New Jersey's Top Two Youth Volunteers Selected in 19th Annual National Awards Program
Wantage and Howell students earn $1,000 awards, engraved medallions and trip to nation’s capital
Honors also bestowed on youth volunteers in Tenafly, Port Murray, Princeton, Princeton Junction, Glen Rock and Edison
TRENTON, N.J.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Ashley Craig, 17, of Wantage and Jayne McDevitt, 13, of Howell today were named New Jersey'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. Ashley was nominated by High Point Regional High School in Sussex, and Jayne was nominated by Howell Middle School South in Howell. 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).
“There is nothing more heartwarming to me than seeing the smiling faces of young children just like Madi who are fighting their heroic battle”
Ashley, a senior at High Point Regional High School, developed an anti-bullying program that has been implemented in schools across New Jersey, and delivers presentations throughout the country to heighten awareness of bullying in schools. When Ashley was in the seventh grade, she was bullied by five older boys. “Everyday I walked into my school and faced verbal, physical and mental torment, and it was absolutely terrifying,” she said. Years later, a friend confided to Ashley that his bullying had become so intolerable that he was contemplating suicide. She immediately told a guidance counselor and her friend was taken out of school to get help. “That is when I realized that if I could save one by just being there for him, I could do it for a lot more,” said Ashley.
She spent months researching bullying, and then putting information and ideas into documents and a 75-minute PowerPoint presentation. A major part of her program is designed to provide tangible assistance to students who are being victimized at school: special texting lines students can use to report bullying and request help; bi-monthly after-school meetings to discuss bullying issues; and a school “safe room” open every morning for those who do not feel safe in the hallways. Ashley’s program also focuses on educating others on the subject of bullying; she has delivered more than 100 presentations over the past four years to students, parents, school boards and government agencies, including the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI. “I have learned that although problems may seem monumental at times, if you really work at it, anything is possible,” said Ashley.
Jayne, an eighth-grader at Howell Middle School South, helps improve the lives of young people with cancer by organizing an annual soccer marathon fundraiser in honor of a good friend who died of brain cancer. Jayne’s inspiration was her friend, Madison, who lost a 22-month battle against brain cancer in June 2012. “I witnessed firsthand how hard Madi fought, and what she went through, including losing the ability to walk, talk, write, and partake in her favorite activity, soccer,” said Jayne. “Madi’s love of soccer is what gave me, with the help of my own soccer coach, the idea of creating a charity soccer marathon in her memory.”
To organize the “Madison Beggs Kicks 4-Kids” marathon and gift auction, Jayne solicited support from friends and community members via email and social media. She then sought sponsorships and donations from local businesses and sent registration forms to soccer teams all over the state. Next, she contacted food vendors, ordered T-shirts and other items to sell, arranged for a disc jockey, planned games, and recruited a former teacher of Madison’s to run the gift auction. Thus far, Jayne has organized two soccer marathons and is now working on her third. Her efforts have raised more than $50,000, enabling her to make substantial donations to several charities that help children with cancer, including The Make-A-Wish Foundation and The Frances Foundation for Kids Fighting Cancer. “There is nothing more heartwarming to me than seeing the smiling faces of young children just like Madi who are fighting their heroic battle,” said Jayne.
As State Honorees, Ashley and Jayne 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 New Jersey students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are New Jersey's Distinguished Finalists for 2014:
Benjamin Danzger, 17, of Tenafly, N.J., a junior at Tenafly High School, is a student filmmaker who along with his brother has produced a series of documentaries following the stories of Holocaust survivors. Benjamin, who financed four films with more than $7,000 that he and his brother raised in an online Kickstarter campaign, worked with Holocaust educators and conducted in-depth research and interviews to produce the films, all with the goal of keeping the stories alive.
Caitlin Hanus, 17, of Port Murray, N.J., a senior at Morris Catholic High School, founded a homelessness awareness and services club at her school called “Crusaders in Action” when she was a freshman. Since then, Caitlin’s group has made blankets for the homeless, hosted an Empty Bowl fundraising event, and sponsored a cardboard city for which students made and slept in cardboard boxes to gain a better understanding of homelessness.
Adrian Hertel, 17, of Princeton, N.J., a senior at Princeton High School, is actively involved in helping others learn, through activities including tutoring fellow students and assisting the teacher in charge of an art program for children with autism. Recently, Adrian took his technology expertise and created Princeton Tiger Tech, a student club that provides free technical advice, service and repairs to students and faculty.
Brian Meersma, 17, of Princeton Junction, N.J., a member of The Community YMCA and a senior at West Windsor Plainsboro High School South, is an assistive technology consultant to people with disabilities, providing resources to help people who have difficulty with reading and writing. Brian, who overcame severe dyslexia, writes a popular blog, conducts presentations for parents and educators about assistive technologies, and is the only high school student advisor on the board of Bookshare, a company that produces books for people with disabilities.
Matthew Szawaluk, 17, of Glen Rock, N.J., a senior at Glen Rock High School, founded a nonprofit organization called “Rock the Plate” that has collected more than 250 pieces of gently-used baseball equipment and more than $1,500 to benefit Pitch In For Baseball, a charity that distributes Matthew’s donations to children in need. Matthew, an avid baseball player, hosted a charity Wiffle ball tournament and homerun derby in the fall of 2013 to raise the funds and donations, and plans to host another event in the future.
Nancy Woo, 17, of Edison, N.J., a junior at John P. Stevens High School, has raised more than $3,500 through two mental health awareness projects: the “Stamp Out Stigma Walk,” a charity event that Nancy directed, and “Socks for Mental Health,” to provide socks for psychiatric patients. Nancy, motivated by family tragedies, hopes to raise awareness of mental illness and eradicate the stigma associated with it.
“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