Texas' Top Two Youth Volunteers Selected in 19th Annual National Awards Program
Corpus Christi and Fort Worth students earn $1,000 awards, engraved medallions and trip to nation’s capital
Honors also bestowed on youth volunteers in Midland, Bellaire, Irving, Austin, New Braunfels, Paris, Southlake, Katy and Arlington
AUSTIN, Texas--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Sarita Damaraju, 15, of Corpus Christi and William Lourcey, 11, of Fort Worth today were named Texas' top two youth volunteers of 2014 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism. Sarita was nominated by W.B. Ray High School in Corpus Christi, and William was nominated by the Volunteer Center of North Texas in Dallas. 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).
“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.”
Sarita, a senior at W.B. Ray High School, spearheaded a fitness campaign, “Mission FitPossible,” to promote healthy eating habits and exercise in local elementary schools. In 2010, Men’s Health magazine named Corpus Christi “the fattest city in America,” a designation that shocked Sarita and prompted her to act. “Childhood obesity has more than tripled in the last 30 years,” she said. “Children who are obese when they are younger are more than likely to be obese when they are adults and therefore are at a risk of many health problems like heart disease, diabetes mellitus, stroke, sleep apnea, etc.”
Sarita began by recruiting a core team of students to develop a 10-week contest in which district elementary school students competed against each other to become fit. After gaining the support of the city’s mayor and superintendent of schools, who awarded “Mission FitPossible” a grant, Sarita’s team gave each elementary student a baseline survey to log exercise time, food choices, recreational activities and sleep habits. Sarita kept the students motivated with a dance routine, stop-motion movie and music video. At the end of the contest, results were analyzed and winners received prizes such as soccer balls and jump ropes. “Mission FitPossible” also created a booth promoting healthy foods and lifestyles at local health fairs. When the group learned that the school district’s budget could not provide adequate equipment for elementary school physical education programs, it organized a 5K run/3K walk that attracted 800 participants and raised $25,000. Sarita’s group also has worked with a children’s hospital to study the effects of obesity on adolescents and has presented the research at national health conferences.
William, a fifth-grader at Trinity Valley School, is the founder and CEO of a service group that organizes fun events to raise money and awareness to fight hunger, and to encourage young people to get involved in their community. When Will was 7, he saw a man on the street with a sign that read: “Need a Meal.” “I got really sad inside,” he said. “I knew I needed to do something. I made a plan, gathered friends, and set out to change my community.”
Many of the events organized by Will’s group are baseball, softball, soccer, dodgeball and other sports contests played by kids who recruit sponsors to pledge cash donations for every hit or goal they make. The money raised has provided more than 120,000 meals to the hungry through a local food bank. The group also has packed 14,000 backpacks with food for hungry children, distributed food to 2,000 families through a mobile food pantry, and participated in a variety of other service projects. More than 1,000 kids in north Texas have taken part in Will’s group’s activities. “I might be a little kid,” said Will, “but I am a little kid making a big difference. Other kids can, too!”
As State Honorees, Sarita and William 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 ten other Texas students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are Texas' Distinguished Finalists for 2014:
Wilson Clark, 17, of Midland, Texas, a junior at Robert E. Lee High School, founded “Toys for Cops” in 2011 and has since collected more than 700 toys for the local sheriff’s office to distribute to children in crisis situations. Wilson secured corporate sponsors and drop-off locations for his toy donations and will soon begin collecting monetary donations through its new website.
Samuel Collins, 17, of Bellaire, Texas, a senior at Robert M. Beren Academy, founded “Recycle, Educate And Donate (R.E.A.D.),” a nonprofit organization through which he has collected and donated more than 60,000 books for thousands of Head Start students in the Houston area. Samuel, who began the project in 2009, has partnered with the Houston Rockets in their citywide reading program, helped build libraries in public housing facilities, and provided books for monthly reading programs led by AmeriCorp volunteers.
Cullen Corr, 15, of Irving, Texas, a sophomore at Episcopal School of Dallas, built a special “teen room” for the teenagers staying at a local homeless shelter, and then founded “Kids Helping Kids,” a nonprofit organization that raises money and organizes activities and tutoring sessions at the shelter. Since 2011, Cullen and his group of volunteers have raised more than $25,000 toward the purchase of a transportation van for the teens, and have encouraged nine local schools and hundreds of volunteers to join the project.
Richmond Dewan, 18, of Austin, Texas, a senior at Hyde Park Baptist School, is the executive producer of “TEDxYouth@Austin,” a community event aimed at inspiring young people to help change the world that is produced for both a live and a streaming audience. Richmond, who began the project in 2011 with a friend, oversees the program communications, video production, logistics, speakers and website.
Hannah Hullender, 18, of Arlington, Texas, a senior at Arlington High School, raised more than $20,000 with an intensive letter-writing campaign to support the Cinderella Charity Ball, which benefit the Boys & Girls Clubs of Arlington. Hannah was selected by the organization as one 20 fundraising advocates for the ball.
Ashlynn Martz, 17, of New Braunfels, Texas, a junior at Canyon Lake High School, founded the Comal County Courthouse K-9 Therapy Dog Program to help other children experiencing the same courtroom anxiety she felt after she was the victim of a crime. Ashlynn and her trained therapy dog, Diesel, provide on-site comfort to young children during court proceedings, and teach others throughout Texas about the benefits of therapy dogs.
Sahil Prakash, 12, of Paris, Texas, a seventh-grader at Crockett Intermediate School, founded “Project BIKE - Preventing Bike Injuries Keeping Everyone Safe” after a local child was injured in a bike accident. Sahil raised more than $5,000 in cash and in-kind donations, distributed 200 bicycle helmets, held bicycle safety clinics, created a website with safety education resources, and produced a bike safety DVD for local schools.
Emma Scheffler, 18, of Southlake, Texas, a senior at Carroll Senior High School, founded “Insulin Angels” in 2009, after her own Type 1 diabetes diagnosis, to help other newly-diagnosed children cope with the news. Emma, who recently trained eight other young diabetics to serve as “angels,” created a logo, packaged gift bags and created an awareness brochure to distribute to newly-diagnosed patients at Children’s Medical Center in Dallas.
Bridgit Sillman, 17, of Katy, Texas, a senior at Seven Lakes High School, held a charity golf outing and raised more than $30,000 to support the family of a Houston Fire Department captain who was severely injured in a fire. It took Bridgit just five weeks to plan the event, which involved recruiting a large volunteer force and generous sponsors.
Kylie Wade, 18, of Arlington, Texas, a senior at Lamar High School, raised more than $48,000 to support the Boys & Girls Clubs of Arlington as a Cinderella Candidate for its annual Cinderella Charity Ball. Kylie was selected as part of an intensive application process to serve as one of 20 Cinderella Candidates, each helping to raise money for this annual event.
“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