TALLAHASSEE, Fla.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Alexis Lehrman, 14, and Joshua Williams, 11, both of Miami Beach, today were named Florida'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. Alexis was nominated by Design and Architecture Senior High in Miami, and Joshua was nominated by Ransom Everglades School in Coconut Grove. 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).
Alexis, a freshman at Design and Architecture Senior High, has raised more than $50,000 over the past five years for the fight against breast cancer by recruiting friends and professional artists to help her create paintings that are then turned into posters and sold at Susan G. Komen for the Cure events. When Alexis was 8 years old, she spotted a pink donut in a Dunkin Donuts shop and thought the store should use the colored donuts to raise money for breast cancer. That’s when she realized she, too, had the power to make a difference. “Ever since that day, I have asked for charitable donations instead of birthday or holiday gifts,” said Alexis. “Save a life or get a present I will barely remember? That was a no brainer!”
Alexis contacted her local Komen chapter for information and then decided to have birthday parties “with a purpose.” An avid artist, Alexis invited her party guests to create paintings based on the pink-ribbon symbol for breast cancer awareness. She also recruited renowned artists to paint alongside her. After the paintings are completed, they are mass-produced and sold at Komen events. Alexis also displays her posters at events throughout South Florida, works to secure support from corporate sponsors, mentors other young women at Girl Scout jamborees and speaks at a wide variety of charitable events. In the five years since Alexis began her project, women on both sides of her family have been diagnosed with breast cancer. “When I began, I thought I was fighting for other women’s lives,” she said. “Today, I realize I may be fighting for my own.”
Joshua, a seventh-grader at Ransom Everglades School, created a foundation that has distributed more than 400,000 pounds of food to families in need throughout South Florida. Several years ago, Joshua’s grandmother gave him $20 on the way to church and told him he could spend it on anything he wanted. While thinking about all the things he could buy, Joshua spotted a homeless man on the street. “I knew I had to give him my twenty dollars,” said Joshua. That incident, he said, “changed my life forever.”
Convinced that one of the best ways to help people was to feed the hungry, Joshua got his family to prepare hot meals for the homeless every Saturday. “Then I had to think of something bigger and better,” he said. He began asking friends and family members for money to buy food to distribute, and visited schools, churches and community groups to spread awareness of the need for donations. “I wanted to make people aware that hunger is not just overseas,” he explained. “It’s right here in our community.” More than 600 volunteers have helped carry out the mission of “Joshua’s Heart Foundation,” which currently distributes food to 150 families a month and conducts a food backpack program for young people. The foundation also puts on quarterly cooking demonstrations to teach families how to cook easy and healthy meals.
As State Honorees, Alexis and Joshua 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 eight other Florida students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are Florida's Distinguished Finalists for 2013:
Sara Brenes, 17, of Coconut Creek, Fla., a senior at The Randazzo School, founded the charity “Shark Whisperer Organization” in 2011 and has since raised more than $9,400 to raise awareness about how illegal shark fishing for shark fins is inhumane and dangerous to the marine ecosystem. Sara created a weeklong educational program for local schools, attended community events, and has taken supporters out on shark tagging trips to learn about the dangers to shark life.
Erica Chemtob, 16, of Winter Park, Fla., a junior at Trinity Preparatory School, founded “String Together,” a nonprofit organization that has helped to repair broken instruments and provide new ones for schools that cannot afford to do so. Since starting the organization in 2009, Erica has expanded it to also provide a student-led, after-school music enrichment program at an Orlando school where interested students take instrumental lessons one-on-one or in small groups.
Valentina Ferreira, 18, of Wellington, Fla., a senior at Wellington High school, organized a “Not for Sale” yard sale and raised more than $4,500 for the Hope for Freedom Safe House, a home that provides shelter and rehabilitation to women rescued from human trafficking. Valentina, who organized the yard sale through her service club, “Love Moves,” also reached out to the community through local government, media and public events – as part of her effort to raise awareness of the atrocities of human trafficking.
Christopher (CJ) George, 13, of Miami, Fla., a home-schooled eighth-grader, is the national youth ambassador for Hope on Wheels and has traveled across the country sharing his story of cancer survival. Christopher, who was diagnosed with cancer at age 9, also helped to raise $100,000 through his speaking engagements while comforting children currently undergoing treatment with his words of encouragement.
N'Jhari Jackson, 10, of Tampa, Fla., a fifth-grader at The Paideia School of Tampa Bay, founded “Pajama Buddy Voyage,” a program that has provided more than 1,800 new stuffed “buddies” to children hospitalized for long stays. N’Jhari, who was given a stuffed animal to hold during a recent surgery, has raised nearly $2,000 to support the project, which has expanded to provide more than 500 “Pajama Drab Bags” filled with books, games and puzzles.
Lance Oppenheim, 16, of Southwest Ranches, Fla., a junior at Pine Crest School, created the “Opp-Guide App,” a free mobile application to help users nationwide find community service opportunities in their areas. Lance, who wanted to build upon the online “Opp-Guide” founded by his sisters, worked with the Points of Light Foundation and identified engineers who were willing to program the app at little or no cost.
Randall Slapikas, 13, of Coral Springs, Fla., an eighth-grader at Forest Glen Middle School, has raised more than $50,000 since 2007 when he founded “Kids of Love,” a nonprofit organization that provides financial and emotional support to children suffering from long-term illness and their families. Randall hosts a new fundraising effort each month, makes presentations to local government and service groups, and has overseen the development of “Kids of Love” chapters at many local schools.
Tiffany Tang, 17, of Orlando, Fla., a junior at Cypress Creek Senior High School, co-founded “REACH (Recognizing, Experiencing Asian Cultural Heritage)” and is currently the president of the organization that now includes 70 members. Tiffany and her friends have raised $33,000 to support performances, classroom presentations and special carnivals to promote Asian cultures.
“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