Virginia's Top Two Youth Volunteers Selected in 19th Annual National Awards Program
McLean and Stafford students earn $1,000 awards, engraved medallions and trip to nation’s capital
Honors also bestowed on youth volunteers in Bristow, Manassas, Yorktown, Glen Allen and Virginia Beach
RICHMOND, Va.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--William Thomas, 15, of McLean and Tomas Nichols, 12, of Stafford today were named Virginia'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. William was nominated by Gonzaga College High School in Washington, D.C., and Tomas was nominated by H. H. Poole Middle School in Stafford. 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.”
William, a freshman at Gonzaga College High School, has raised more than $100,000 for charities supporting U.S. Special Operations Forces by shooting basketballs, while rallying thousands of individuals and organizations to join his cause. William was playing basketball at his home in August 2011 when he heard the news that a helicopter carrying 30 American servicemen had been shot down in Afghanistan. To honor the fallen heroes, he proposed shooting thousands of baskets over Labor Day weekend, and his father pledged to donate a penny for each shot he made. As word spread, pledges came in from other family members, friends and strangers. William collected $50,000 by sinking 20,317 baskets in 50 hours.
Since then, William has held several more “shooting challenges” and developed his “Operation Hawkeye” into a wide-ranging effort to support Special Operations Forces (SOF) and their families, and to focus attention on their sacrifices. He has assembled a network of basketball players and coaches, companies, nonprofits and others who are committed to his mission; built a website and leveraged social media to encourage support for the SOF community; and attracted donations of money, products and services totaling more than $100,000 for the benefit of SOF charities. “We are helping those serving in SOF, and those that have lost a loved one,” said William. “They know we care, that they have our support and gratitude, and that we will remember these SOF heroes.”
Tomas, a sixth-grader at H.H. Poole Middle School, has led a team that’s raised more than $55,000 since 2008 by participating in the Leukemia Lymphoma Society’s annual fundraising walk in Fredericksburg. Tomas, who had leukemia, said “the treatment for me was really hard and long and painful. I didn’t want anyone else to go through that.”
Just a month after being diagnosed in 2007, Tomas went to his first “Light the Night” walk and decided to form a team of family members, friends and neighbors the following year. Now, every year, he knocks on doors in his neighborhood to seek support, operates summer lemonade stands, participates in radio interviews and commercials, and stands outside stores to raise awareness of leukemia. And every year, his Team Tomas has been the Fredericksburg event’s top fundraising team. The money raised contributes to the search for what Tomas hopes will one day be a “one pill” cure for blood cancer.
As State Honorees, William and Tomas 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 Virginia students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are Virginia's Distinguished Finalists for 2014:
Katelyn Blakely, 18, of Bristow, Va., a senior at Osbourn Park High School, founded “Kids Just Like Us,” a nonprofit organization that has raised $30,000 in two years with its annual “Swim-A-Lap” event and other projects to benefit children in foster care in Prince William County. Katelyn, who serves on the board of directors with her family, has donated the funds to provide the children with Christmas gifts, athletic fees, camps and college scholarships.
Taylor Campbell, 17, of Manassas, Va., a senior at Stonewall Jackson High School, founded “Ready, Set, Read! The Race to Literacy” in 2007 to inspire second-graders to read through a unique incentive program. Several years after starting her program, Taylor moved out of the classroom and took her program directly to a homeless shelter to provide resources and encouragement to kids in their home environment.
Jenna Crumley, 13, of Virginia Beach, Va., a seventh-grader at Kemps Landing Magnet School, has helped to raise nearly $10,000 by making and selling art items to create awareness and support for St. Mary’s Home for Disabled Children. Jenna, who formed the group with several friends, has used the funds they have raised since 2009 to support enrichment programs like museum tours and special outings.
Sandra Edwards-Thro, 18, of Yorktown, Va., a senior at York High School, spent three summers as an English tutor in Haiti and founded “Project Rive,” a community computer center in a rural Haitian village -- a project that earned her a seat on the board of directors for the educational technology organization Unleash Kids. Sandra raised more than $4,000 through babysitting and car washes to help fund the purchase of 10 computers and other equipment, and then traveled to Haiti to build out the resource room.
Davina Seoparsan, 17, of Glen Allen, Va., a senior at J.R. Tucker High School, has worked tirelessly since 2008 to bring awareness to the issues of teen depression and suicide prevention, and started a foundation called “Together We Can Celebrate Life.” Davina, who first became an advocate for a friend who contemplated suicide, began coordinating peer counseling groups which grew into public speaking engagements and the writing and distribution of a booklet on the topic of suicide signs and prevention.
Taylor Wichtendahl, 17, of Virginia Beach, Va., a senior at First Colonial High School, started “Autism Buddies,” a nonprofit organization that provides respite for parents of children with autism by pairing their kids with volunteer buddies for recreational events. Taylor, who coordinates the events with the Tidewater Autism Society, hosts a weekly event at a local bounce house, and summer kayaking days in cooperation with a local kayaking club.
“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.