WASHINGTON--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Kansas' top two youth volunteers of 2016, Lauren Browning, 18, of Overland Park and Cooper Lohman, 13, of Manhattan, 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. Lauren and Cooper – 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 Lauren and Cooper Kansas' 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.
Lauren, a senior at Blue Valley Southwest High, began painting faces at community events when she was 9 years old to benefit kids with cancer, and now oversees a group of 10 trained volunteers who paint as many as 3,500 faces a year. When a close family friend was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, Lauren wanted to join the fight against cancer by raising money and “bringing more smiles and hope into the world,” she said. She bought some paints and started offering to paint faces at small, local gatherings, and then moved up to larger events and began recruiting and training other volunteers.
Her organization, called “Faces of Hope,” now has two painting crews made up of 10 volunteers. With Lauren doing the training, scheduling and coordinating, she and her staff paint for free at numerous community events throughout the year, with an emphasis on those associated with childhood cancer. They also paint faces at private functions like birthday parties in exchange for donations to cancer-related charities, sometimes raising as much as $500 in a single day. Lauren is training two girls to take over her Kansas City area activities after she goes to college next year, and is planning to start a branch at her new location. “I do not want this smile factory to end,” she said. “A few minutes of complete happiness can do wonders.”
Cooper, a seventh-grader at Susan B. Anthony Middle School, spearheaded a drive to fund and build a multi-purpose outdoor stage at her elementary school to thank its staff and students for “a truly amazing experience.” As Cooper’s elementary school days were nearing an end, she began brainstorming ways that she could express her gratitude and leave her mark on the school. “I wanted to do something great for the students and teachers to use after I had left,” she said. After much thought, she settled on the idea of building an outdoor stage that could be used for plays, assemblies, recess activities and outdoor classroom sessions.
Once she gained the support of the school’s principal, teachers, PTO and students, Cooper enlisted an architect to draw up plans, and put together a committee of students to help. She then set up an account on a crowd-funding website and made fliers seeking donations. When it was time to begin construction, Cooper recruited volunteers to help build the stage. After almost a year of work, the stage was finally completed. Cooper said it makes her happy to know that future generations of students will reap the benefits of her efforts. “My younger sister still attends the school, and it fills my heart when she comes home and tells stories of how students enjoy playing and learning on the stage,” she said.
“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.
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 Kansas' honorees at the 2016 national recognition events, contact Prudential’s Harold Banks at (973) 216-4833 or firstname.lastname@example.org.