OKLAHOMA CITY--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Jonathan Crider, 18, of Marlow and Matthew Benjamin, 14, of Tulsa today were named Oklahoma's top two youth volunteers for 2012 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism. Jonathan was nominated by Central High School in Marlow, and Matthew was nominated by Regent Preparatory School in Tulsa. The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, now in its 17th year, is conducted by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).
Jonathan, a senior at Central High School, has organized rocking-chair marathons in his community that have raised more than $45,000 to feed children who otherwise risk going hungry on weekends. Jonathan was inspired to get involved six years ago, when one morning he heard a radio discussion about children going hungry on the weekends. “I could not believe kids that could be my age, my neighbors, going hungry? Could that be possible?” asked Jonathan. “I think everyone has the basic right to eat.”
At first Jonathan did odd jobs that raised enough to feed one child for a year. He then started a penny drive at his school, but he knew he could do more. That was when he decided to hold a “Rock-A-Thon” in which participants would find sponsors to pledge money for every hour they rocked in a rocking chair. Jonathan found space at a local mall to stage his event, persuaded a Cracker Barrel restaurant to lend rocking chairs, arranged for food and prizes and recruited friends, relatives, students, community members and even the mayor to rock. Jonathan has organized several more Rock-A-Thons since then, all of which have supported the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma’s Food 4 Kids program. As a result, hundreds of needy children have left school on Friday afternoons with backpacks stuffed with food for the weekend. “I have spoken to principals at the schools,” said Jonathan. “They say because students have food to eat on weekends, they can sit still, listen and learn. I feel I am helping in a small way to change their future.”
Matthew, an eighth-grader at Regent Preparatory School, raised more than $30,000 to build a home for 33 orphans in Uganda by attracting sponsorships as he trained and ran in a half-marathon last year. Matthew spent two weeks in a small Ugandan village in 2010, where he encountered many young people his age. “At first I couldn’t believe how similar we were,” he said. “We played soccer, hung out, and talked. It was great.” But, by the third day, he realized there was one big difference -- his new friends were all orphans. “As the week went on, I realized they slept on the dirt floor of a local church or in the bush – without parents,” he said.
Unable to get the young Africans off of his mind when he returned to Oklahoma, Matthew started thinking about how he could raise money to build them a home. After much thought and brainstorming with others, he decided that he would train for four months to run a half-marathon in Oklahoma City. With help from his family, Matthew found an organization that could build a home for the orphans for $20,000, and then he formed a nonprofit charity called “A Chance for Children.” He invited people in his community – through mailings, meetings, multimedia presentations, social media and a website – to pledge money for every mile he ran in training. He ended up logging 346 miles to prepare for the 13.1-mile half-marathon, and collected $31,500 in donations. The money is being used to give the orphans “a home, family, education, food and a life,” said Matthew.
As State Honorees, Jonathan and Matthew 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 2012 at that time.
In addition, the program judges recognized four other Oklahoma students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion:
Clytee Burchett, 17, of Choctaw, Okla., a junior at Life Christian Academy in Oklahoma City, is the president of First Book-Oklahoma County, and has raised more than $8,000 to provide books to underprivileged children. Clytee is also an active member of the Miss Oklahoma Outstanding Teen organization, and speaks on its behalf to many children about the importance of reading.
Taylor Daniel, 17, of Oklahoma City, Okla., a senior at Western Heights High School, was the lead project coordinator to rehab more than 13 homes for seniors and low income families in his neighborhood. Taylor, who has worked with his family for six years on more than 100 home rehab projects, coordinated a team of 100 volunteers and raised thousands of dollars to support the project.
Lucy Mahaffey, 17, of Norman, Okla., a senior at Norman North High School, is the co-founder and president of “H.O.P.E. (Helping Oklahomans Prevent Exploitation),” a school club that raises awareness about human trafficking and modern slavery. Lucy, along with her twin sister, coordinates a group of more than 40 volunteers and has raised nearly $2,000 at various awareness and fundraising events.
Gabrielle Woods, 18, of Coalgate, Okla., a senior at Tupelo High School, distributed several hundred superhero capes, masks and activity kits to children fighting cancer through her project, “Kid Superhero.” Gabrielle, who was inspired by her mother’s fight with leukemia, wanted children fighting cancer to truly believe that they each have a superhero inside strong enough to fight cancer.
“Through their selfless acts of service, these award recipients have greatly improved the lives of others,” said Prudential Chairman and CEO John Strangfeld. “We hope their stories and their dedication inspire other young people to do the same.”
"We are so pleased to celebrate these student volunteers,” said JoAnn Bartoletti, executive director of NASSP. “It’s important to highlight them as powerful examples of how young people can make a difference."
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 affiliates of HandsOn Network, were eligible to select a student or member for a local Prudential Spirit of Community Award. More than 5,000 Local Honorees were then reviewed by an independent judging panel, which selected State Honorees and Distinguished Finalists based on criteria including personal initiative, creativity, 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, 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 7. 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.
Since the program began in 1995, more than 100,000 young volunteers nationwide have been honored by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards at the local, state or national level. The program also is conducted by Prudential subsidiaries in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Ireland and India. 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 on behalf of President Barack Obama.
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. The association 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.
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, 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.