MONTGOMERY, Ala.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Kristen Ashley, 17, of Trussville and Emily Whittington, 13, of Mobile today were named Alabama's top two youth volunteers of 2013 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism. Kristen was nominated by Hewitt-Trussville High School in Trussville, and Emily was nominated by Knollwood Christian School in Mobile. The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, now in its 18th year, is conducted by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).
Kristen, a senior at Hewitt-Trussville High School, founded a service club at her school and then led its 48 members in raising more than $14,000 to provide elementary students from low-income homes with food to eat on weekends. While visiting a food bank in Nashville, Kristen said she heard alarming statistics about hunger and began to wonder how many hungry people lived in her town. She discovered that one out of 10 elementary school students in Trussville qualified for free or subsidized lunches at school. “The lunchroom workers told me stories about the children who come in each Monday, piling their plates full of food and cherishing every bite because they have not had enough to eat,” she said.
Kristen envisioned a program run by high school students that would help these children stave off hunger on Saturdays and Sundays. For five months, she and her fellow club members sought support from civic groups, churches and businesses; attended city council and chamber of commerce meetings; applied for grants; and sold “Trussville Against Hunger” T-shirts. The money they raised now funds Kristen’s “Weekend Bookbag Program” -- each Friday during recess, school officials discreetly place in each student’s backpack a bag filled with two breakfast items, two lunches, two fruits, two snacks and a treat “to supplement the meals these children are not receiving at home,” said Kristen. To raise additional funds, Kristen’s club hosted a “turkey fixins cook-off” with music and a running race last November 17, a day officially proclaimed “Trussville Against Hunger Day” by the town’s city council.
Emily, an eighth-grader at Knollwood Christian School, works with her church to gather needed supplies for low-income residents of a local apartment complex, and has supplemented the effort by organizing a clothing and toy collection drive at her school. When Emily first heard about the apartment complex, “I knew that I had to be involved somehow,” she said. “It really upset me that there are people so close that are struggling for the simplest necessities.”
She joined a group at her church that collects clothing and other supplies to give away at “free yard sales” at the apartment house. The first time she volunteered at one of these events, Emily realized that many of the children there needed school uniforms, jackets and socks. So she asked her school principal if she could go from classroom to classroom and ask for donations of clothing and toys. “I was very pleased with how many people stepped up and gave to this amazing cause,” she said. Emily also helped coordinate a Christmas dinner and musical at her church for the apartment residents, serving food and drinks and keeping small children entertained. “The purpose of our group is not only to provide needed items for these families,” she said, “but to form relationships, to show them that we love them and will be continuously involved in their lives.”
As State Honorees, Kristen and Emily 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 four days of national recognition events. During the trip, 10 students will be named America’s top youth volunteers of 2013.
The program judges also recognized four other Alabama students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are Alabama's Distinguished Finalists for 2013:
Sarah Arwood, 17, of Mt. Olive, Ala., a senior at Parrish High School, founded a high school athlete scholarship in honor of her late cousin, who died in a car accident. Sarah, who has also volunteered at the local hospital, participated in food drives and raised money for cancer research, has been inspired to serve others not only by the loss of her cousin, but by the death of her grandmother from cancer.
Eli Nafziger, 14, of Birmingham, Ala., a freshman at Hewitt-Trussville High School, started a garden at his middle school to provide experiential learning opportunities for special education students. He raised $2,000, gathered and supervised a team of 20 volunteers, installed a shed and stocked it with new garden tools, and built a wheelchair-friendly garden path.
Micah Smith, 16, of Hoover, Ala., a junior at Hoover High School, organized a neighborhood lemonade stand that raised more than $8,000 to drill three wells and provide clean drinking water in undeveloped countries through the national Neverthirst organization. Micah assembled a group of 25 volunteers, sought donors to provide supplies, and spread the word through flyers and the local media.
Caitlin Wall, 18, of Florence, Ala., a senior at Florence High School, initiated an awareness and fundraising campaign that raised more than $4,000 to support the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation’s effort to find a cure. Caitlin, who lost her grandmother to cystic fibrosis, developed a direct mail campaign, designed and sold T-shirts and bracelets, reached out to the community through local media and is currently planning a large benefit event.
“Prudential is proud to honor these students for making meaningful contributions to their communities,” said Prudential Chairman and CEO John Strangfeld. “We hope that shining a spotlight on their initiative, creativity and compassion inspires others to consider how they, too, can make a difference.”
“Through their volunteer service, each of these young people has made his or her mark on at least one person, school or community,” said JoAnn Bartoletti, executive director of NASSP. “When you consider the collective impact of each of these individual acts, it’s clear that young people can be a major force for good.”
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 HandsOn Network affiliates, were eligible to select a student or member for a local Prudential Spirit of Community Award. Nearly 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, 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, meet top youth volunteers from other parts of the world, attend a gala awards ceremony at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, and visit their congressional representatives on Capitol Hill. On May 6, 10 of the State Honorees – five middle level and five high school students – will be named America’s top youth volunteers of 2013. These National 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 have been honored at the local, state and 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 (National Association of Secondary School Principals) 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 36 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 and investment management. 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: For full-color pictures of the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program logo and medallions, click here: http://bit.ly/Xi4oFW.