WASHINGTON--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Ohio's top two youth volunteers of 2016, Parker Inks, 17, of Fremont and Meagan Warren, 12, of Bexley, 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. Parker and Meagan – 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 Parker and Meagan Ohio'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.
Parker, a junior at St. Joseph Central Catholic High School, helped start a foundation eight years ago that has raised $150,000 through an annual dinner and auction to help families burdened by the high cost of caring for children with disabilities. Parker, who was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy when he was a baby and uses a power wheelchair to get around, was hospitalized in 2008 with severe pneumonia. It was a terrible time for his family – not only was Parker sick, but his mother was undergoing chemotherapy and his father was not working. One day, Parker had a visit from his school’s football coach. “He and my dad told me that I have a purpose,” said Parker. “I thought these were just words of encouragement but the older I get the more I understand that I truly do have a purpose.” After that visit, the coach organized several fundraisers to ease the family’s financial situation. Overwhelmed by the community’s generosity, Parker and his family wanted to “pay it forward” and founded a nonprofit organization, “Parker’s Purpose,” to help pay bills and purchase medical equipment for families of children with disabilities.
As one of five members of the foundation’s executive committee, Parker attends monthly meetings to review grant requests. To raise money, Parker came up with the idea of having an annual dinner and auction. Every year, Parker helps spread the word and is the spokesperson for the event. He weighs in on the choice of venue, the entertainment, and which celebrities will be asked to attend. The money the event has raised has helped more than 200 families over the years, Parker said, and he plans to keep going. “One day, I hope I can look in the mirror and say that I have made an impact on others’ lives!”
Meagan, a seventh-grader at Bexley Middle School, brings the magic of books to low-income children in the Columbus area through “Books for Bedtime,” a nonprofit organization that has collected more than 19,000 and donated more than 12,000 children’s books since late 2014. For Meagan, who started reading when she was only 2 years old, it is hard to imagine not having a book to read, especially at bedtime. But she knows that not every child’s parents can afford to buy books. “Because my mom has always worked at disadvantaged schools, I have seen the effects of poverty, and understand that books are often low on the families’ list of necessities,” Meagan said. One night, while reading in bed, she was thinking how sad it was that there were kids who didn’t get to read before falling asleep. It dawned on her that she could help change that.
With the help of her family, Meagan filed the paperwork to start her nonprofit, and created a logo, business cards, a website and social media accounts. Then she built a large collection box to place at her school and at various businesses in her community. Soon, donations of books started coming in. Once she gets the books, she stamps them with her logo, organizes them by grade level and stacks them in her garage to await their new home. The biggest hurdle initially, she said, was finding organizations that wanted her books. But after a local newspaper printed a story on her project, she started getting calls from schools, homeless shelters, immigrant organizations and other groups. When she delivers books, she often gives a short motivational speech about the wonders of reading. “Almost every time I donate I have at least one child approach me and ask, ‘How much does this book cost?’ It brings me such joy to be able to say it’s free,” said Meagan.
“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 Ohio's honorees at the 2016 national recognition events, contact Prudential’s Harold Banks at (973) 216-4833 or firstname.lastname@example.org.