Arkansas' Top Two Youth Volunteers Selected in 19th Annual National Awards Program
Fayetteville and North Little Rock students earn $1,000 awards, engraved medallions and trip to nation’s capital
Honors also bestowed on youth volunteers in Greenbrier, Holiday Island, Pea Ridge and North Little Rock
LITTLE ROCK, Ark.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Rachel Deeds, 16, of Fayetteville and Riley Strube, 10, of North Little Rock today were named Arkansas' top two youth volunteers of 2014 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism. Rachel was nominated by Haas Hall Academy in Fayetteville, and Riley was nominated by Cabot Middle School South in Cabot. 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).
“This activity has changed the lives of so many children”
Rachel, a junior at Haas Hall Academy, founded a recycling program that “rescues” used school supplies from being thrown away at the end of the school year, then distributes them to students in need at more than 20 schools in three states. Rachel remembers how shocked she was five years ago when she was assisting a teacher in a first-grade classroom and discovered that many students had only one or two crayons to draw pictures. “It broke my heart to learn that this shortage of supplies did not stop with crayons, and that many students in our country are attending school without the basic supplies needed to learn,” she said.
Rachel knew that students at her school threw away still-usable supplies at the end of each year, and decided to save those items for kids whose families could not afford new school supplies. With support from her principal, teachers and a few friends, she set up collection boxes, made posters, and produced a TV commercial to encourage fellow students to recycle their used notebooks, binders and other supplies. Rachel worked with her friends over the summer in her family’s garage to sort and clean what they collected, and delivered 30 large boxes of supplies to the elementary school she had visited earlier. Since then, Rachel’s “Second Chance Supplies” program has expanded to more than 20 schools in Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. In her area alone, it has provided over 5,000 pounds of supplies worth more than $30,000 to benefit over 2,500 students.
Riley, a fifth-grader at Cabot Middle School South, helps a young girl with autism learn and perform routines during a weekly dance class for children with special needs. Riley volunteered to be a “dance buddy” four years ago when her mother’s dance studio organized a class for children with disabilities. She quickly discovered the importance of the class. It helps kids with disabilities including autism, Down syndrome, spina bifida and cerebral palsy to gain confidence, improve balance, acquire social skills and make new friends, said Riley.
Each week, Riley attends the 45-minute “I Can! Dance” class and helps her dance student learn new steps, follow directions, communicate with other dancers and develop the confidence to perform on stage. She also helps other students put their shoes on, find their spots, stay in line and take turns. To accommodate the growing number of students, Riley recruited friends to volunteer in the class, too. “This activity has changed the lives of so many children,” said Riley. “I think the buddies are the ones who are impacted the most, though. I have learned that people are all special, no matter what difference they may have.”
As State Honorees, Rachel and Riley 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 four other Arkansas students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are Arkansas' Distinguished Finalists for 2014:
Sam Harris, 17, of Greenbrier, Ark., a junior at Greenbrier High School, received a $2,500 “Food For All” grant from The Future Farmers of America and used it to fight hunger by teaching people in his community how to grow their own food. Sam, who recruited other FFA members to join him, wrote a curriculum, held workshops on container gardening and canning, and also planted a garden to provide fresh produce to local senior citizens and families in need.
Preston Hyatt, 10, of Holiday Island, Ark., a fifth-grader at Eureka Springs Middle School, is an active volunteer with both his local Rotary Club and the local chapter of Special Olympics. Preston, whose uncle is a Special Olympics athlete, has helped at fundraising events and personally raised more than $1,000 at the organization’s Polar Plunge.
Kaylee Laster, 17, of Pea Ridge, Ark., a senior at Pea Ridge High School, has collected and distributed more than 500 stuffed animals to children in need around the world with her charitable organization, “Share the Lovies.” Kaylee, who began the project in 2012 after a mission trip to Uganda, has sold handmade scarves to raise money to support her program, and has also collected gently-used stuffed animals for the cause.
Raygan Sylvester, 17, of North Little Rock, Ark., a senior at North Little Rock High School, launched several driver safety campaigns in 2010 after her brother survived a terrible car crash thanks to his seatbelt. Raygan, who found out that Arkansas ranks 46th in the U.S. in seatbelt usage, has partnered with local law enforcement and medical professionals, and has spoken to more than 1,000 students throughout the state about the importance of wearing seatbelts and how to prevent distracted driving.
“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