Congratulations to each of the 2020 honorees – it's an honor to celebrate your commitment to creating positive change."
About The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards represents the United States' largest youth recognition program based solely on volunteer service. All public and private middle level and high schools in the country, as well as all Girl Scout councils, county 4-H organizations, American Red Cross chapters, YMCAs and Points of Light Global Network members, were eligible to select a student or member for a local Prudential Spirit of Community Award. These Local Honorees were then reviewed by an independent judging panel, which selected State Honorees and Distinguished Finalists based on criteria including personal initiative, effort, impact and personal growth.
While in Washington, D.C., the 102 State Honorees – one middle level and one high school student from each state and the District of Columbia – will tour the capital's landmarks, meet top youth volunteers from other parts of the world, attend a gala awards ceremony at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, and visit their congressional representatives on Capitol Hill. On May 4, 10 of the State Honorees – five middle level and five high school students – will be named America's top youth volunteers of 2020. These National Honorees will receive additional $5,000 scholarships, gold medallions, crystal trophies and $5,000 grants from Prudential for nonprofit charitable organizations of their choice.
Since the program began in 1995, more than 130,000 young volunteers have been honored at the local, state and national level. The program also is conducted by Prudential subsidiaries in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Ireland, India, China and Brazil. In addition to granting its own awards, The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program also distributes President's Volunteer Service Awards to qualifying Local Honorees.
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.
For Spirit of Community Awards program logo and medallion graphics, please visit https://spirit.prudential.com/resources/media
SOURCE Prudential Financial, Inc.