WASHINGTON--(BUSINESS WIRE)--New Mexico's top two youth volunteers of 2013, Brianna Swinderman, 16, of Rio Rancho and Joseph Lee Estrada, 14, of Velarde, 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. Brianna and Joseph – along with 100 other top youth volunteers from across the country – each received $1,000 awards 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.
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program, sponsored by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), named Brianna and Joseph New Mexico'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.
Brianna, a junior at Rio Rancho High School, has collected more than 2,000 pieces of new or gently-used luggage to give to foster children and victims of domestic violence in Albuquerque and Rio Rancho. Because she has friends who have moved into and out of foster care, and her mother used to work in child protective services, Brianna knows that foster children and families fleeing domestic abuse often have only garbage bags to carry their belongings. “This sends a message that they, and their possessions, are trash,” said Brianna. “My hope is to give hope, dignity and self-esteem to these victims.”
To do that, Brianna launched an ambitious campaign called “Bags of Hope” to collect suitcases and duffel bags and distribute them through the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department and the Haven House domestic violence shelter. To solicit donations, she wrote letters to potential contributors, distributed flyers, used social media, created a website, hosted booths at community events, and made presentations to businesses, civic groups and churches. She then set up drop-off sites in several towns. “The reaction and support of the community was incredible!” she said. In addition to thousands of bags, Brianna received donations of school supplies and toiletries, and has seen numerous organizations in her community take up her cause. Her campaign has been so successful that the National Foster Parent Association has asked Brianna to help create a similar campaign on a national scale.
Joseph, an eighth-grader at Peñasco Middle School, has been an avid volunteer from an early age, and is now a valuable worker at a local food bank and thrift store. Joseph loved helping out at his school years ago whenever anyone needed help with anything. Later, he volunteered to carry firewood for the elderly during the winter months. When his mother and grandmother began working at a local food bank and thrift store, “I saw how much fun it was and how much I could do to help my community,” said Joseph. So he, too, became a regular volunteer at the two facilities.
At the food bank, Joseph organizes tables, hands out groceries, loads and unloads vehicles, and then cleans up after the facility closes by mopping, sweeping, washing tables and throwing away trash. At the thrift store, he sorts and arranges clothing, lifts heavy objects, waters plants, handles the garbage and does whatever else needs to be done. “I feel like it’s my job to help, and I have the power to make a difference in the lives of the less fortunate,” said Joseph. It’s especially gratifying, he added, to see the smiles that light up the faces of those who benefit from his volunteer work.
“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]