WASHINGTON, D.C.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Vermont's top two youth volunteers of 2013, Neel Desai, 18 and Michaela Forgione, 12, both of South Burlington, 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. Neel and Michaela – 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 Neel and Michaela Vermont'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.
Neel, a senior at South Burlington High School, started a nonprofit organization that provides free classes in basic computer skills to residents of his community, in topics that run the gamut from how to buy a computer to using social networks to connect with old friends. After being chosen as one of 12 students from the U.S. to attend a leadership conference in central Europe, Neel returned determined to give back to his community. A passion for technology was the spark that led him, with a group of like-minded peers, to launch “Technology for Tomorrow” in August 2011. The organization’s mission, said Neel, is “to teach technology to the citizens of our community in order to expand their capabilities, broaden their social ties, and liberate them from physical isolation.” Many people at home have expensive computers, “but they are unaware of the potential of the technology they own,” Neel said.
With funding from a grant, Neel and his partners developed a series of six workshops, which they held at a local library. Topics included the differences between a PC and Mac and how to evaluate which better suits the needs of the owner; office applications; how to make a spreadsheet; the use of email and Facebook; and how to video-chat with family and friends. “Many parents probably have a computer but they don’t know how to use Skype,” said Neel. “We taught them how they can communicate with their overseas children.” A highlight of the workshop, Neel said, was when U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy joined the group via Skype to share his thoughts on technology. By September 2012, nearly 100 residents of Neel’s community had attended the workshops, and the program was on track to serve another 100 by the end of the year. The technology team also is talking about replicating the workshops with chapters of “Technology for Tomorrow” in Kansas City, Slovakia and Serbia.
Michaela, a seventh-grader at Mater Christi School, is an avid volunteer whose regular activities include helping to feed the hungry and visiting residents of a local nursing home. Michaela’s family has always encouraged her to get involved in activities that will help the community, and she tries to encourage her friends to look for ways to help, too. “A few years ago in school we were given an assignment to write about our volunteer activity in the community,” she said. “I finished and looked around at my friends who had either nothing to write or very little to write. It made me sad.”
Last year for Michaela’s birthday, she asked friends to bring grocery-store gift cards instead of gifts for her, and ended up with $600 to feed the hungry. This year for her birthday the guests brought gift cards and the $900 that was raised directly benefitted the hardest hit areas on Long Island. When she heard that the son of a friend of her teacher’s was paralyzed in a swimming accident, Michaela, a competitive Irish dancer, organized a “jigathon” that raised more than $300 for the family. Michaela also cooks dinner once a month with her mother and delivers it to a local homeless shelter, and she frequently takes dinner and treats next door to an elderly neighbor who lives alone. Her favorite volunteer activity, however, is visiting a nursing home for retired nuns each week. In addition, Michaela is continually “trying to get other kids to see how much fun it is to help others.”
“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]