WASHINGTON--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Mississippi's top two youth volunteers of 2016, Lindsey Meyer, 17, of Pass Christian and Jameshia Attaway, 12, of Indianola, 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. Lindsey and Jameshia – 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 Lindsey and Jameshia Mississippi'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.
Lindsey, a senior at Pass Christian High School, planned a “sensory friendly” movie presentation at a local theater for people with autism or other special needs, after learning that most people with these disabilities are denied this simple pleasure because they may not be able to sit still or stay quiet for an entire movie. “Working at a summer camp for children with special needs broadened my perspective on the limitations society sets for these people,” said Lindsey. When she read on social media about a child with autism and his family being removed from a movie theater after he had an excited outburst, she wanted to do something. “A dark theater flooded with booming sound, over-stimulating advertisements, and the overwhelming struggle to remain still and silent can result in pain and anxiety for people with special needs,” she said.
She first contacted several local theaters to propose a special showing of a family-friendly film. To be sensory friendly, she explained, there could be no commercials or previews beforehand, the lights must be left on, the sound turned down, and the audience allowed to move about, talk, clap, and even sing. Only one theater would even consider her idea. After several meetings with the theater’s management, her persistence paid off. Lindsey then trained a team of volunteers to help monitor the event, posted a movie flier on social media, and reached out to the special needs community for support. It wasn’t long before she heard from organizations, schools, and homes for special needs individuals eager to reserve seats. The theater’s management has now agreed to host a sensory friendly movie each month and expanded the program to include films geared toward teenagers and adults, too. Lindsey has created an organization called “Free to be Me Sensory Friendly Events” that is working to expand the events to other venues across Mississippi’s Gulf Coast.
Jameshia, a sixth-grader at Carver Elementary School, celebrates her birthday each year by throwing a party for children in need and giving them gifts she collects from businesses, local organizations and community members. When Jameshia was 8 years old, she noticed that a girl in her school wore shoes with holes in them. “Children made fun of her,” said Jameshia. “I told my mother that I wanted to buy her a pair of new shoes.” She then realized that many other kids were in need of help, too, while every year she was “overwhelmed” with birthday gifts. So she decided that she could “put on a smile on my face and theirs” by giving her gifts away.
Since then, Jameshia starts preparing every November for a birthday party to which she invites children in need. She writes letters to local businesses and civic groups to garner donations of toys and food, and contacts agencies that provide services for people in need. She also asks family and friends to make gift boxes, teachers to read to children who attend the party, and her mother’s friend to dress up as a princess. The hardest part, Jameshia said, used to be finding a place large enough to hold the party, but the mayor of her town now allows her to host the event in a city-owned building. She estimates that about 40 local families benefit from her project every year. In addition to her annual party, Jameshia participates in a wide variety of community service projects with her school’s PTA, the Indianola Youth Council and a mayor’s diversity council.
“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 Mississippi's honorees at the 2016 national recognition events, contact Prudential’s Harold Banks at (973) 216-4833 or firstname.lastname@example.org.