Tennessee's Top Two Youth Volunteers Selected in 19th Annual National Awards Program
Nashville and Maryville students earn $1,000 awards, engraved medallions and trip to nation’s capital
Honors also bestowed on youth volunteers in Spring Hill, Rockvale, Knoxville, Brentwood, Adams and Murfreesboro
NASHVILLE, Tenn.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Ashlin Wildun, 18, of Nashville and Ryan Kirst, 15, of Maryville today were named Tennessee'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. Ashlin was nominated by Girl Scouts of Middle Tennessee in Nashville, and Ryan was nominated by Carpenters Middle School in Maryville. 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 wanted to help boys and girls learn about basketball, teamwork and sportsmanship”
Ashlin, a senior at John Overton High School, built a portable greenhouse out of 1,500 plastic bottles and used it to conduct a campaign to educate others about the benefits of growing and eating organic produce. After reading a book about the widespread use of chemicals in agriculture, Ashlin became alarmed and started researching the differences between organic and nonorganic foods. “I discovered that numerous products are more beneficial to the body if homegrown,” she said. Because organic produce costs more than many families can afford, Ashlin decided to do something that could both promote healthy eating habits and show people how to grow their own organic foods.
She found plans for a greenhouse constructed out of recycled materials and then set out to build one using a wood frame, PVC pipes and 1,500 two-liter plastic bottles. Ashlin placed collection bins at schools and other locations to collect the bottles and wrote letters to area hardware stores seeking donations of other materials. Then she found a contractor who contributed a wood frame that would fit onto her family’s trailer, and recruited a team of volunteers to help her put it all together. Ashlin transported her greenhouse to area schools to stress to students and teachers the importance of buying locally grown food, and demonstrate how they, too, could grow organic produce. She also spread her message by using social media and preparing books on how to build a greenhouse, which she distributed to local libraries. Ashlin’s greenhouse is now available year-round to families that want to grow their own produce.
Ryan, an eighth-grader at Carpenters Middle School, volunteers in several capacities to help younger kids with sports and school activities, deliver food to the hungry, and give hope to people in crisis situations. As part of a church-going family, Ryan learned early the importance of giving back. “I like helping others,” he said. So it was natural for him to volunteer as an assistant coach when he became too old to continue playing in his basketball program. “I wanted to help boys and girls learn about basketball, teamwork and sportsmanship,” said Ryan. Later, when he found out he couldn’t play football anymore because of a heart defect, he became an assistant football coach as well. At school, Ryan was asked by several teachers to be a “peer teacher,” a job that has him helping students with their studies, grading papers, running errands, and leading gym activities.
Ryan also travels on mission trips every summer with his church’s youth choir. They go to juvenile detention centers, homeless shelters and domestic violence facilities to sing songs of hope and praise. Ryan also volunteers with his mother at an anti-hunger program in his county, boxing food on Friday nights and delivering it to people in need on Saturdays. “There are so many ways to help,” said Ryan. “It makes you feel good about yourself to make a difference in people’s lives.”
As State Honorees, Ashlin and Ryan 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 Tennessee students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are Tennessee's Distinguished Finalists for 2014:
Madison Blackstock, 18, of Spring Hill, Tenn., a senior at Summit High School, founded a service project through her school’s Interact Club that provided all 150 club members with $5, along with instructions to multiply the amount and donate it to a cause they deemed worthy within the community. Madison is now planning to expand the project, called “Living a Better Story,” beyond Tennessee.
Savannah Blaylock, 17, of Rockvale, Tenn., a senior at Central Magnet School, worked with her friend to honor the 18,000 children who die from starvation every day by raising $18,000 for charity – and ended up surpassing the goal. In less than eight months, Savannah and her friend hosted lock-ins, sold T-shirts, wristbands and concessions, and raised more than $22,000, which they donated to Heifer International and an orphanage in Africa.
Alexandra Christopoulos, 17, of Knoxville, Tenn., a senior at Hardin Valley Academy, created “Project BeanSprout” in 2010 to raise awareness about the dangers of taking drugs during pregnancy and to encourage legislators to fund education programs about the problem. Alexandra, who has volunteered with the East Tennessee Children’s Hospital Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in the past, has worked with her volunteers to make and deliver homemade blankets and sheets to newborns undergoing drug withdrawal, as well as to create educational materials about the problem for middle and high schools in the area.
Carrie Deese, 17, of Brentwood, Tenn., a senior at Brentwood High School, helped to raise $59,000 over the past three years with the annual “TelForce Group Charity Golf Tournament” that she founded to benefit the Special Olympics of Williamson County. Carrie, who works closely with her father to plan the tournament, secured sponsors, helped with advertising, coordinated entertainment and food, and presented the funds to the Special Olympics.
Hannah Denson, 17, of Adams, Tenn., a senior at Rossview High School, has volunteered hundreds of hours to support organizations including The Salvation Army and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital through her church, her school Key Club and on her own. Motivated by the experiences of a friend who died from cancer, Hannah recently created and hosted a benefit concert for St. Jude that raised money for chemotherapy treatment.
Samantha Laubacher, 18, of Murfreesboro, Tenn., a senior at Blackman High School, co-founded “$18,000 for 18,000,” a project for which she and her friend raised $22,000 to honor the 18,000 children who die each year of hunger. Samantha, who donated the funds to Heifer International and the Neema House Orphanage in Africa, designed and sold T-shirts and coordinated many other fundraisers to support the cause.
“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.