Two Connecticut Youth Honored for Volunteerism at National Award Ceremony in Washington, D.C.

Academy Award-winning actress Hilary Swank pays tribute to Madison and Manchester students

Academy Award-winning actress Hilary Swank congratulates Alexandra Minutillo, 16, of Madison (center) and Emily Christensen, 13, of Manchester (right) on being named Connecticut's top two youth volunteers for 2016 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. Alexandra and Emily were honored at a ceremony on Sunday, May 1 at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, where they each received a $1,000 award. (Photo: Zach Harrison Photography)

WASHINGTON--()--Connecticut's top two youth volunteers of 2016, Alexandra Minutillo, 16, of Madison and Emily Christensen, 13, of Manchester, were honored in the nation’s capital last night for their outstanding volunteer service during the 21st annual presentation of The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. Alexandra and Emily – along with 100 other top youth volunteers from across the country – each received $1,000 awards and personal congratulations from Academy Award-winning actress Hilary Swank 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 Alexandra and Emily Connecticut'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.

Alexandra, a sophomore at Daniel Hand High School, formed a nonprofit organization and school club that have raised more than $10,000 to buy gifts for teenage patients at Smilow Cancer Hospital. Watching her grandparents struggle with cancer, Alexandra saw first-hand how draining the experience can be. When she started high school, she decided she wanted to do something for young people undergoing cancer treatment. Through conversations with cancer specialists at Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital, she learned that most donations for young cancer patients are intended for pre-school and grade-school youngsters. So she decided to focus on “the often-invisible teen population” and “provide age-specific items for these patients as they struggle with treatment and hospitalization,” said Alexandra.

After forming a nonprofit called “Kids Helping Kids with a Smile, Inc.,” Alexandra started a club at her high school that now has more than 40 members. Then she got to work planning fundraisers, publicizing them through social media and a website she created. Thus far, the club has had bake sales, sold novelty items, and solicited donations at shopping areas, local football games and parades. Alexandra also speaks often to civic groups about donating to her cause. Among the items she has purchased with her proceeds are a media cabinet for the cancer center’s teen recreation area, a MacBook computer and gift cards. “We have been able to accomplish something that changes people’s lives,” said Alexandra.

Emily, an eighth-grader at Illing Middle School, has raised more than $85,000 to benefit young cancer patients and their families by selling recycled crayons formed into interesting shapes and sizes. When Emily was 6 years old, she lost her 4-year-old friend TJ to cancer. Coincidentally, a few weeks later, her church challenged its members to do something to help someone in need. The very next day, the crossing guard at Emily’s school handed her a bag of old crayons her children had outgrown. That sparked a memory of a craft project in preschool in which old crayons had been melted and poured into molds. “I had an idea of making crayons into different shapes and putting them into a cute little package to raise money,” Emily said. “TJ was my best friend and I had to help him live on somehow.”

With the help of her family, Emily began peeling crayons, melting them, and then placing them in different-shaped molds. Her initial goal was to raise $200 for a local hospital to help the families of young cancer patients pay for things insurance does not cover, such as hospital parking and meals, as well as to buy small gifts for the ill youngsters. Now, seven years later, “Crayons for Cancer” is a nonprofit organization that provides funds to assist families in several states. Although Emily still spends time everyday making her wax creations, she has a cadre of volunteers from schools, clubs, churches and service organizations crafting and packaging her crayons, which she then sells through her website and at local events. She also has partnered with several businesses and frequently speaks in front of large groups to get the word out. Emily estimates that her group has helped at least 4,000 families over the years.

“By using their time and talents to better their communities, these young people have achieved great things – and become examples for us all,” said John Strangfeld, chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial, Inc. “Congratulations to an exemplary group of honorees.”

“These students have demonstrated a truly remarkable level of leadership and commitment in the course of their volunteer service, and it’s an honor to celebrate their accomplishments,” said Michael Allison, president of NASSP. “We commend each and every one of them for a job well done.”

Youth volunteers in grades 5-12 were invited to apply for 2016 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 29,000 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 21 years, the program has honored more than 115,000 young volunteers at the local, state and national level.

For more information about The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards and this year’s honorees, visit http://spirit.prudential.com or www.nassp.org/spirit.

About NASSP

The National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) is the leading organization of and voice for middle level and high school principals, assistant principals, and school leaders from across the United States. 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 pictures of the Spirit of Community Awards program logo and medallions, click here: http://bit.ly/Xi4oFW

For B-roll of Connecticut's honorees at the 2016 national recognition events, contact Prudential’s Harold Banks at (973) 216-4833 or harold.banks@prudential.com.

Contacts

Prudential
Harold Banks, (w) 973-802-8974 or (c) 973-216-4833
harold.banks@prudential.com
or
NASSP
Robert Farrace, 703-860-7257

Contacts

Prudential
Harold Banks, (w) 973-802-8974 or (c) 973-216-4833
harold.banks@prudential.com
or
NASSP
Robert Farrace, 703-860-7257