ST. PAUL, Minn.--()--Peter Larson, 16, of Plymouth and Hayden Oliver, 13, of Forest Lake today were named Minnesota's top two youth volunteers for 2011 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism. The awards program, now in its 16th year, is conducted by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).
“These award recipients have proven that young people across America are critical to the future of our neighborhoods, our nation, and our world”
Peter was nominated by Wayzata High School in Plymouth, and Hayden was nominated by Century Junior High in Forest Lake. As State Honorees, 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 several days of national recognition events. Ten of them will be named America’s top youth volunteers for 2011 at that time.
Peter, a junior at Wayzata High School, has slept outside in the frigid late-autumn air for more than 300 nights over the past six years to raise over $275,000 to help prevent homelessness in his community, as part of an annual fund-raising drive for a nonprofit organization serving families in need. When Peter was in first grade, his Cub Scout pack heard a presentation by the man who had started the “Sleep Out,” and learned that for every $500 he raised, he could help keep a needy family in their home for one month. “When I heard that number, it just clicked in my brain,” said Peter. “It was as if someone told me that this is what I should do.”
For the next several years, Peter slept outside one night each year with his scout pack to support this cause. “By fifth grade, I knew I could do more, so I asked my parents if I could sleep out for the entire five weeks of the Sleep Out,” he said. Since then, he has spent each night of the annual November-December Sleep Out in a cardboard box behind his house, sometimes enduring temperatures as low as 20 degrees below zero. Through media interviews, mailings, website appeals, and speeches to church, scouting and school groups, he asks people to support him by making donations to the Interfaith Outreach & Community Partners, which provides affordable housing and financial assistance to families in need. Peter also has persuaded local restaurants to pledge part of their profits from one day of his Sleep Out. “This is what I was called to do,” said Peter, “because if I don’t do it – who will?”
Hayden, an eighth-grader at Century Junior High School, built a floating dock on a pond next to his school to provide a place for students to learn about science outdoors and to simply enjoy nature. Hayden came up with the idea one day while talking to his science teacher. “We decided that building a floating dock would give more people access to nature and allow more outdoor activities for the students,” he said.
Hayden researched specifications for the dock, settled on a design after soliciting input from many people, and obtained the necessary approvals. Then he raised several thousand dollars to fund the project, partly by holding a garage sale and serving root beer floats after concerts. With money in hand, Hayden ordered supplies and recruited friends, family members, and Boy Scouts to help build the dock. “Now students can take water samples, sit and watch the animals and birds in the area, experience nature from a nice area, have a place to do artwork or write poetry, or just spend time in a nice place,” said Hayden.
In addition, the program judges recognized six other Minnesota students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion:
Elaina Hamann, 17, of Columbia Heights, a senior at St. Anthony Village High School in St. Anthony Village, raised more than $30,000 worth of art supplies to support disadvantaged schoolchildren. Elaina, who created a nonprofit organization called S.A.V.E. (Students Achieving Volunteering Excellence) in 2008, provided the students with paper, wood, brushes, pencils, crayons and paint.
Andrew Nguyen, 17, of Coon Rapids, a senior at Coon Rapids High School, founded “Soccer Unites” to collect gently used soccer equipment and donate them to children in need in Vietnam, Uganda and Honduras. Andrew, inspired by his father’s stories of childhood struggles in Vietnam, hoped to give children the chance to play and exercise by donating all the equipment they would need to play soccer.
Sean Quinn, 17, of Lake Elmo, a homeschooled senior, is an active peer juror for “Peer C.O.R.” (Peer Council for Offense Resolution), a restorative justice program for troubled teens. Since his involvement as a peer juror, Sean has been asked to train other peer jurors as a lead youth trainer, sits on the Youth Board of Directors, and is the program’s public relations coordinator.
Alexandra Richardson, 16, of Woodbury, a junior at East Ridge High School has been an active volunteer for the Minnesota Children’s Museum in St. Paul since 2008. In addition to coordinating various children’s activities at the museum, Alexandra is also a member of the Advisory Board and a youth squad leader who helps to select and supervise other youth volunteers.
