Arizona's Top Two Youth Volunteers Selected in 19th Annual National Awards Program
Scottsdale and Casa Grande students earn $1,000 awards, engraved medallions and trip to nation’s capital
Honors also bestowed on youth volunteers in Prescott, Chandler, Scottsdale and Tucson
PHOENIX--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Vedant Lahoti, 16, of Scottsdale and Tegan Homol, 12, of Casa Grande today were named Arizona's top two youth volunteers of 2014 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism. Vedant was nominated by Desert Mountain High School in Scottsdale, and Tegan was nominated by his home school in Casa Grande. The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, now in its 19th year, is conducted by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).
“By going above and beyond in their volunteer service, these students have brought positive change to communities across the country”
Vedant, a junior at Desert Mountain High School, initiated and taught a chess class for children in three Boys & Girls Club branches to help them improve their decision-making skills. Vedant learned to play chess after moving to Arizona and being bullied at his new school. “My self-esteem plummeted and I developed a stuttering problem in the third grade,” he said. The game renewed his self-confidence and helped him improve his ability to focus and deliberate.
A few years later, while volunteering at an event for foster children, Vedant realized that chess could benefit those kids, too. They “were at risk of making decisions in their lives that may significantly reduce their opportunity for success,” he said, and chess could help them “see that their choices have impacts that can easily be seen and others that need to be thought through.” So Vedant launched monthly chess camps for 15 foster children. Soon after, he began teaching a chess class for children at two Boys & Girls Club branches in a local Native American community, and expanded it to include a third branch as well, working with a total of more than 30 kids. The three branches have now incorporated Vedant’s chess program into their annual budgets. And Vedant, who is now a member of the Governor’s Youth Commission in Arizona, is working to launch similar programs at other Boys & Girls Clubs across the state.
Tegan, a home-schooled seventh-grader, helped lead an effort by her 4-H group to collect 72 pairs of prescription eyeglasses for a local optometrist to distribute to people in need in Mexico. One of Tegan’s 4-H leaders had suggested the group help the father of a fellow 4-Her collect glasses for an annual mission trip to Mexico. But before the project got off the ground, the leader passed away. Nearly two years later, Tegan’s mother suggested that the group resurrect the project. “It was important to honor our leader and show that we cared,” said Tegan.
Tegan wrote emails to friends and family to ask for their old eyeglasses, and began talking to everyone she knew about the collection effort. Then she made arrangements to pick up donated glasses. She recruited others to join in the search, and helped decorate a box for donations that was placed at the local 4-H county extension office. Tegan said this project taught her how something so simple can be so important to others. From listening to the optometrist’s stories, “I learned what it was like for someone to put a pair of glasses on and ‘see’ for the first time,” she said. “Glasses aren’t even considered a luxury here in the United States, but to a poor person in a poor country, it may be everything to them!” Tegan said she would like to travel to Mexico someday to help distribute glasses.
As State Honorees, Vedant and Tegan each will receive $1,000, an engraved silver medallion and an all-expense-paid trip in early May to Washington, D.C., where they will join the top two honorees from each of the other states and the District of Columbia for four days of national recognition events. During the trip, 10 students will be named America’s top youth volunteers of 2014.
The program judges also recognized six other Arizona students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are Arizona's Distinguished Finalists for 2014:
Robert Brown, 17, of Prescott, Ariz., a senior at Northpoint Expeditionary Learning Academy, has spent three years teaching math to GED students who speak English as a second language at the Prescott Plaza Communitaria program. At first, the language barrier was difficult, but Robert’s persistence improved his Spanish and helped many students advance their education.
Lindsey Chew, 17, of Chandler, Ariz., a senior at Hamilton High School, made thousands of origami cranes and delivered them to patients at Chandler Regional Medical Center. Lindsey, who participated in the summer Volunteen Program at Chandler, wanted to help spread joy beyond the summer, and decided to make origami cranes because Japanese legend says that one thousand paper cranes can cure illness.
Alex Dahlmann, 18, of Scottsdale, Ariz., a senior at Chaparral High School, designed and coordinated the building of an underground garden irrigation system at St. Vincent DePaul to ensure the garden could produce food for the soup kitchen. Alex, who received his Eagle Scout Award for this project, supervised a group of nearly 50 volunteers on installation day and raised more than $700 in less than one month through his “Adopt a Plant” campaign.
Mackenzie Fritz, 17, of Tucson, Ariz., a senior at Ironwood Ridge High School, has provided educational support and assistance to a refugee community since serving as a teen ambassador with the International Rescue Committee in 2012. After working with the committee, Mackenzie began tutoring young refugees, and eventually secured a grant to provide them with social and academic enrichment through field trips to libraries, museums, theater performances and zoos.
Manu Kondapi, 17, of Chandler, Ariz., a senior at Horizon Honors High School, is a passionate environmental activist who recently developed a sustainability proposal for the city of Chandler. To create her recommendations for future sustainability, Manu has conducted extensive research and analysis of sustainability programs from other cities, and is currently paving the way for a new proposal involving the environmental impact of Olympic games.
Rajet Vatsa, 17, of Scottsdale, Ariz., a senior at Brophy College Preparatory, founded the Brophy chapter of the national literacy organization buildOn, and has coordinated a number of fundraisers to bring in more than $36,000 to build schools in rural Nicaragua and Malawi. In addition to raising money, Rajet and his team of 20 teen volunteers have spent the past two years promoting the mission of buildOn, advocating for the education of people in need across the world, and traveling to help with the construction of the schools.
“We applaud each of these young people for their exemplary volunteer service,” said Prudential Chairman and CEO John Strangfeld. “They use their time and talents to make a meaningful difference in their communities, and we hope their example inspires others to do the same.”
“By going above and beyond in their volunteer service, these students have brought positive change to communities across the country,” said JoAnn Bartoletti, executive director of NASSP. “Congratulations to each and every one of them on this well-deserved honor.”
About The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards represents the United States’ largest youth recognition program based solely on volunteer service. All public and private middle level and high schools in the country, as well as all Girl Scout councils, county 4-H organizations, American Red Cross chapters, YMCAs and HandsOn Network affiliates, were eligible to select a student or member for a local Prudential Spirit of Community Award. These Local Honorees were then reviewed by an independent judging panel, which selected State Honorees and Distinguished Finalists based on criteria including personal initiative, effort, impact and personal growth.
While in Washington, D.C., the 102 State Honorees – one middle level and one high school student from each state and the District of Columbia – will tour the capital’s landmarks, meet top youth volunteers from other parts of the world, attend a gala awards ceremony at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, and visit their congressional representatives on Capitol Hill. On May 5, 10 of the State Honorees – five middle level and five high school students – will be named America’s top youth volunteers of 2014. These National Honorees will receive additional $5,000 awards, gold medallions, crystal trophies and $5,000 grants from The Prudential Foundation for nonprofit charitable organizations of their choice.
Since the program began in 1995, more than 100,000 young volunteers have been honored at the local, state and national level. The program also is conducted by Prudential subsidiaries in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Ireland, India and China. In addition to granting its own awards, The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program also distributes President’s Volunteer Service Awards to qualifying Local Honorees on behalf of President Barack Obama.
The National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) is the leading organization of and national voice for middle level and high school principals, assistant principals, and all school leaders from across the United States and more than 36 countries around the world. 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 full-color pictures of the Spirit of Community Awards program logo and medallions, click here: http://bit.ly/Xi4oFW