TALLAHASSEE, Fla.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Samantha Kerker, 16, of Boca Raton and David Barge, 13, of Miami today were named Florida'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. Samantha was nominated by Atlantic Community High School in Delray Beach, and David was nominated by Key Biscayne K-8 Center in Key Biscayne. 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).
Samantha, a junior at Atlantic High School, founded a student club with chapters in all 28 high schools in Palm Beach County to promote monthly service projects benefiting poor people, and is now working to send 60 students on a poverty-focused mission to a third-world country. Inspired by local university students and faculty who lost their lives in Haiti’s devastating earthquake while aiding the poor, Samantha used $7,000 from her own nonprofit tie-dye business to build a home for a homeless family in Nicaragua. When she returned home, Samantha told her friends about her experience, and realized how little they knew about the lives of the poor. “That is when I knew I had to do something,” she said. “Teenagers don’t understand what extreme poverty means. I wanted to give every student in Palm Beach County an opportunity to experience poverty on a local and international level.”
Samantha proposed starting a “Students for the Poor” club in every high school in the county. She developed a mission statement and met with the school district’s superintendent and high school principals to present her case. The idea proved very popular. More than 450 students signed up for Samantha’s club at her school, making it the largest club in school history. There are also more than 1,500 students currently involved in other schools throughout the county. Each month, club members partner with local community service organizations to sponsor an event or undertake another project to make a difference for people living in poverty. Samantha is also now raising money for her “Living In The Shoes” program, which selects 60 students to participate in a mission trip to a developing country to assist in the funding and construction of a project of their choice.
David, an eighth-grader at Key Biscayne K-8 Center, logged more than 300 hours last year volunteering in his community with his Boy Scout troop. When David was 8 years old, he was sitting in church one day and heard that a new Boy Scout troop was being formed. Initially, he joined just to have fun, but “as I grew older, I started to realize that what my friends and I were doing in scouting was positively impacting the lives of others,” said David. “Being a Boy Scout gives me the opportunity to make a difference in many areas that are important to me, such as helping the environment, assisting the disabled and the poor, and honoring my country.”
David has helped clean beaches and parks with his troop, and recently worked to refurbish a local elementary school. He has helped document the location of graves at a local cemetery as well as research details about the veterans buried in them. David also visited a home for disabled veterans, helping to cook and serve a Thanksgiving Day meal, and returning again during the Christmas holidays to spend time with the veterans. “This particular activity taught me both about pride for my country and the value of giving,” said David. His other community service activities include completing a walk-a-thon for breast cancer awareness, volunteering at an animal shelter, and helping to retire old American flags. “I am thankful for the opportunity to serve others in my community and, as a result, make this a better world,” said David.
As State Honorees, Samantha and David 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 eight other Florida students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion:
Alexander Fields-Lefkovic, 18, of Plantation, Fla., a senior at Pine Crest School in Fort Lauderdale, has written two books to help children with sensory processing disorders build their strength and coordination. Alexander, who has overcome his own sensory processing issues, donates the proceeds from his first book, “Get Strong! Have Fun!” and its sequel, “Get Stronger! Have More Fun!” to the Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation.
Jonathan Ludmir, 18, of Aventura, Fla., a senior at Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High School in Miami, was motivated by his grandfather’s struggle with Alzheimer’s disease to recruit and organize more than 200 youth volunteers who entertain patients at a local nursing home with music, dancing, and parties. In addition, Jonathan has become an advocate for Alzheimer’s disease awareness by creating and delivering presentations for schools and community groups.
Haley Moss, 17, of Parkland, Fla., a senior at Pine Crest School in Fort Lauderdale, was diagnosed with high functioning autism at the age of 13 and has since raised awareness and $30,000 through donating her artwork to a number of charitable organizations with which she is actively involved. Haley has also written a book called, “Middle School: The Stuff Nobody Tells You About,” to help others with special needs navigate the sometimes rough middle school waters.
Stevie Peacock, 18, of Venice, Fla., a senior at Pine View School in Osprey, founded “Project Kindness,” a charitable organization that provides school supplies, clothing, books, hygiene products, toys and gifts to those in need throughout her community. Stevie, who started the project at age eleven when she was too young to help build a Habitat for Humanity House, has raised $3,500 and helped thousands of people with the many service projects she sponsors.
Miles Saffran, 15, of Winter Park, Fla., a sophomore at Trinity Preparatory School, has helped to raise more than $60,000 to fund three medical trips to Mexico where he has served as the surgical youth coordinator for cleft lip and palate repair for Florida Hospital’s mission trips. While in Mexico, Miles is responsible for assisting the surgeons, organizing medicine, cleaning masks, and comforting patients and their families.
Danielle Steinberg, 18, of Palm City, Fla., a senior at Martin County High School in Stuart, has dedicated her life to raising money to support cancer research in honor of her grandmother and has so far raised more than $30,000 in her local “Making Strides Against Breast Cancer” event. In addition, Danielle has been named youth chairwoman of the board of her local American Cancer Society, where she is also a volunteer intern, and has decided to pursue a career in pediatric oncology.
Elizabeth Tran, 17, of Orlando, Fla., a junior at Cypress Creek High School, has raised more than $20,000 to support the Children’s Miracle Network in the first two years of her “Miss Miracle” charity pageant that she created. All “Miss Miracle” contestants raise money to support the organization, and those who raise the most are crowned “Miss Miracle.”
Melanie Wolff, 17, of Miami Springs, Fla., a senior at Ronald Reagan/Doral Senior High School in Doral, is the founder of the “Message from Marli Foundation,” a nonprofit organization aiming to increase awareness about ovarian cancer. Melanie, inspired by her mother’s battle with the disease, has raised more than $40,000 to support the organization’s mission, built a website, promoted its messages through local and national media, and distributed literature that educates women about ovarian 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.