Connecticut's Top Two Youth Volunteers Selected in 19th Annual National Awards Program
Hamden and Milford students earn $1,000 awards, engraved medallions and trip to nation’s capital
Honors also bestowed on youth volunteers in Wallingford, South Windsor, Waterford and Ridgefield
HARTFORD, Conn.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Alec Gewirtz, 18, of Hamden and David Albright, 13, of Milford today were named Connecticut'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. Alec was nominated by Hopkins School in New Haven, and David was nominated by St. Mary School in Milford. 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).
“I try to tell people that I am doing this”
Alec, a senior at Hopkins School, created a website specifically for teenagers with autism after volunteering as a peer mentor and interning in neuroscience laboratories that are researching the disorder. Alec says he became interested in autism when he realized that people “who outwardly look just like us can be such troubled members of the human family – and through no fault of their own, must endure harsh difficulties in ordinary daily living. The combination of our shared humanity and the poignant troubles of their lives inspired me to want to do something to help.”
In 10th grade, Alec served as a peer mentor in a social skills group for teenagers with autism at the Yale Child Study Center. The following two summers, he worked on studies of potential long-term treatments for autism in labs at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine and the Yale center. That’s when he came up with the idea for a website that could give teenagers with autism low-stress and risk-free opportunities to socialize online. “Feeling the social isolation of their lives at a time when my peers and I were alive with friends on social media, I concluded that autistic teens could benefit enormously from social media that was sensitive to their needs,” he said. The site, at www.speakeasyteen.org, provides a way to discuss and get help with relationships, school work and recreational activities, letting users interact safely with kids like themselves and socialize at their own pace. When he introduced it to the Yale center’s social skills group, “I cannot describe the joy I felt to see the kids’ excitement about the site and the possibilities it opened,” said Alec.
David, an eighth-grader at St. Mary School, has baked thousands of muffins over the past five years for homeless people who spend freezing nights in a local shelter. One day when his family was donating clothing to the shelter, David saw a man trying unsuccessfully to keep snow from blowing into his pickup truck through a broken window. His mother told him the man was unable to stay at the shelter, and so he had to ride out the snow storm in his truck. “This made me very sad,” said David. He wanted to do something to help. When he later learned that the shelter, which is usually full in the winter, had a program that provides temporary shelter – but nothing else – to additional homeless people on freezing nights, he began baking muffins.
At first, David occasionally made a few dozen muffins and delivered them to the shelter to be distributed in the morning. Sometimes he would meet the recipients of his generosity, and hear how much they appreciated it. Now, David delivers muffins to the shelter almost every week, and he’s recruited his friends to bake muffins once a month. He estimates that he’s made more than 5,000 muffins since he began at age 8. “I try to tell people that I am doing this,” said David. “I want them to be aware that small gestures can make a big difference in people’s lives.”
As State Honorees, Alec and David 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 Connecticut students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are Connecticut's Distinguished Finalists for 2014:
Junhui Liu, 18, of Wallingford, Conn., a senior at Choate Rosemary Hall, founded the “Choate Teach Music Club,” a group of 30 music students from her boarding school that teaches students at a nearby elementary school about the joys of instrumental music. Junhui, who has hosted two annual recitals since the program began in 2013, coordinates the weekly music program featuring violin, cello, trumpet, drum, ukulele, guitar, piano, recorder and flute.
Samantha Petersen, 16, of South Windsor, Conn., a home-schooled junior, founded “SHIFT Scoliosis,” a nonprofit organization that has raised more than $13,000 and provided resources for children with scoliosis in more than 50 countries. Samantha, who had surgery to correct her own scoliosis, has provided 300 Pillow Pets, 50 blankets, 100 worry stones and other items to kids with the condition, and created informational campaigns to increase awareness.
Nisha Rajamohan, 16, of Waterford, Conn., a junior at Waterford High School, raised $6,000 for Shriners Hospital in Massachusetts by creating and coordinating a charity tennis tournament. Nisha, who is the top singles tennis player at her school, wears a prosthetic arm due to a genetic condition, and said she wanted to give back to Shriners Hospital for all it has done to help her live a normal, active life.
Michael Rosamilia, 18, of Ridgefield, Conn., a senior at Ridgefield High School, has raised more than $75,000 to benefit the Ridgefield Playhouse by planning and implementing an annual benefit concert, “The Ridgefield Bandjam,” for the past five years. In addition to supporting the playhouse, Michael’s efforts have also helped increase exposure for talented musicians from the 60 bands that have performed in the concert over the years.
“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