WASHINGTON--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Jeffrey Hanson, 17, of Overland Park, Kan., was named one of America’s top ten youth volunteers for 2011 in a ceremony today at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, winning a national Prudential Spirit of Community Award for his outstanding volunteer service. Selected from a field of more than 29,000 participants across the country, he received a personal award of $5,000, an engraved gold medallion, a crystal trophy for his school, and a $5,000 grant from The Prudential Foundation for the nonprofit charitable organization of his choice.
Also honored in Washington was Marleah Mullen, 14, of Wichita. She and Jeffrey were named Kansas’ top youth volunteers in February, and were officially recognized last night at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, along with the top two youth volunteers of every other state and the District of Columbia. At that event, all of the Prudential Spirit of Community State Honorees for 2011 were presented with $1,000 awards, and congratulated by Academy Award-winning actress Susan Sarandon. The honorees also received engraved silver medallions and an all-expense-paid trip with their parents to Washington, D.C., for this week’s recognition events.
“The Prudential Spirit of Community honorees have seen problems in their communities and around the world and have taken action,” said Ms. Sarandon. “Their compassion to help others should give us all a lot of hope for the future.”
Jeffrey, a junior at Horizon Academy in Roeland Park, has generated more than $225,000 for various local and national charities over the past five years by selling and donating original paintings and other artistic creations, despite having a genetic condition that causes severe loss of vision. In the fall of 2005, Jeffrey began going blind from neurofibromatosis and an optic nerve tumor. While undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatment, he started painting watercolor notecards to raise money for neurofibromatosis research, and discovered he had a talent for art. Soon after, he set up an early-morning “coffee shop” in his driveway every Saturday, selling notecards, paintings, and baked goods, and raising more than $13,000 for the Children’s Tumor Foundation.
As demand for his notecards grew, a local printing company offered to print them in large quantities. He now sells them, along with notepads, calendars, greeting cards, and acrylic paintings on canvas, through a website at www.JeffreyOwenHanson.com. In addition, Jeffrey has donated scores of original paintings to be auctioned off at charitable fund-raisers for as much as $5,000 apiece, and has gifted paintings to a South African orphanage and a school in Kansas City. Whole Foods Market recently began selling an eco-friendly reusable grocery bag designed by Jeffrey, with a share of the proceeds going to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which named him a Global Ambassador at a convention last fall. In addition, Jeffrey is frequently invited to share his story at schools, churches, businesses and community organizations. “Every act of kindness helps create kinder communities, more compassionate nations and a better world for all… even one painting at a time,” he says.
Marleah, an eighth-grader at Pleasant Valley Middle School, helped lead a group of students in sprucing up their school grounds on Saturdays, during lunch break on school days, and over the summer. “I have always loved to do things to help, whether at church, school, home, or anywhere else,” said Marleah. So when her school’s Student Council and Honor Society began talking about improving the school’s appearance, Marleah jumped on the idea. “I am very proud of my school and wished others would be, too,” she said.
Marleah and several other students spent many lunch periods and Saturdays picking up trash in the schoolyard. In the fall, they planted bulbs in the school courtyards, trimmed trees and shrubs, pulled weeds, and raked leaves. In the spring, they painted hopscotch and four-square lines on the pavement, and painted the school’s basketball backboards. And over the summer, Marleah and her helpers spent six weeks painting random designs on old concrete benches under a covered patio, and painting a huge mural in the school cafeteria. “We had to deal with extreme cold and heat, major humidity and miserable dryness,” said Marleah. Sometimes just two or three students would show up to work, but other times there were 10 or 12, “but even with a minimal amount of help, we still did a great job,” she said.
“Jeffrey and Marleah represent young Americans who have a strong sense of community and who are dedicated to improving our neighborhoods, our nation and our world,” said John R. Strangfeld, chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial, Inc. “With great anticipation, we look forward to their future achievements as they continue to spread the spirit of community.”
More than 29,000 young people participated in the 2011 awards program last fall through schools, Girl Scout councils, county 4-H organizations, American Red Cross chapters, YMCAs and affiliates of the Points of Light Institute’s HandsOn Network. The top middle level and high school applicants in each state were selected in February, and were flown to Washington this week with their parents for four days of special recognition events.
In addition to Jeffrey, the other National Honorees are:
Justin Churchman, 18, of El Paso, Texas, has raised more than $48,000 and recruited more than 75 volunteers to build 18 houses in Juarez, Mexico, despite the rampant drug wars that have frightened away many other American volunteers.
Sarah Cronk, 18, of Bettendorf, Iowa, co-founded a cheerleading squad at her high school that includes students with disabilities, and then formed a nonprofit corporation that encourages teens across the country to start similar squads at their schools.
Rocco Fiorentino, 14, of Voorhees, N.J., is a dedicated advocate for children who are blind like him or visually impaired, striving over the past nine years to increase government funding for Braille services and educate others about the abilities of people with visual challenges.
Cassandra Lin, 13, of Westerly, R.I., launched a program that collects more than 36,000 gallons of waste cooking oil a year from 95 restaurants and thousands of households in nine towns in Rhode Island and Connecticut, and converts it into heating fuel for needy families.
Aimee Matheson, 18, of Clearfield, Utah, coordinated the building of a day-care and community center in Guatemala so that impoverished single mothers would have a safe and nurturing place for their children while they are at work.
Tyler Page, 14, of Brentwood, Calif., held a car wash hoping to rescue just one child from being sold into slavery in Ghana, but ended up sparking a kids’ fund-raising enterprise that has involved hundreds of young people and has generated more than $100,000 for a variety of children’s causes.
Rachel Wheeler, 11, of Lighthouse Point, Fla., launched a fund-raising campaign that has raised more than $162,000 to build a new 25-home village in Leogane, Haiti, near the epicenter of the earthquake that occurred in January 2010.
Glennita Williams, 14, of South Holland, Ill., has collected snacks and personal care items worth more than $14,000, including more than 600 pounds of Hostess Twinkies, for shipment to American troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past four years.
Rujul Zaparde, 16, of Plainsboro, N.J., co-founded a nonprofit organization that has motivated more than 450 students at 23 schools to raise funds that have been used to dig over 30 water wells in rural India.
The national selection committee that chose the ten National Honorees was chaired by Strangfeld of Prudential and included Jana Frieler, president of the National Association of Secondary School Principals; Michelle Nunn, president and CEO of the Points of Light & HandsOn 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; Jaclyn Libowitz, chief operating officer and chief of staff for Girl Scouts of the USA; Felix Rouse, vice president of resource development for the southeast region of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America; 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.
Conducted in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards were created 16 years ago by Prudential Financial to encourage youth volunteerism and to identify and reward young role models.
“The young women and men in America’s schools are nothing short of amazing, and nowhere is this more evident than amongst this year’s award recipients,” said NASSP President Jana Frieler. “They possess a keen intellect, servant hearts, capable leadership skills, and are filled with energy and ambition. NASSP and Prudential are honored to recognize them.”
NASSP is the leading organization of and national voice for middle level and high school principals, assistant principals, and all school leaders from across the United States and more than 45 countries around the world. NASSP provides research-based professional development and resources, networking, and advocacy to build the capacity of middle level and high school leaders to continually improve student performance. Reflecting its longstanding commitment to student leadership development as well, 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.
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[Editors: full-color pictures of the Spirit of Community Awards program logo and medallions are available at spirit.prudential.com.]
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