WASHINGTON--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Texas' top two youth volunteers of 2016, Ariana Luterman, 16, of Dallas and Courtney Janecka, 12, of Woodway, 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. Ariana and Courtney – 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 Ariana and Courtney Texas' 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.
Ariana, a sophomore at Greenhill School, has combined her passion for competitive triathlon racing with her desire to help homeless children through Team Ariana, which has raised more than $90,000 in donations and more than $40,000 in goods to benefit a local childcare center that provides free early development services for homeless children. Ariana said her life changed the first time she saw a homeless child when she was 8 years old. “It awakened my heart to the reality that all kids did not have a home, a bed, or even a special pillow to call their own,” she said. She began volunteering at the Vogel Alcove childcare center, reading to children, supervising arts and crafts projects, and requesting that instead of gifts, her birthday guests bring donations to benefit homeless children. At the same time, Ariana said, her triathlon performances were beginning to attract national attention, and she decided to capitalize on the opportunity.
So in 2011, she formed Team Ariana. Her idea was to use her name recognition to attract corporate sponsorships and bring awareness to the growing problem of homeless children. She spent months developing strategies and meeting with companies to solicit support. Once she had a clothing sponsor, she designed a line of Team Ariana racewear and created an online store so that other athletes could support her cause with their purchases. She also sold corporate logo placements on her personal race gear and her clothing line to generate funds for Vogel Alcove. In addition, she began speaking to audiences around the country about the issue of child homelessness. “If I can change the course of one child’s life, I have proven I am a real champion,” Ariana said.
Courtney, a sixth-grader at Midway River Valley Intermediate, makes and sells beaded bracelets to enable her mother to give away the book she wrote on surviving cancer to other cancer patients, churches, hospitals and schools. When Courtney was a toddler, her mother was diagnosed with cancer. Although Courtney doesn’t remember that trying time, she has seen how her mother’s story and book have inspired others. “Her book can help people and I decided that I wanted to help too,” said Courtney. “I knew that if I could raise money, we could give her books away to people with cancer.” After a friend heard of Courtney’s plan and sent her a bracelet, she decided she could make and sell similar ones to raise money. “Courtney’s Creations” was born in late 2013.
To make her beaded creations, Courtney buys beads and charms at local and online stores; sometimes people who have heard about her project even send her cases of beads they no longer need. While she makes many of the bracelets herself, she also organizes bracelet-making parties with her friends to increase the number she can sell. Over the past two years, Courtney has sold more than 1,100 bracelets online and at some local stores, raising over $10,000 and enabling her mother to give away more than 800 of her books. Courtney accompanies her mother on trips all over Texas to deliver books, and often speaks in front of large crowds at events. “There are lots of people with cancer and I am grateful I can help some of them,” said Courtney.
“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 Texas' honorees at the 2016 national recognition events, contact Prudential’s Harold Banks at (973) 216-4833 or email@example.com.