WASHINGTON--(BUSINESS WIRE)--William Lourcey, 11, of Fort Worth, Texas, was named one of America’s top 10 youth volunteers of 2014 today by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards during the program’s 19th annual national award ceremony at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Selected from a field of more than 30,000 youth volunteers from across the country, Will has earned the title of National Honoree, along with a personal award of $5,000, an engraved gold medallion, a crystal trophy for his nominating organization, and a $5,000 grant from The Prudential Foundation for a nonprofit charitable organization of his choice.
Also honored this week in Washington, D.C., was Sarita Damaraju, 15, of Corpus Christi. Sarita and Will were named Texas's top youth volunteers in February, and were officially recognized last night at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History along with the top two youth volunteers in each other state and the District of Columbia. At that event, each of the 102 State Honorees for 2014 received $1,000 awards as well as personal congratulations from Academy Award-winning actor Forest Whitaker. The honorees each also received engraved silver medallions and all-expense-paid trips with a parent to Washington, D.C., for this week’s recognition events.
Will, a volunteer ambassador with the Volunteer Center of North Texas and a fifth-grader at Trinity Valley School, is the founder and CEO of a service group that organizes fun events to raise money and awareness to fight hunger, and to encourage young people to get involved in their community. When Will was 7, he saw a man on the street with a sign that read: “Need a Meal.” “I got really sad inside,” he said. “I knew I needed to do something. I made a plan, gathered friends, and set out to change my community.”
Many of the events organized by Will’s group are baseball, softball, soccer, dodgeball and other sports contests played by kids who recruit sponsors to pledge cash donations for every hit or goal they make. The money raised has provided more than 120,000 meals to the hungry through a local food bank. The group also has packed 14,000 backpacks with food for hungry children, distributed food to 2,000 families through a mobile food pantry, and participated in a variety of other service projects. More than 1,000 kids in north Texas have taken part in Will’s group’s activities. “I might be a little kid,” said Will, “but I am a little kid making a big difference. Other kids can, too!”
Sarita, a sophomore at W.B. Ray High School, spearheaded a fitness campaign, “Mission FitPossible,” to promote healthy eating habits and exercise in local elementary schools. In 2010, Men’s Health magazine named Corpus Christi “the fattest city in America,” a designation that shocked Sarita and prompted her to act. “Childhood obesity has more than tripled in the last 30 years,” she said. “Children who are obese when they are younger are more than likely to be obese when they are adults and therefore are at a risk of many health problems like heart disease, diabetes mellitus, stroke, sleep apnea, etc.”
Sarita began by recruiting a core team of students to develop a 10-week contest in which district elementary school students competed against each other to become fit. After gaining the support of the city’s mayor and superintendent of schools, who awarded “Mission FitPossible” a grant, Sarita’s team gave each elementary student a baseline survey to log exercise time, food choices, recreational activities and sleep habits. Sarita kept the students motivated with a dance routine, stop-motion movie and music video. At the end of the contest, results were analyzed and winners received prizes such as soccer balls and jump ropes. “Mission FitPossible” also created a booth promoting healthy foods and lifestyles which they presented at local health fairs. When the group learned that the school district’s budget could not provide adequate equipment for elementary school physical education programs, it organized two 5K run/3K walks that attracted over 2,000 registrations and raised more than $50,000. Sarita’s group also has worked with a children’s hospital to study the effects of obesity on adolescents and has presented several research projects at national and international health conferences.
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards is a national youth recognition program sponsored by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).
“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.”
In addition to Will, these are the other 2014 National Honorees:
Jessica Bird, 18, of Atherton, Calif., a senior at Sacred Heart Preparatory, is a dedicated advocate for young sex-trafficking victims around the world, and last year led a team to Costa Rica to provide girls at a safe house with the skills to build a life outside of prostitution.
Lillian Diuble, 11, of Manchester, Mich., a sixth-grader at Manchester Middle School, leads a team that has raised more than $78,000 over the past four years for the Foundation Fighting Blindness, which is devoted to developing treatments and cures for eye diseases like the one affecting Lillian.
Sean Egan, 18, of Staten Island, N.Y., a senior at Monsignor Farrell High School, founded an organization of more than 300 students who assist and thank veterans of the U.S. armed forces by sponsoring events, providing goods and services, and visiting military hospitals.
Elijah Evans, 16, of Youngsville, La., a sophomore at Comeaux High School, works in his community to raise awareness of child abuse and improve the lives of foster children by promoting and hosting an annual Christmas party for children in foster care.
Kaylee Graham, 14, of Florence, Ore., an eighth-grader at Siuslaw Middle School, initiated an annual citywide day of service in her town that has motivated more than 3,000 residents to work on community improvement projects, raise money for charity, donate food, and take part in other volunteer activities over the past three years.
Morgan Guess, 11, of Paducah, Ky., a fifth-grader at Lone Oak Intermediate School, has worked with her mother to focus local, state and national attention on the problem of bullying through a variety of measures, after Morgan herself was bullied.
Kinsey Morrison, 17, of Goshen, Ky., a senior at St. Francis High School, is a motivational speaker who’s delivered more than 50 speeches on a variety of topics and helped raise a significant amount of money for dozens of charities.
Katie Stagliano, 15, of Summerville, S.C., a freshman at Pinewood Preparatory School, established a nonprofit organization that has helped kids across the country create and maintain more than 60 vegetable gardens, which have yielded thousands of pounds of fresh produce to feed people in need.
Michael Stolzenberg, 14, of Weston, Fla., an eighth-grader at Pine Crest School, has raised more than $225,000 to help rebuild the lives of people who lost limbs when terrorists detonated two bombs during the 2013 Boston Marathon.
The distinguished selection committee that chose the National Honorees was chaired by Strangfeld and included Paris of NASSP; Tracy Hoover, president of Points of Light; Jennifer Sirangelo, president and CEO of the National 4-H Council; Andrea Bastiani Archibald, chief girl expert for Girl Scouts of the USA; James E. Starr, vice president for volunteer management for the American Red Cross; Robert Bisi, senior marketing specialist for the Corporation for National and Community Service; Dru Tomlin, director of middle level services for the Association for Middle Level Education; André Wesson, senior program associate for strategic communications, outreach and development for Achieve; Reneé Jackson, senior manager of education programs at the National PTA; and two 2013 National Honorees: Emma Astrike-Davis of Durham, N.C., a senior at Cary Academy, and Joshua Williams of Miami Beach, Fla., an eighth-grader at Ransom Everglades School.
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
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Editors: For full-color pictures of the Spirit of Community Awards program logo and medallions, click here: http://bit.ly/Xi4oFW