Pennsylvania's Top Two Youth Volunteers Selected in 19th Annual National Awards Program
Pittsburgh and West Chester students earn $1,000 awards, engraved medallions and trip to nation’s capital
Honors also bestowed on youth volunteers in Chester Springs, Wexford, Bryn Mawr, McMurray, Allison Park, Phoenixville, Palmyra and Cranberry Twp.
HARRISBURG, Pa.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Alexis Werner, 18, of Pittsburgh and Nikolas Toocheck, 10, of West Chester today were named Pennsylvania'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. Alexis was nominated by Shaler Area High School in Pittsburgh, and Nikolas was nominated by Hillendale Elementary School in Chadds Ford. 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.”
Alexis, a senior at Shaler Area High School, formed a student-run organization designed to aid homeless veterans and promote greater appreciation for the sacrifices U.S. service members have made serving their country. Alexis’s stepfather returned from his final tour of duty in Afghanistan with post-traumatic stress disorder. “He was a casualty of the war,” she said. “This was undoubtedly the worst point of my life, but the most pivotal point as well.” She realized that, instead of just being upset about her family’s situation, she could take action. “This is when my nonprofit, ‘Seeds of Hope,’ sprouted. It was my turn to step up and advocate for others like my stepdad.”
Alexis’s effort encompasses three distinct projects. The first was recruiting students and other community members to plant “victory gardens.” So far, 15 gardens have yielded more than 1,000 pounds of fresh produce for organizations serving homeless veterans. The second is a children’s book that talks about the role of veterans, and encourages healthy eating and community service. A thousand copies have been given to children in Pennsylvania, and readings have been held at 15 elementary schools. Finally, “Seeds of Hope” is producing a documentary film that tells the stories of veterans who have come home over the years with post-traumatic stress disorder. “Our goal is to create a culture of empathy and understanding for what veterans deal with on a daily basis,” said Alexis.
Nikolas, a fifth-grader at Hillendale Elementary School, is on a quest to raise money to buy coats for kids in need by running marathons on each of the seven continents. Nikolas has always loved running with his dad. Over the years, as his running distances became longer, he decided to tackle marathons. Then he learned that there were marathons all over the world. “I thought, wouldn’t it be cool to run one on every continent?” Nikolas said. “And then I thought it would be awesome to help people while I do it!” Nikolas calls his campaign, “Running the World for Children.”
For as long as he can remember, Nikolas has been involved with the nonprofit Operation Warm, which was started by his grandfather 15 years ago to provide winter coats to children who otherwise might not have one. When he was very young, Nikolas would donate money from his piggy bank to the cause, help his mother shop for coats, and distribute them. But as he grew older, he wanted to do more. To begin his campaign, he stepped up his training in preparation for his first 26.2-mile run. With the help of his family, he solicits donations of $1 for every step he runs by speaking to groups, explaining his mission at races and other events, and reaching out through a website and social media. Nikolas completed his first marathon at the end of 2012 in Delaware. Since then he has run marathons in both Antarctica and Australia. His efforts so far have raised approximately $20,000, enough to buy coats for 1,000 children. “Lots of these kids haven’t ever received anything new before,” said Nikolas. “They feel special and happy with their new coat!”
As State Honorees, Alexis and Nikolas 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 eight other Pennsylvania students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are Pennsylvania's Distinguished Finalists for 2014:
John Armstrong, 18, of Chester Springs, Pa., a senior at Downingtown STEM Academy, founded “On Track,” a mentoring program to help middle school athletes stay on track academically, athletically and socially. John, a sprinter on his school’s track team, coordinated an invitational meet that raised $5,000 and was awarded a $4,000 grant that he has used to purchase iPad Minis to lead the students toward science, technology, engineering and math careers.
Calista Frederick-Jaskiewicz, 17, of Wexford, Pa., a senior at PA Distance Learning Charter School, created programs that have taken the science of paper folding – and its beneficial effect on memory, focus and small motor skills – to a whole new level as an advocate for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers. Calista, who developed an origami-based STEM curriculum called, “Investigation: Paper Engineering,” also founded “Origami Salami,” an organization with 14 student chapters all over the world where young members learn origami and combine it with community service.
Katherine Hung, 14, of Bryn Mawr, Pa., a sophomore at Radnor High School, founded the “Hats 4 Hope Foundation” in 2008 after making a fleece hat for a friend who was undergoing chemotherapy. Since then, Katherine’s charity has made and donated more than 2,000 hats to nine children’s hospitals across the country.
Casey Kirwan, 17, of McMurray, Pa., a senior at Peters Township High School, has raised $8,000 for Autism Speaks and her school district’s support programs for students with autism by organizing an annual walk and sale. Casey, motivated by a friend who has two siblings with autism, pulled together 50 fellow students to help with the events, which also included raffle baskets, a bake sale and gift items.
Kristen McGreevy, 18, of Allison Park, Pa., a senior at Hampton High School, raised more than $18,000 over the past seven years to support the Make-A-Wish Foundation by making and selling jewelry through her charity, “Beautiful Beaders.” Kristen, who chose the Make-A-Wish Foundation when a friend with leukemia was granted a wish, works with three dedicated friends who help make, promote and sell the jewelry.
Quinn Norris, 13, of Phoenixville, Pa., an eighth-grader at Academy of Notre Dame de Namur, raised $15,000 to support brain tumor research at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia by creating and coordinating the “Cupid’s Cranium” 5K on Valentine’s Day in 2013. Quinn, who recovered from brain tumor surgery when she was 4 years old, organized a committee of volunteers, recruited sponsors, and secured more than 600 walkers for the walk, which she plans to host every year.
Katelyn Schreckengast, 17, of Palmyra, Pa., a senior at Palmyra Area High School, has raised nearly $15,000 over the past three years in a variety of service roles, including as Miss Pennsylvania’s Outstanding Teen. Katelyn also has played an instrumental part in her Sunday school hunger project, “The Caring Cupboard,” for which she organizes her school’s annual can drive.
Elexa White, 13, of Cranberry Twp, Pa., a seventh-grader at Seneca Valley Middle School, has helped to raise $100,000 to benefit the American Heart Association by serving as spokesperson for its Open Your Heart Campaign in 2013. Elexa, who was born with a heart defect that was surgically corrected, helped to plan and fundraise for the annual Heart Ball and publicly shared her experiences to raise awareness about heart disease.
“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