DENVER--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Suzanne Luff, 18, of Colorado Springs and Christina Bear, 14, of Golden today were named Colorado'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. Suzanne was nominated by Colorado Springs Christian High School in Colorado Springs, and Christina was nominated by Metro Volunteers in Denver. 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).
Suzanne, a senior at Colorado Springs Christian High School, created a program called “Hats-4-Hope” that has recruited volunteers to hand-knit 2,600 tiny hats for premature babies in the neo-natal intensive care unit of a local hospital. Suzanne’s brother was given a baby hat when he was born, but it was thin and made out of a sock. She thought she could make something better, and realized how important it is for premature infants to have substantial, warm hats to cover their heads. “The head is the temperature control of the body, and to keep a steady temperature, a premature baby often needs a hat to keep in its body heat,” she explained.
Suzanne contacted a hospital to see if she could donate hats, and then began seeking volunteers among her classmates and Sunday school students to help her knit hats. One of her biggest challenges, she said, is finding reliable, long-term volunteers; many start strong but then lose interest over time. She now has close to 100 dedicated helpers. First, she teaches them how to knit a hat, and then she supplies them with yarn and looms that she obtains from donors. Suzanne started with a goal of producing 1,000 hats by the time she graduated from high school. After a recent delivery, she is now up to 2,600 hats. “I am excited to see what my volunteers and I can do in the next year,” she said.
Christina, an eighth-grader at Colorado Academy in Denver, launched a campaign to educate people about the danger of radon and encourage them to test for the odorless gas in their homes. In the fall of 2007, Christina was looking for an art project to keep her busy on a snowy morning and came across a poster contest focused on radon. “No one in my home knew about radon,” said Christina. “I researched the topic and found that this invisible, tasteless and odorless gas can collect in your lungs and cause lung cancer.” Radon is produced naturally from the decay of uranium in rocks, soil and water, and is abundant in many parts of Colorado, she noted.
After entering and winning the poster contest, Christina decided to make radon education a personal mission. She recruited her little brother to help, and together they conducted a neighborhood survey to gauge awareness of radon. Then they began speaking to city councils in their area, urging them to promote and regulate radon testing, and adopt mitigation standards for new homes. Christina and her brother also met with county and state officials, the Environmental Protection Agency, the American Lung Association, Habitat for Humanity and other organizations to find ways to work together on radon issues. In addition, they sought news media opportunities, created a website and recorded an original rap song to promote their campaign. “There are things we cannot change about the environment, but radon is one that we can control,” said Christina. “My dream is that kids grow up breathing clean air.”
As State Honorees, Suzanne and Christina 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 Colorado students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion:
Eric Bear, 12, of Golden, Colo., a volunteer with Metro Volunteers and a sixth grader at Colorado Academy in Denver, started a radon awareness project along with his sister, which reaches people with important information about radon detection and reduction. Eric has designed an awareness poster called “Detect to Protect,” spoken before government officials, created an educational website and spoken to the media to get their message out about the dangers of radon.
Matthew Davis, 18, of Castle Rock, Colo., a senior at Castle View High School, is the volunteer technical director for the Front Range Theatre Company. In his role, Matthew supervises the technical crew and is responsible for designing, building and dressing the set, as well as coordinating props and managing the lighting and sound for every show.
Angela Natrasevschi, 17, of Fort Collins, Colo., a member of the Girl Scouts of Colorado in Denver and a senior at Fort Collins High School, created “Fighting Meth,” a meth addiction prevention campaign, after seeing the effects of her cousin’s meth addiction. Angela spent a year conducting research, training with the Colorado Meth Project, creating a presentation, speaking at community events and collecting more than 1,000 pledges to be “meth free.”
Jonathan Schwan, 15, of Colorado Springs, Colo., a sophomore at Cheyenne Mountain High School, has raised $21,000 selling T-shirts, skateboards and other products to support “Sk8-Strong,” a skateboarding program he implemented in his city. Jonathan, who worked with the city council to approve his program, used the funds to improve city skate parks, sponsor competitions and host workshops on skateboarding safely.
“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.