AUSTIN, Texas--()--Matthew Draeger, 15, of Paris and Eric Curl, 14, of Flower Mound today were named Texas' top two youth volunteers of 2013 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism. Matthew was nominated by Paris Independent School District in Paris, and Eric was nominated by Shadow Ridge Middle School in Flower Mound. 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).
“We hope that shining a spotlight on their initiative, creativity and compassion inspires others to consider how they, too, can make a difference.”
Matthew, a sophomore at Paris High School, leads a student team that has secured donations of nearly 20,000 household and personal items – including furniture, clothing, bedding and toiletries – and distributed them to needy families in his area. For as long as Matthew can recall, he has loved volunteering. “Volunteering is the one thing that I can understand in this complicated world,” he said. While working on a school service project dealing with disaster preparedness, Matthew discovered how many people in his town lacked basic necessities. “Twenty-four percent of Paris citizens are considered indigent,” he said. “I knew we had to do something for these people.”
Matthew recruited a few friends from school to launch an initiative called “Operation Second Chance.” The team decided to take up collections of basic items to distribute to needy families, but first they needed a place to store the donations. A local organization came to the rescue with two apartments and garages, which Matthew’s team spent months renovating. They then produced a brochure, began speaking to business and civic groups about their mission, organized fundraisers and applied for grants. Before long, donations began flowing in from churches, businesses, local organizations and school districts. When “Operation Second Chance” ran low on storage space, its members talked to the owner of an abandoned factory, who agreed to let them occupy half of the building. As of last fall, Matthew’s group had collected 19,884 items including $1.3 million worth of new items, and assisted 1,264 families with essential supplies.
Eric, an eighth-grader at Shadow Ridge Middle School, purchased and collected supplies that are needed, but not always available, for wounded soldiers in Afghanistan. Eric had earlier helped out at a USO appreciation event for servicemen as they prepared to depart for Afghanistan. “I was inspired that day by the soldiers I spent time with,” he said. “They are our heroes.” So when he later learned that military medical units overseas often lacked certain supplies needed for the care of wounded troops, “I knew I had to step in and take on this opportunity,” said Eric.
He reached out to a nonprofit organization called Soldiers’ Angels to identify the specific items needed and find out where to send them. He asked friends and family members to help him collect donated items and contributions from local businesses and community members, and organized a car wash to buy additional supplies and pay for shipping. Eric had planned on securing enough supplies – including sheets for evacuation gurneys, sweat suits for evacuating soldiers, and personal comfort items – for 50 service members, but ended up with enough to help hundreds. He then recruited adults and fellow Boy Scouts to help sort and package the supplies. “I will never know the names of the soldiers I was able to help,” said Eric. But “there is no way we as citizens of the U.S. can thank them enough.”
As State Honorees, Matthew and Eric 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 10 other Texas students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are Texas' Distinguished Finalists for 2013:
Madison Albrecht, 16, of Boerne, Texas, a junior at Boerne-Samuel V. Champion High School, has raised more than $21,000 and shipped more than 4,000 boxes of Girl Scout cookies to soldiers overseas through “Cookies for Soldiers,” a program that she started in 2008. Madison, who over time trained fellow Girl Scouts to help with her program, sends the cookies with a poem of appreciation taped to each box.
Chandler Burke, 17, of Dallas, Texas, a senior at St. Mark's School of Texas, began a conservation campaign at the Connemara Conservancy in 2011 that involved erosion prevention, invasive species removal, building kestrel and bird boxes, and removing trash from Rowlett Creek. In the past two years, Chandler and a team of 100 volunteers have dedicated more than 1,000 hours to support and restore the land.
Kelly Burnett, 17, of Texarkana, Texas, a senior at Texas High School, founded the “Young Philanthropists’ Club” in 2008 as a way to give back after three years of treatment and recovery from a rare illness. Kelly, who has involved 25 of her friends in her mission, has helped to raise more than $5,000 through chores and jobs and has donated the funds to a variety of local and international causes.
Athena Chen, 16, of Carrollton, Texas, a junior at Hebron High School, co-founded “Paint the World,” a project that has brought art lessons to more than 500 children in need. Athena, who helped raise more than $1,000 to support the program, worked with friends to design the program, which features different stations where the children could work on sketching, sculpting, acrylic painting, yarn-making and other art forms.
Kaitlyn Dehaven, 17, of Canyon Lake, Texas, a member of the Girl Scouts of Southwest Texas and a senior at Canyon Lake High School, has raised more than $20,000 to purchase a nine-passenger van for a church in Romania. Kaitlyn, who earned her Girl Scout Gold Award for this project, raised the funds by hosting dinners, special sales, securing donations and hosting presentations to spread the word.
Kylie Fichter, 17, of Houston, Texas, a senior at St. Agnes Academy, created a Challenger Sports program for children with disabilities at the Easter Seals’ Camp Buckaroo. Kylie, who has worked with her family to found several Challenger Sports programs over the years, helped to raise more than $30,000, secured equipment and uniforms, worked with a team of dedicated volunteers, and served as “lead buddy” for all the games during the season.
Jordan Hayley, 14, of Houston, Texas, a freshman at Cypress Christian School, founded “Kids4RTRoops,” an organization that she branched off from another group she founded four years ago, the nation’s first-ever “USO Kids” organization. Jordan and her group of young volunteers have helped to raise thousands of dollars to support wounded veterans, special events, and military homecomings for soldiers and their families.
Joella Methola, 12, of El Paso, Texas, an eighth-grader at St. Pius X School, helped to raise nearly $13,000 for a variety of causes -- including Haitian earthquake relief -- since 2011, when she was inducted into the National Junior Honor Society, for which she is currently the secretary. Joella is also a board member for her school’s student council, as well as a tutor and youth mentor.
Lisa Michaels, 17, of Plano, Texas, a junior at Plano West Senior High School, built her own home research lab and has spent more than 1,000 hours conducting research on how to detect and prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Lisa, inspired by her own struggle with a sub-acute Guillain-Barré syndrome, is also the co-president of the American Red Cross Club, vice president of the Key Club, and the junior president of the LASER Science Club for which she is working with the public library to create student science kits.
Keren Moyal, 18, of Dallas, Texas, a senior at Mesorah High School, raised $10,000 by recording two inspirational music CDs to support Camp Simcha at Chai Lifeline, a summer camp for children struggling with life-threatening illnesses. Keren, who was inspired by her outreach with a young leukemia patient, also worked with Chai Lifeline to implement “Project Together,” a national program to match teenagers to young children struggling with their illnesses as a way to provide comfort and companionship.
“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