Walker Welch, 17, of Wanamingo, a senior at Kenyon-Wanamingo High School in Kenyon, planned, organized and coordinated a project to clean up the grounds of Kenyon-Wanamingo Elementary School. Walker supervised a group of volunteers who installed new landscaping, a concrete bench and a playground bench.
Max Woodrich, 16, of Bloomington, a junior at Thomas Jefferson Senior High School, raised $75,000 to support families affected by breast cancer through the “thinkPINKkids” organization he founded when he was only 12. Max, who motivates kids to earn money for thinkPINKkids donations, has helped to start more than 50 thinkPINKkids clubs in various states.
“These award recipients have proven that young people across America are critical to the future of our neighborhoods, our nation, and our world,” said John R. Strangfeld, chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial. “Each and every one of these honorees deserve our respect and admiration, and we hope by shining a light on them, they will continue to serve as an example for others.”
“The young people recognized by the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards demonstrate an enormous capacity for giving and reaching out to those in need,” said Gerald N. Tirozzi, executive director of the National Association of Secondary School Principals. “NASSP is proud to honor these student leaders because they are wonderful examples of the high caliber of young people in our nation’s schools today.”
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 affiliates of HandsOn Network, were eligible to select a student or member for a local Prudential Spirit of Community Award this past November. More than 5,000 Local Honorees were then reviewed by an independent judging panel, which selected State Honorees and Distinguished Finalists based on criteria such as personal initiative, creativity, effort, impact and personal growth.
While in Washington, D.C., the 102 State Honorees will tour the capital’s landmarks, attend a gala awards ceremony at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, and visit their congressional representatives on Capitol Hill. In addition, 10 of them – five middle level and five high school students – will be named National Honorees on May 2 by a prestigious national selection committee. These honorees will receive additional $5,000 awards, gold medallions, crystal trophies, and $5,000 grants from The Prudential Foundation for nonprofit, charitable organizations of their choice.
Serving on the national selection committee will be John Strangfeld of Prudential; Jana Frieler, president of NASSP; Michelle Nunn, president and CEO of the Points of Light Institute & Hands On Network; Marguerite Kondracke, president and CEO of the America’s Promise Alliance; Donald T. Floyd Jr., president and CEO of National 4-H Council; Pamela Farr, the American Red Cross’ national chair of volunteers; Elson Nash, associate director for project management at the Corporation for National and Community Service; Michael Cohen, president and CEO of Achieve, Inc.; and two 2010 Prudential Spirit of Community National Honorees: Shannon McNamara of Basking Ridge, N.J., and Benjamin Sater of Plano, Texas.
In addition to granting its own awards, The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program will be distributing President’s Volunteer Service Awards to more than 2,800 of its Local Honorees this year on behalf of President Barack Obama. The President’s Volunteer Service Award recognizes Americans of all ages who have volunteered significant amounts of their time to serve their communities and their country.
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards represent the United States’ largest youth recognition program based solely on volunteer service. Since the program began in 1995, more than 95,000 young volunteers nationwide have been honored at the local, state or national level. Many prominent public figures have assisted in saluting these honorees over the years, including Jimmy Carter, Barbara Bush, Magic Johnson, John Glenn, Madeleine Albright, Rudy Giuliani, Whoopi Goldberg, Colin Powell, Peyton Manning, Laura Bush, and Condoleezza Rice. The program also is conducted by Prudential subsidiaries in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Ireland and India.
For information on all of this year’s Prudential Spirit of Community State Honorees and Distinguished Finalists, visit spirit.prudential.com or www.nassp.org/spirit.
In existence since 1916, the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) is the preeminent organization of and national voice for middle level and high school principals, assistant principals, and aspiring school leaders from across the United States and more than 45 countries around the world. NASSP’s mission is to promote excellence in school leadership. The National Honor Society ®, National Junior Honor Society ®, National Elementary Honor Society™, and National Association of Student Councils ® are all NASSP programs. For more information about NASSP, located in Reston, Va., visit www.nassp.org or call 703-860-0200.
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, investment management, and real estate services. 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 http://www.news.prudential.com/
Editors: Graphics depicting the award program’s logo and medallions may be downloaded from spirit.prudential.com.