MADISON, Wis., May 4, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- Wisconsin's top two youth volunteers of 2020, Shruti Parthasarathy, 17, of Middleton and Elsa Witkiewicz, 13, of Trevor, 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, Shruti and Elsa – 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 Wisconsin'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 Shruti and Elsa Wisconsin'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, Shruti and Elsa 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
Shruti (pictured left), a senior at Middleton High School, has taught workshops on Bharathanatyam, a classical Indian dance, to nearly 400 students in her school district as a way to both relieve stress and promote understanding of her native country's cultural traditions. When she was 5 years old, Shruti's family left India and settled in Wisconsin. Fearful of losing her Indian roots, she took up Bharathanatyam, a 2,000-year-old dance form that depicts mythological tales of gods and goddesses through movement and music. "Growing up in Wisconsin, I would often get ridiculed for pursuing an ominous art form," she said. "For years I tried to hide my Indian heritage. As a result, I carried an unhealthy amount of anxiety." After stressful days, Shruti would retreat to her basement and dance. It always made her feel better, she said.
In October of 2018, she found clinical studies showing that the footwork, hand gestures and facial expressions of Bharathanatyam had, in fact, been proven to reduce stress levels. So she created "Calm with Kalaa," an initiative that teaches both the history and culture of this ancient dance form and the movements themselves. After reaching out to health teachers throughout her school district, she began conducting one-hour workshops at a middle school. Then she began leading workshops at her high school, which ended up integrating the teachings into a required health curriculum. Shruti also has led workshops for her district's staff on personal development days, and for university students and faculty at Yale, Princeton and Northwestern Universities.
Elsa (pictured right), a member of Girl Scouts of Wisconsin Southeast and an eighth-grader at Trevor-Wilmot Consolidated Grade School District, helped organize a donation drive to assemble more than 160 bags stuffed with makeup and toiletries for teenage girls in foster care and young women at a local women's shelter. When Elsa was younger, her mother took her to distribute duffle bags to the homeless, an experience that crystallized her desire to help others. Years later, when she and fellow Girl Scouts were volunteering at a food pantry, she decided she wanted to do something to help girls in need feel better about themselves. "I knew having makeup, perfume, and special pampering items were things most foster girls probably didn't have because they are expensive," Elsa said.
So in December of 2018, Elsa and another Girl Scout began a project to make these girls feel special. They sat down with the board of the county foster care system, which wholeheartedly supported the project. Collections kicked off in March and ran through May. Then they asked 10 local businesses for permission to place donation bins on their premises; contacted a printing company for help with brochures, cards, and bags; and arranged two media interviews to spread the word. Donations soon rolled in from individuals and even the local Target store, which donated face wash and lotion. Every two weeks, the girls picked up donated items from the bins and stored them in Elsa's basement. In the end, the girls easily surpassed their goal by delivering 168 bags, each stuffed with 50 to 60 items, including makeup, toiletries, sanitary items, writing utensils, snacks, a confidence-building brochure and a hand-written card.
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.