JUNEAU, Alaska--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Shaylee Rizzo, 17, of Kenai and Samuel Allred, 13, of Wasilla today were named Alaska'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. Shaylee was nominated by Nikiski Middle/High School in Nikiski, and Samuel was nominated by Raven Correspondence School in Anchorage. 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).
Shaylee, a senior at Nikiski Middle/High School, started a public service campaign called the “Missy the Moose Program” to raise children’s awareness of the dangers of cars hitting moose on Alaska’s highways, a common occurrence in her area during the hazardous winter months. “Every year hundreds of moose are killed by vehicles, sending people to the hospital and costing hundreds of thousands of dollars in property damage,” explained Shaylee. “I believe the solution is empowering children to help adults drive with greater caution.” Her idea was inspired by a photograph of a local motel owner posing with an orphaned moose he had saved after its mother was killed by a car. “I have had too many family members and friends hurt in moose/vehicle collisions,” said Shaylee. “I also can’t stand to see some poor moose broken and bloody, breathing its last.”
To launch her program, Shaylee wrote and illustrated a children’s book that told the story of a collision from a moose calf’s perspective. Wearing a moose costume, she then began visiting elementary school classrooms as Missy the Moose, sharing her book with the kids and offering ideas on how to encourage their parents to watch out for Missy and her friends. With the help of her father, she wrote a theme song, recorded radio announcements urging children to get their parents to slow down, and solicited local businesses to buy more air time for her announcements. Currently, she is trying to gain state approval to post Missy the Moose signs in high moose-traffic areas to remind motorists to drive with care. “The incident that made me realize I was having an impact was when a parent told me they were driving down the road on a cold winter night when they heard their first grader exclaim from the backseat, ‘Mom! Watch out for Missy!’”
Samuel, an eighth-grader at Raven Correspondence School, makes travel-size pillows and distributes them to children’s hospitals across the country to provide comfort to sick kids. Samuel knows firsthand what it’s like to need some comfort. As a toddler, he was diagnosed with a rare kidney disease that resulted in hospitalizations and the need to take medications that altered his appearance. In 2008, a video of Samuel singing went viral on YouTube and garnered millions of views – along with comments that were mostly good, but sometimes judged his appearance. “I realized then that there needs to be more compassion and kindness in the world,” Samuel said. So he decided to start a nonprofit organization with the goal of changing lives through compassion. He recalled that, during one of his hospitalizations, some Girl Scouts gave him a small pillow. “I will never forget how loved I felt on that day!” said Samuel. “The small pillow showed that someone had taken time to care. How I loved that pillow! It brought me comfort.”
In 2009, Samuel, along with friends and family members, made 300 pillows out of bright, cheerful fabric and donated them to a local children’s hospital. But Samuel knew he could do even more if he got the community involved, so he began visiting local schools to talk about kindness and compassion. It wasn’t long before others were helping to craft pillows for Samuel’s “Project Comfort.” Elementary school students stuffed pillows, senior citizens stitched them closed, and middle school students made more than 1,700 pillows. Today, many groups in Alaska are creating pillows. Samuel is shipping the pillows to children’s hospitals throughout the United States, supported by Federal Express (his father is a FedEx contractor). “I am committed to changing lives through compassion,” he said.
As State Honorees, Shaylee and Samuel 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 two other Alaska students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are Alaska's Distinguished Finalists for 2013:
Allison Ostrander, 16, of Soldotna, Alaska, a sophomore at Kenai Central High School, created and organized the “Salmon Run Series,” five running races that raised more than $5,000 to help combat the negative effects of canary grass on the salmon population in the Kenai Peninsula. Allison obtained local sponsors, reached out to area businesses for prize and food donations, secured free advertising from local media outlets and educated more than 200 runners about the effects of canary grass.
Reese Qualls, 13, of Palmer, Alaska, an eighth-grader at Palmer Junior Middle School, developed a literacy program called “Moose Books” that provides free books to students in need through a local bookstore’s used book credit program After spreading the word through flyers and Facebook, Reese collected nearly 600 used books that earned $700 in new book coupons for students who otherwise could not afford to purchase books to read for pleasure.
“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