WASHINGTON--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Rhode Island's top two youth volunteers of 2013, Marina Palumbo, 17, of East Greenwich and Cody Clarkin, 14, of Charlestown, 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. Marina and Cody – 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 Marina and Cody Rhode Island'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.
Marina, a senior at East Greenwich High School, makes and sells handmade necklaces to support a school in Haiti for poor children and started a club at her school to raise more money, gather supplies and increase awareness about the plight of these children. When Marina was a freshman, she saw newsman Anderson Cooper interview a man on TV about the hard life of Haitian “restaveks” – children whose families send them to live with host families in Port-au-Prince because they cannot afford to feed them. “These families often malnourish, overwork, and abuse the restaveks,” said Marina. “There are 300,000 children living like slaves in Haiti.” Marina learned that school is the only hope for these children, who are kicked out of their host homes when they are 18 and are often unprepared for the workforce. But due to lack of funds, there are now only 16 restavek schools in Haiti, less than one-third of what there used to be. This inspired Marina to start a charity called “Rays for Restaveks.”
She contacted Cross International Alliance, a worldwide relief and development organization, and learned that it would take $7,150 to support a school for one year. Marina decided she would raise the money by making necklaces and calculated that she would have to sell 1,200 to reach her goal. She designed a necklace using the simplest, least expensive materials, and then sold her necklaces during lunch at school and at craft fairs all over New England. She also created a Web page at FirstGiving.org and produced a brochure to provide information about the restavek children. After she met her goal, Marina formed a club at school that has helped her sell more necklaces and conduct a drive that collected 250 personal hygiene items for restaveks. The club, which has become one of her school’s largest student clubs with 35 members, is not only providing financial aid to restaveks, said Marina, but is “educating our school community about the suffering and the needs of these overlooked children.”
Cody, an eighth-grader at Chariho Middle School, spearheaded a project to restore a flagpole and the area around it in his town’s Ninigret Park. The flagpole was erected 30 years ago to honor fighter pilots and crew members who trained in Charlestown when it was a naval air training center. “In 2009, the pole was peeling and the flag tattered,” said Cody. Moreover, noxious vines were strangling nearby cedar trees, and beneath the flag there was trash, burnt charcoal, and a portable toilet. “I got sick of walking by this eyesore, and finally decided to do something about it,” he said.
Cody knew what a determined volunteer could accomplish. For years he had helped clean trails, raise money and educate visitors at a wildlife refuge for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. He also had singlehandedly transformed the entrance to his neighborhood from a trash-filled, weed-choked triangle into a beautiful garden. To start his flagpole project, he wrote letters to the editor of the local paper to enlist the help of the community. Then, with the help of family, friends and community members, Cody spent hours removing invasive vegetation around the flagpole, revitalizing the soil, and planting flowers. He painted the pole from a bucket truck provided by the local fire department, and raised a new flag at a Flag Day ceremony that he hosted. But, Cody says, he is not finished. He already has lined up 30 sponsors for a memory garden at the site to honor veterans.
“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]