WASHINGTON--(BUSINESS WIRE)--South Dakota's top two youth volunteers of 2016, Shelby Specht, 15, of Sioux Falls and Danika Gordon, 14, of Whitewood, 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. Shelby and Danika – 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 Shelby and Danika South Dakota'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.
Shelby, a freshman at Harrisburg High School, has raised $2,000 over the past several years to benefit sick kids in her community by creating and selling candy “bouquets” and cookies. Years ago, Shelby’s brother suffered a crisis following surgery, but was saved by equipment that had been donated by Children’s Miracle Network (CMN). “I thought, if they gave to my family, I should give back,” she said. She began pondering how she could raise money for CMN, and after weeks of research, decided on a project she calls “Kandy for Kids.”
Shelby assembles candy bars and other candy favorites into “bouquets” decorated with tissue paper and colorful streamers. She sells these bouquets and cookies at numerous venues and donates the proceeds to CMN to aid children at Sanford Children’s Hospital and their families. Shelby also volunteers at CMN radiothons every year, speaks to groups of teens and elementary students about volunteering, and recently launched a Facebook page offering volunteering ideas to young people across South Dakota. “Knowing that the work I am doing is making lives better is why I am so passionate about what I do,” said Shelby.
Danika, an eighth-grader at Sturgis Williams Middle School, promotes kindness and volunteerism among her peers through an online book she authored and through programs she conducts at a wide variety of venues. For years, Danika has participated monthly in service projects such as collecting food, books and coats for those in need; picking up litter in a park; and writing thank-you letters to soldiers stationed overseas. But it was the experience of being bullied that prompted her to create her own service project to persuade young people that “they have ‘super powers’ to spread kindness in the world by being caring, respectful, and volunteering to help others in need,” she said.
In 2013 and 2014, Danika coordinated a “Character Carnival” at a summer kids program, recruiting 10 4-H members to help her teach 70 elementary students about good character. During the school year, she led monthly lessons on character, kindness and service at an after-school program. Then, she packaged her message in a book titled “What Makes You a Super Hero?” and made it available online, where it has been viewed by more than 20,000 people. She also has collaborated with schools, libraries, after-school programs and youth groups in seven communities to share her book and promote compassion and service. In addition, Danika has trained 18 other students to conduct similar programs in their schools and classrooms.
“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 South Dakota's honorees at the 2016 national recognition events, contact Prudential’s Harold Banks at (973) 216-4833 or firstname.lastname@example.org.