TRENTON, N.J.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Zachary Certner, 16, of Morristown and Ellen “Nelle” Evans, 13, of Lawrenceville today were named New Jersey'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. Zachary was nominated by Morristown High School in Morristown, and Nelle was nominated by Lawrence Middle School in Lawrenceville. 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).
Zachary, a junior at Morristown High School, co-founded a nonprofit organization that conducts free sports clinics for children with special needs, along with sensitivity training to help other students understand the challenges they face. Having a close family friend with severe autism, Zachary knew that social and athletic opportunities for children with handicaps were very limited in his community, and that these children are often ostracized by their peers. “I was disturbed seeing kids excluded from sports, lunch tables, and even friendships just because they were different,” he said. “Since sports have always been a passion of mine, I felt strongly about giving every child the opportunity to be part of a team.”
Zachary and his brother sought help from the board of education, local recreation departments, mayors and other community leaders, and began contacting potential donors to fund a nonprofit organization called “SNAP (Special Needs Athletic Programs).” They then set up a regular schedule of clinics in basketball, baseball, soccer, golf, tae kwon do and other activities, all run by student volunteers six nights a week during the school year. “Children not only learn how to play sports, but gain confidence, self-esteem, and form strong and lasting friendships,” said Zachary. During the 2011-12 school year, SNAP provided 11 extracurricular programs to 140 children with special needs, and so far has trained more than 450 students to serve as mentors. In addition, SNAP has conducted sensitivity training workshops for more than 2,700 students with hands-on exercises that demonstrate what it’s like to be blind, dyslexic, autistic or challenged in some other way. “My ultimate goal for SNAP is to create an empathetic, compassionate and accepting world for future generations,” said Zachary.
Nelle, an eighth-grader at Lawrence Middle School, is always ready and willing to lend a helping hand in her community, whether it is organizing food drives to benefit a local food pantry, creating a library at a nearby nature center, coaching a first-grade soccer team or collecting jeans for teens in need. Nelle comes from a family of volunteers, and learned early on about the importance of giving back to one’s community. As a Girl Scout, she had ample opportunities to make a difference, but she wanted to do more. “Once I got started volunteering, I always looked for the next good idea,” she said. “I feel proud when I have finished a service project or when I see that my help and skills have made a difference to others.”
For the past three years, Nelle has organized “Souper Bowl of Caring” food drives, recruiting volunteers, getting the community involved and publicizing the event. She also spearheaded the development of a library at a nature center, collecting 150 books from around her community. Nelle was the first young person chosen as Volunteer of the Year by HomeFront, a county nonprofit that fights homelessness. That prompted her to organize a clothing drive at school that collected 342 pairs of jeans for teens who couldn’t afford to buy them. She also has signed up families for reverse 911 emergency notifications, run several bicycle drives for a Boys and Girls Club, and worked with kindergarteners at a town safety camp. “I would tell someone who hasn’t volunteered yet how good it feels to know that even though you are young, you have the power to make a difference,” Nelle said.
As State Honorees, Zachary and Nelle 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 New Jersey students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are New Jersey's Distinguished Finalists for 2013:
Paige Alenick, 17, of Woodcliff Lake, N.J., a senior at Pascack Hills High School, has collected more than 25,000 toothbrushes to benefit people in developing countries since 2011 when she founded the organization “Donate-A-Toothbrush.” Paige, who works with the national organization World Dental Relief, created a website to promote her campaign, wrote letters to dentists across the country and gave numerous media interviews to spread her motto: “changing lives one toothbrush at a time.”
Salvatore Dragone, 18, of Mullica Hill, N.J., a senior at Clearview Regional High School, founded “Healing Hearts on Halloween” when he was 8 years old to provide goody bags of toys and games to children in hospitals and shelters on the holiday. Salvatore, whose nonprofit organization has raised more than $15,000 and operates at more than ten hospitals and shelters across seven states, also created a charity to bring music education to children in need.
Matthew Horbacz, 18, of Ocean Township, N.J., a senior at Christian Brothers Academy, has raised nearly $13,000 with “Matthew’s Mission” to sponsor 45 children in India who have hemophilia and need access to medical care. Matthew, who also has hemophilia, initiated a letter and social media campaign to secure the financial donations while also collecting medical supplies and toiletries, and traveled to India in April of 2012 to deliver the items and meet the beneficiaries of his efforts.
Joseph Mandes, 18, of Brigantine, N.J., a senior at Atlantic City High School, has raised nearly $44,000 to support cancer patients through an organization he founded in 2005 called “Kids for South Jersey Cancer Fund.” Over the years, Joseph has recruited 200 people to join the group, secured sponsorships, created a Facebook page and a website, and managed numerous fundraisers including coin drops, bake sales and dress-down days.
Michael Mandes, 18, of Brigantine, N.J., a senior at Atlantic City High School, has raised more than $34,000 for the national charity Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation by hosting lemonade stands. Michael, who struggled for many years as the victim of bullying, rose above the abuse to make a difference in the community, including founding his local Elks Lodge youth group, “Elks Antlers Lodge #23,” through which he helps local veterans, children with special needs and others in need.
Christopher Rim, 17, of Paramus, N.J., a senior at Academies @ Englewood, founded “It Ends Today,” a nonprofit organization that provides bullying prevention presentations and information to more than 65,000 students through 20 chapters of the organization across Bergen County and overseas. Christopher, motivated by the suicide of a friend of his brother’s, works closely with all the chapter representatives, organizes events, manages publicity, and was invited to participate in the launch of Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation.
“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