BOSTON--()--Lauren Sundstrom, 18, of Newburyport and Emily Fabre, 12, of Salem today were named Massachusetts' top two youth volunteers of 2013 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism. Lauren was nominated by Newburyport High School in Newburyport, and Emily was nominated by the Essex County 4-H in Waltham. 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).
“returned to America with an awareness of poverty that few of my peers had”
Lauren, a senior at Newburyport High School, conducted a clothing drive and sale that raised $30,000 to provide uniforms, desks, books, computers and other badly-needed resources for two schools in Ghana, West Africa. Lauren spent two weeks volunteering at the two schools in 2011, and “returned to America with an awareness of poverty that few of my peers had,” she said. “I learned that children in Ghana could only go to school if they were able to purchase a uniform, costing merely $9, which proves to be an unrealistic expense for most village families.” Even those who can afford uniforms sit in “classrooms that often lack desks, books or even educators,” said Lauren.
Then one day, as she was organizing her closet and culling clothes she’d outgrown, Lauren suddenly hit upon an idea: she could collect other people’s surplus clothing in her community and resell it to raise money for students in Ghana. She began sharing her idea with school groups, Girl Scout troops, local businesses and organizations, and over the course of five months, more than 200 volunteers, business owners and community leaders helped Lauren collect more than 7,000 pieces of new and gently used clothing, shoes and accessories. She sold most of them at her “Shop for a Cause” sale that rang up over $23,000 in eight hours. The unsold clothing was donated to local families in need, and additional donations and events after the sale brought Lauren’s total to $30,000. Four months later, she returned to Ghana to deliver her proceeds, which provided more than 180 school uniforms; desks for over 100 students; four new computers; hundreds of books, toys and supplies; and the funds to build a middle school, library and teacher’s conference room.
Emily, a home-schooled seventh-grader, collects recyclable bottles and cans to help a local agency fund a transportation service for senior citizens. When Emily’s grandmother needed a ride to her chemotherapy treatments, the Salem Council on Aging sent a van to take her, even if it was early in the morning. “They did not charge her,” said Emily, “and I was surprised by this.” After her grandma passed away, Emily thought about the other elderly people who relied on the van service. “What if they take away the vans?” she wondered. “I thought of how sad my grandma might be and I wanted to help.”
Emily discussed her concern with her sister, and together they decided to raise money by collecting and redeeming refundable bottles and cans. They sent emails to neighbors and friends to ask for help, and enlisted the support of their 4-H club. They also began picking up discarded containers along local roads. Their collected cans and bottles, along with checks from generous donors, have yielded more than $1,500 so far, which has been used to buy new tires for the Council on Aging’s vans. Emily and her sister also go to the council to visit with seniors there and take their guinea pigs along for entertainment. “When I see my grandma’s picture, I feel good,” said Emily. “I know she would want me to help people and work hard.”
As State Honorees, Lauren 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 six other Massachusetts students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are Massachusetts' Distinguished Finalists for 2013:
Jason Carrier, 17, of Wakefield, Mass., a senior at Austin Preparatory School, has raised more than $18,000 to support the National Multiple Sclerosis Society by organizing a charity walk in his town called “The Wakefield Lake Walk.” Jason, whose mother has multiple sclerosis, secured a group of volunteers and sponsorships, and encouraged more than 200 people to participate in the event, which will now be held annually.
Erica Chalmers, 16, of Natick, Mass., a junior at The Rivers School, founded an organization called “Janga Yakarr – Education Hope” and has raised more than $8,500 to support a school for girls in The Gambia, West Africa. Erica, who recruited a group of volunteers to help, has hosted a number of fundraisers to pay for the shipping of used school furniture and equipment to the girls’ school, and to fund tuition for some of the students.
Jake Cohen, 19, of Brookline, Mass., a senior at Brookline High School, worked with the Kidney Disease Screening and Awareness Program at Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School to host a kidney screening health clinic at his high school. Jake, who spent a year coping with his diagnosis of Crohn’s disease, also organized a health conference to help kidney patients better understand the disease and treatment options.
Rachel Collins, 17, of Tyngsboro, Mass., a senior at Tyngsborough High School, partnered with three friends to form the service group “Four Friends, Four Years, For a Difference” when they were freshmen in high school. Now in their senior year, the friends have raised more than $10,000 and are close to their goal of 1,000 hours of service after conducting backpack, clothing and food drives, tutoring children, volunteering at local shelters, traveling to Guatemala to volunteer in an orphanage and inspiring others to serve through their example.
Riona Reeves, 17, of Westborough, Mass., a junior at St. Mark’s School in Southborough, created “SMILE Math,” a program for fifth- and sixth-graders to help them retain their math skills over the summer break. Riona, who worked with teachers to develop a workbook and accompanying resource website, reviewed the completed workbooks of more than 100 students, graded them, returned them for feedback, and awarded the students certificates at a celebration she held at the end of the summer.
Sejal Vallabh, 17, of Newton, Mass., a senior at Newton North High School, founded the nonprofit organization “Tennis SERVES” to teach students with visual impairments how to play tennis using a sound-adapted ball and a series of strings placed on the court. Sejal recruited fellow high school students to teach the sport to more than 60 blind students and trained sighted coordinators across the country to teach the sport to students at 30 schools for the visually impaired.
“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