Rhode Island's Top Two Youth Volunteers Selected in 19th Annual National Awards Program
Westerly and Johnston students earn $1,000 awards, engraved medallions and trip to nation’s capital
Honors also bestowed on youth volunteers in Hope Valley and Johnston
PROVIDENCE, R.I.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--John Perino, 15, of Westerly and Kelly Graziano, 12, of Johnston today were named Rhode Island'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. John was nominated by Westerly High School in Westerly, and Kelly was nominated by Nicholas A. Ferri Middle School in Johnston. 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 love to go to the shelter and visit the animals”
John, a sophomore at Westerly High School, co-founded an initiative that collects 4,000 gallons of used cooking oil a month from 132 restaurants and numerous residential receptacles, then converts it to a biofuel to heat the homes of families in need. Several years ago, John became aware of two issues that threatened his seaside town: a recession that caused many people to lose their jobs and rising sea levels due to global warming. “Not only were our neighbors being left in the cold, but environmental circumstances were endangering our low-lying beaches,” he said. John and several close friends began discussing and researching these problems, and hit upon a way to attack both at once.
Having learned at an energy exposition that it was possible to convert waste cooking oil into biodiesel, John and his team asked their city council to install a public waste oil receptacle at the town’s transfer station. Then, they urged residents with flyers and presentations to recycle their used cooking oil and began lobbying local restaurants to donate their oil as well. They found a biodiesel contractor to process the waste oil, and worked with local charities to identify families that needed heating assistance. John’s Project TGIF (“Turn Grease Into Fuel”) now collects oil from 132 restaurants in three states and has public receptacles in 10 towns. And over the past five years, it’s been able to donate more than $100,000 worth of biofuel to keep over 200 families warm through the winters. In addition, the project has prevented more than 2 million pounds of CO2 from being released into the atmosphere, according to John.
Kelly, a sixth-grader at Nicholas A. Ferri Middle School, organized a team of kids that has raised nearly $6,000 for the Providence Animal Rescue League, contributed her own money and birthday presents to the shelter, and volunteered at many events to support homeless and abused pets. Kelly read a book about ways young people can make a difference, and since she loves animals, decided she wanted to help the animal rescue league. “The animals there have been abandoned or abused, and they have to live in cages, so I really wanted to help them,” said Kelly. But she was too young to join the volunteer staff there, so Kelly turned to fundraising.
She asked her cousin to help her set up several lemonade stands, and that first summer, the “Lemonade Kids” raised more than $100. “I was so excited to give the shelter money, I wanted to do more,” Kelly said. Then, they participated in a fundraising walk for the shelter, which generated $800. For her birthday, Kelly asked for shelter supplies instead of personal gifts and used additional gift money to buy a mini-refrigerator for the rescue facility. As her team expanded to seven members, Kelly opened more lemonade stands, sold hot chocolate at a local business, organized fundraisers at several schools and restaurants, and conducted yard and jewelry sales, all of which yielded $5,000 for the shelter. Kelly also has helped out at numerous shelter events. “I love to go to the shelter and visit the animals,” she said.
As State Honorees, John and Kelly 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 two other Rhode Island students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are Rhode Island's Distinguished Finalists for 2014:
Jocelyn Foraker, 18, of Hope Valley, R.I., a senior at Chariho Regional High School, hosted a supply drive and collected nearly 600 “clean-up” bags filled with work gloves and hand sanitizer to be used in a Hurricane Sandy clean-up project. Jocelyn, who began volunteering with the organization Save the Bay just before Hurricane Sandy hit, also trained to be a beach clean-up leader, and organized a team that collected nearly 500 pounds of trash after the hurricane devastated the shoreline.
Amanda Young, 17, of Johnston, R.I., a senior at Cranston High School West, collected more than 1,000 pieces of gently-used clothing in her “Swap ’til You Drop” event, then distributed the donated items to the homeless and to women’s and children’s shelters. Amanda, who earned her Girl Scout Gold Award for this project, is also an active volunteer at her Girl Scout summer camps and through her church.
“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