WASHINGTON--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Clare Szalkowski, 10, of Dubuque, Iowa, was named one of America’s top 10 youth volunteers of 2016 today by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards during the program’s 21st annual national award ceremony at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium. Selected from a field of more than 29,000 youth volunteers from across the country, Clare has earned the title of National Honoree, along with a personal award of $5,000, an engraved gold medallion, a crystal trophy for her school, and a $5,000 grant from The Prudential Foundation for a nonprofit charitable organization of her choice.
Also honored this week in Washington, D.C., was Allison Ockenfels, 17, of Wellman. Allison and Clare were named Iowa’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 2016 received $1,000 awards as well as personal congratulations from Academy Award-winning actress Hilary Swank. 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.
Clare, a member of the Girl Scouts of Eastern Iowa and Western Illinois and a fifth-grader at Hoover Elementary School, started “Clare Cares” over two years ago to “build friendships and make our community a better place” by organizing projects that benefit bullied children, homeless and hungry people, and others in need of assistance. Clare was inspired to start her project after her older sister had an epileptic seizure at school.
“This ‘friend’ made fun of her,” said Clare. “Then she recruited others to make fun of her. That’s when I knew I needed to do something about bullying because, unfortunately, bullying has touched nearly everyone’s life, and that makes me sad.”
Her initial goal was to provide a “buddy bench” on her school’s playground to promote friendship and discourage the isolation that bullied children often feel. Today, every elementary school in her region has a Clare Cares Buddy Bench on its playground – more than 30 benches in all. Clare also formed “kid committees” and scheduled “buddy events” to work on projects supporting the missions of local nonprofits. She and her fellow volunteers have made blankets for children experiencing trauma, created greeting cards for nursing home residents, and filled a Santa’s sleigh for Toys for Tots. They also have provided 22 complete birthday packages to celebrate the birthdays of children in a homeless shelter, filled the shelves of a local food bank with more than a ton of food, and provided bag lunches every Monday for homeless men.
Allison, a senior at Ockenfels Homeschool, has raised more than $150,000 since late 2010 to build kitchens at three schools in the African nation of Malawi and to provide daily meals for students living in poverty there. Allison was attending a conference when she learned about Mary’s Meals, a charitable organization that feeds children at schools in the developing world. “Hunger and starvation are often a reality for many children in third-world countries,” Allison said. “Parents are motivated to send their children to school because they know they will receive a nutritious meal every day. For many children, it is the only meal they receive.” Allison learned that the organization is feeding over one million children worldwide every day, and that it takes less than $20 to provide a child with a daily meal for one year.
Allison began by visiting local church parishes and asking their congregations for donations. Then she knocked on the doors of local businesses and spoke about her cause at a school and at meetings of civic clubs. Allison also started a blog and a fundraising page on the Mary’s Meals website. She now receives donations from all over the country, and has raised enough money to help feed more than 5,000 children in Malawi. Allison has visited two of the schools that benefited from her efforts. “It was amazing to meet the children,” she said. “They swarmed toward us and greeted us with smiles and laughing.” 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).
“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.”
In addition to Clare, these are the other 2016 National Honorees:
Kayla Abramowitz, 14, of North Palm Beach, Fla., an eighth-grader at Watson B. Duncan Middle School, has collected nearly 10,000 DVDs, books and other items for 81 hospitals and Ronald McDonald Houses in all 50 states through her nonprofit organization, “Kayla Cares 4 Kids.”
Connor Archer, 18, of Stillwater, Maine, a senior at Old Town High School, works to educate the public about autism and the challenges faced by people with autism like himself, and has raised more than $12,000 for organizations that help people with special needs.
Grace Davis, 11, of Louisville, Ky., a fifth-grader at Greathouse Shryock Traditional Elementary School, has helped raise more than $140,000 over the past four years to care for babies born prematurely by distributing piggy banks to students in her community and encouraging them to fill them up.
Maria Keller, 15, of Plymouth, Minn., a sophomore at Orono High School, founded a nonprofit called “Read Indeed” when she was 8 years old, and has since collected more than 1.7 million books for children in need in 50 states and 17 other countries.
James Lea, 17, of Las Vegas, Nev., a junior at Faith Lutheran Middle School and High School, helps brighten the holiday season for children who have recently lost a parent by surprising their families with an anonymous gift each day for 12 days, tied to the theme of the song “12 Days of Christmas.”
Jungin Angie Lee, 17, of Naperville, Ill., a junior at Metea Valley High School, co-founded a nonprofit organization that has generated nearly $200,000 over the past nine years through annual fundraising events to help find a cure for her rare neuromuscular disease.
Zachary Rice, 13, of Long Valley, N.J., an eighth-grader at Long Valley Middle School, initiated an annual 5K run/walk that has raised more than $50,000 over the past three years to provide gaming systems and other fun distractions for young patients at Goryeb Children’s Hospital in Morristown.
Jackson Silverman, 10, of Charleston, S.C., a fifth-grader at Advanced Studies Magnet-Haut Gap Middle School, persuaded a local food bank to let him start a youth volunteer program there in 2013 that has by now packed more than 14,000 weekend lunch bags for kids in need.
Alisha Zhao, 17, of Portland, Ore., a junior at Lincoln High School, created a club at her school to provide services to local homeless people, and then founded a nonprofit organization called “Kids First Project” to expand her efforts and focus on the needs of homeless youth.
The distinguished selection committee that chose the National Honorees was chaired by Strangfeld and included Allison of NASSP; Andrea Bastiani Archibald, chief girl expert for Girl Scouts of the USA; Robert Bisi, senior public affairs manager for the Corporation for National and Community Service; Tracy Hoover, president of Points of Light; Reneé Jackson, senior manager of education programs at the National PTA; Maxine Margaritis, vice president of volunteer services for the American Red Cross; Peggy McLeod, Ed.D., deputy vice president, education and workforce development at the National Council of La Raza; Dru Tomlin, director of middle level services for the Association for Middle Level Education; Frederick J. Riley, national director, urban & youth development at YMCA of the USA; and two 2015 National Honorees: AJ Mattia of Washington Township, N.J., a sophomore at Holy Cross Academy, and Morlan Osgood of Loveland, Ohio, a senior at Loveland High School.
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.
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.
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
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Editors: For pictures of the Spirit of Community Awards program logo and medallions, click here: http://bit.ly/Xi4oFW
For B-roll of Iowa’s honorees at the 2016 national recognition events, contact Prudential’s Harold Banks at (973) 216-4833 or firstname.lastname@example.org.