Oklahoma's Top Two Youth Volunteers Selected in 19th Annual National Awards Program
Edmond and Oklahoma City students earn $1,000 awards, engraved medallions and trip to nation’s capital
Honors also bestowed on youth volunteers in Fort Gibson, Wright City, Muskogee and Norman
OKLAHOMA CITY--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Ashten Vincent, 17, of Edmond and Katherine Prior, 13, of Oklahoma City today were named Oklahoma'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. Ashten was nominated by Edmond North High School in Edmond, and Katherine was nominated by Girl Scouts Western Oklahoma in Oklahoma City. 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).
“the activities were so much fun and so much more interesting than my science textbook that I was inspired to learn and do more”
Ashten, a junior at Edmond North High School, formed a teen volunteer group four years ago that now includes more than 600 students who have logged more than 3,000 hours of community service. Ashten was inspired to start her group when her voice teacher tragically lost both her parents. “My friends and I rallied together to meet a need that was right in front of us,” said Ashten. “We made her meals, babysat her kids and wrote her encouraging cards.”
But Ashten didn’t want to stop there, so she started a group called “RAKIT,” “Random Acts of Kindness in Teens,” and began recruiting members. Ashten then began identifying volunteer opportunities that matched up with the interests of specific groups in her school. She found a softball league for adults with disabilities, for example, and recruited members of her school’s baseball team to work with them. RAKIT members also have visited nursing homes and made crafts for the residents, donated gas cards at convenience stores, and worked at a local food bank. Ashten also organized a basketball game that pitted high school students against community leaders to raise $1,500 for charity, and spearheaded a “28 Days of Kindness” campaign in five middle schools. “We reflect compassion and love for one another when we serve, and that then sets an example for others to follow,” said Ashten.
Katherine, a home-schooled eighth-grader, monitors the water quality in a nearby creek for a state conservation commission and educates other young people and her community about how their actions affect the waterway. Katherine became interested in environmental science while participating in Girl Scout activities. At first, it was simply a way to spend time with friends, but “the activities were so much fun and so much more interesting than my science textbook that I was inspired to learn and do more,” she said.
After taking a two-day training session, Katherine began collecting water samples at Crutcho Creek with some friends once a month, recording environmental changes, taking photos, and logging air and water temperatures. Afterwards, they take the water samples home and perform tests to analyze the chemicals in the samples. The girls also take cultures of bacteria in the water, grow them in an incubator, and report on E. coli levels in the creek. These monthly readings are entered into a database of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission’s Water Quality Division. “It’s truly inspiring to see how even little things – cleaning up trash, clearing fallen leaves from the river, using less fertilizer – can affect the chemistry of water and quality of the habitat of the stream,” said Katherine. She also presented a model at a science fair showing how storm drainage affects the creek. Katherine and two other Girl Scouts also wrote and illustrated a children’s book that teaches the importance of recycling, and donated copies to organizations that serve children.
As State Honorees, Ashten and Katherine 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 Oklahoma students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are Oklahoma's Distinguished Finalists for 2014:
Cierra Little Water Fields, 14, of Fort Gibson, Okla., a freshman at Fort Gibson High School, created and implemented Oklahoma’s first “Native Youth Summit,” a free full-day conference where 212 attendees from 19 tribal nations across the country learned about bullying and suicide prevention, health, indigenous rights and other issues of importance to their communities. Cierra, who secured $15,000 in donations and a Youth Service America grant, developed the curriculum, coordinated guest speakers, promoted the program, managed registration, and recruited volunteers to help.
Jessica Miller, 18, of Wright City, Okla., a senior at Wright City High School, created and implemented a bullying awareness and prevention program for seventh-graders. Jessica reached out to school administrators after conducting extensive research, organized an anti-bullying rally and walkathon, conducted hands-on activities to teach about cyber, physical and emotional bullying, and arranged for a presentation from a speaker from the program “I Stand for the Silent.”
Erika Vinson, 18, of Muskogee, Okla., a senior at Warner High School, created a food pantry at Warner Public Schools that collects and distributes large boxes of food for holiday meals to families in need. Erika recruited a team of volunteers, made and distributed flyers, and organizes and distributes the food boxes for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter holidays.
Kaylee Young, 17, of Norman, Okla., a member of the Cleveland County 4-H and a junior at Coach Academy, helped to coordinate the making and distribution of more than 1,800 fabric ties filled with water-absorbent material – known as “cool ties” – that helped keep people cool as they cleaned up after the tornadoes that ripped through Cleveland County. Kaylee, who has been making cool ties for the troops for the past three years, organized 52 volunteers to sew them.
“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