WASHINGTON--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Missouri's top two youth volunteers of 2013, Sarah Sutherlin, 18, of Lake St. Louis and Sophia Greenwalt, 14, of Reeds Spring, were honored in the nation’s capital last night for their outstanding volunteer service during the 18th annual presentation of The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. Sarah, along with 100 other top youth volunteers from across the country, received a $1,000 award and personal congratulations from Academy Award-winning actor Kevin Spacey and Olympic gold medalist Allyson Felix at an award ceremony and gala dinner reception held at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. Sophia, who was unable to attend last night’s events, was recognized in absentia for her outstanding volunteer service.
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program, sponsored by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), named Sarah and Sophia Missouri's top high school and middle level youth volunteers in February. In addition to their cash awards, they each received an engraved silver medallion and an all-expense-paid trip with a parent to Washington, D.C., for four days of recognition events.
Sarah, a senior at Villa Duchesne and Oak Hill School, has personally raised more than $10,000 over the past eight years by participating in, and then leading, an American Cancer Society Relay for Life team to fight the disease that claimed both of her grandmothers. In 2003, Sarah’s maternal grandmother was diagnosed with lung cancer. “After losing my paternal grandmother to the same disease, I felt desperate to help,” said Sarah. When she heard her swim coach was organizing a Relay for Life team, 9-year-old Sarah decided she had to be part of it. “Fundraising to find a cure for cancer became an immediate passion of mine,” she said. Three years later her grandmother succumbed to the disease, but Sarah’s commitment only intensified. She asked to play a leadership role on her team and became its co-chair.
Upon entering high school, Sarah decided to form her own Relay for Life team and recruited 30 girls to join her. She developed an eight-month plan, coordinated fundraising activities, and led her team at the event, where it was named the top fundraising team. Last year, Sarah arranged for her high school to host her area’s Relay for Life event. She organized a meeting between her school and local American Cancer Society officials, helped work out logistics for the event, recruited participants from her school, brought in speakers to address the student body about the personal impact of cancer on their lives, and helped organize fundraisers including a bake sale. The event drew more than 400 participants from her school and community. For the 2013 event, she is organizing 12 local schools for a Spring Powder Puff Tournament and also partnering with other area schools to get even more students involved in her cause.
Sophia, an eighth-grader at Reeds Spring Middle School, collects money for local charities through a program she started in her school district that allows students to wear a hat to school on the first Friday of each month in exchange for a $1 donation. Sophia started “Helping Hats” in the fall of 2010 when she was in sixth grade. “I felt a need to help people,” Sophia said. “There were so many people in my community in need and I was torn how to help all of them.” After a lot of thought, she came up with the idea of students making a donation in order to wear a hat to school, which normally is not allowed during the school day. To reach a broad segment of the needy in her community, she decided that each month’s proceeds would go to a different nonprofit organization.
To begin, Sophia created a PowerPoint presentation to explain her idea to school district administrators, who readily embraced the plan. Then she scheduled the first “Hat Day” and was delighted when she raised $350, which she donated to a scholarship fund for graduating seniors in her district. Subsequent “Hat Days” have benefited the local Humane Society; Ozark Honor Flight, which flies veterans to Washington, D.C. to visit the World War II Memorial; a backpack program that provides food for students in need to eat over the weekend; the Joplin School District, which was devastated by tornadoes that destroyed much of the town; and The Birthday Project, an organization that throws birthday parties for children in need. To increase her donations, Sophia recently met with nine local business owners, proposing that they match the funds generated at school. “Being proud of where I come from is an understatement because all nine said yes,” said Sophia. So far, Helping Hats has raised $20,000 for more than 15 nonprofit organizations.
“We commend these honorees not only for the impact of their service and their spirit of giving, but also for inspiring others to consider that they can make a difference, too,” said John Strangfeld, chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial, Inc. “We congratulate this extraordinary group of youth volunteers.”
“These students are fine examples of what is possible when young people roll up their sleeves and commit themselves to helping others,” said Denise Greene-Wilkinson, president of NASSP. “They have learned early that their contributions can make a real difference, and there is no limit to the great things they can achieve.”
Youth volunteers were invited to apply for 2013 Prudential Spirit of Community Awards last fall through schools, Girl Scout councils, county 4-H organizations, American Red Cross chapters, YMCAs and affiliates of the HandsOn Network. More than 28,000 middle level and high school students nationwide participated in this year’s program.
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program was created in 1995 to identify and recognize young people for outstanding volunteer service – and, in so doing, inspire others to volunteer as well. In the past 18 years, the program has honored more than 100,000 young volunteers at the local, state and national level.
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 38 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.
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]