WASHINGTON--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Oklahoma's top two youth volunteers of 2014, Ashten Vincent, 17, of Edmond, and Katherine Prior, 13, of Oklahoma City, were honored in the nation’s capital last night for their outstanding volunteer service during the 19th annual presentation of The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. Ashten and Katherine – along with 100 other top youth volunteers from across the country – each received $1,000 awards and personal congratulations from Academy Award-winning actor Forest Whitaker 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 Ashten and Katherine Oklahoma'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.
Ashten, a junior at Edmond North High School, formed a teen volunteer group called “RAKIT (Random Acts of Kindness in Teens),” four years ago that now includes more than 600 students who have logged more than 3,000 hours of community service. Ashten was inspired to start her group when her voice teacher tragically lost both her parents. "My friends and I rallied together to meet a need that was right in front of us," said Ashten. "We made her meals, babysat her kids and wrote her encouraging cards."
But Ashten didn't want to stop there, so she started RAKIT and began recruiting members. Ashten then began identifying volunteer opportunities that matched up with the interests of specific groups in her school. She found a baseball league called The Miracle League for adults with disabilities, for example, and recruited members of her school's baseball team to work with them. RAKIT members also have visited nursing homes and made crafts for the residents, donated gas cards at convenience stores, and worked at the Oklaoma Regional Food Bank. Ashten also organized a basketball game that pitted high school students against community leaders to raise $1,500 for charity, and spearheaded a "28 Days of Kindness" campaign in five middle schools. "We reflect compassion and love for one another when we serve, and that then sets an example for others to follow," said Ashten.
Katherine, a member of the Girl Scouts Western Oklahoma and a home-schooled eighth-grader, monitors the water quality in a nearby creek for Oklahoma Blue Thumb - a division of the state conservation commission - and educates other young people and her community about how their actions affect the waterway. Katherine became interested in environmental science while participating in Girl Scout activities. At first, it was simply a way to spend time with friends, but “the activities were so much fun and so much more interesting than my science textbook that I was inspired to learn and do more,” she said.
After taking a two-day training session, Katherine began collecting water samples at Crutcho Creek with some friends once a month, recording environmental changes, taking photos, and logging air and water temperatures. Afterwards, they take the water samples home and perform tests to analyze the chemicals in the samples. The girls also take cultures of bacteria in the water, grow them in an incubator, and report on E. coli levels in the creek. These monthly readings are entered into a database of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission’s Water Quality Division. “It’s truly inspiring to see how even little things – cleaning up trash, clearing fallen leaves from the river, using less fertilizer – can affect the chemistry of water and quality of the habitat of the stream,” said Katherine. She also presented a model to younger students at a science festival showing how storm drainage affects the creek. Katherine and two other Girl Scouts also wrote and illustrated two children’s books -- one about recycling, the other about watersheds and protecting creeks. Copies were donated to organizations that serve children, and proceeds from sales of the watershed book were donated to support the Oklahoma Blue Thumb program.
“These honorees are shining examples of what is possible when young people use their energy and initiative to help their communities,” said John Strangfeld, chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial, Inc. “We are proud to recognize their accomplishments, and look forward to seeing the great things they achieve in the future.”
“Through their service, these students have not only made a difference in the lives of others – they’ve provided their peers with a powerful example of what it looks like to be an outstanding youth volunteer,” said Barbara-Jane (BJ) Paris, president of NASSP. “Congratulations to each of the 2014 honorees for a job well done.”
Youth volunteers in grades 5-12 were invited to apply for 2014 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 30,000 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, too. In the past 19 years, the program has honored more than 100,000 young volunteers at the local, state and national level.
The National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) 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 connects and engages school leaders through advocacy, research, education, and student programs. NASSP advocates on behalf of all school leaders to ensure the success of each student and strengthens school leadership practices through the design and delivery of high quality professional learning experiences. Reflecting its long-standing commitment to student leadership development, 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 www.news.prudential.com.
Editors: For full-color pictures of the Spirit of Community Awards program logo and medallions, click here: http://bit.ly/Xi4oFW