SPRINGFIELD, Ill.--()--Janice Guzon, 16, of Hoffman Estates and Emily Koulis, 14, of Channahon today were named Illinois' top two youth volunteers for 2010 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism. The awards program, now in its 15th year, is conducted by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).
“Anything is possible if you work hard, play hard, and care about your community”
Janice was nominated by Saint Viator High School in Arlington Heights, and Emily was nominated by Minooka Junior High School in Minooka. As State Honorees, 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 several days of national recognition events. Ten of them will be named America’s top youth volunteers for 2010 at that time.
Janice, a senior at Saint Viator High School, founded an international mission called “EYEsee” that collects used eyeglasses for impoverished people in less-developed countries, and distributed more than 7,000 pairs her first year. “Significant portions of the world’s population continue to suffer from poor vision because they cannot afford the cost of a simple pair of eyeglasses,” said Janice, who has vision problems of her own due to diabetes. “Yet more than 4 million pairs of unused eyeglasses are thrown away in the U.S. each year.”
Janice recruited family members, friends, and classmates to help her plan and implement collection drives last year from January through May. To promote the activities, she developed a brochure, published a monthly newsletter, and built a website (www.eyeseemission.org). She and her fellow volunteers then produced collection boxes, posters, and T-shirts, and found 15 churches, two schools, and two senior homes to host the drives. During the summer, they sorted and washed all of the recycled eyeglasses, measured and recorded their optical power, and shipped them to four humanitarian organizations that Janice had identified as ideal distribution partners. The result: more than 7,000 people received the gift of corrected sight in Haiti, Honduras, the Philippines, Venezuela, Congo, and a couple of Pacific island nations. “We have set our sights to collect 14,000 eyeglasses in the 2010 campaign,” Janice said proudly.
Emily, an eighth-grader at Minooka Junior High School, played a leadership role in planning and managing a Girl Scout camp last year that promoted outdoor exercise and encouraged a charitable mindset among second- through fifth-grade girls. “I wanted to share with younger girls the fun and excitement of camping and giving back to the community,” said Emily, who has been an active Girl Scout since she was in kindergarten.
Along with four other scouts, Emily planned camp activities, meals, registration procedures, decorations, publicity, sleeping accommodations, budgets, and volunteer coordination. Emily suggested a Harry Potter theme for the camp, and pushed to add a couple of charitable projects – a hat, scarf, and mitten drive that benefited local shelters, and a letter-writing/greeting card campaign for the Make a Child Smile Organization, which provides emotional support to children with chronic or life-threatening illnesses. Emily said the camp was designed to work in many different locations, and hopes that many more girls will be able to benefit from it in the future. “Anything is possible if you work hard, play hard, and care about your community,” Emily said.
In addition, the program judges recognized eight other Illinois students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion:
Amanda Bartelson, 17, of St. Charles, a senior at St. Charles North High School, started a service club at her school when she was a sophomore to aid the poor. Her group has sold T-shirts throughout the community to raise money for AIDS medication in developing nations, volunteered at an international hunger-relief organization, conducted schoolwide campaigns to educate students about poverty issues, and participated in the Chicago Walk for AIDS Awareness.
Dylan Conn, 18, of Lake Villa, a senior at Grayslake North High School in Grayslake, created and maintains a Facebook group dedicated to saving premature babies, which has more than 380,000 members and has raised more than $17,000 for the March of Dimes. Dylan, whose inspiration comes from a young friend who was born prematurely, also chairs the national Social Media Volunteer Leadership Committee for the March of Dimes.
Lisa Koenig, 18, of Hoffman Estates, a senior at William Fremd High School in Palatine, created the “Thai Your Shoes Foundation” in 2008 to benefit children at the Baan Jing Jai Orphanage in Pattaya, Thailand. Lisa has raised more than $7,500 through multiple fund-raising events, and collected several hundred pounds of shoes, clothing, toys, and school supplies for the orphans.
Melissa Lukasiewicz, 18, of St. Charles, a volunteer with the Fox River Chapter of the American Red Cross and a senior at St. Charles North High School, started her area’s first High Schools Against Cancer chapter, and initiated an American Cancer Society Relay for Life event in her town. In addition to chairing the Relay event, which raised more than $86,000 in two years, Melissa also chaired the regional Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk, which raised more than $130,000.
Mary McGlynn, 16, of Belleville, a junior at Althoff Catholic High School, co-founded a nonprofit organization that has distributed 2,400 malaria bed nets to poor townspeople in Uganda since 2007. Mary wrote a grant proposal, created a website (www.networkagainstmalaria.org), made and sold jewelry, and solicited donations to raise $30,000 to purchase and distribute the nets with the help of volunteers in both the U.S. and Uganda.
Francesca Pelusi, 17, of Bloomington, a senior at Bloomington High School, established a “Gay Straight Alliance” in 2008 in an effort to reduce harassment of gay and lesbian students and to promote diversity. Francesca’s group has conducted numerous activities to educate students about gay and social justice issues, and now boasts more than 100 gay and straight members.
Ellen Wildman, 15, of Geneva, a sophomore at Geneva Community High School, has raised more than $30,000 since 2003 through an annual two-day block and bake sale to support the Lazarus House for the homeless. Ellen collects donations from the community and recruits more than 50 volunteers to work at the sale, which has become a major community event featuring entertainment, food, and a raffle, in addition to sale items.
Linda Zhou, 18, of Chicago, a senior at Lakeview High School, is a passionate and active volunteer with the youth-led anti-violence group, Chain of Change. Since joining the group in 2007, Linda has raised awareness about the devastating effects of violence by interacting with government officials, distributing information at schools and colleges, and rallying for peace at numerous social and awareness events.
“People as caring and committed as these young students are critical to the future of our neighborhoods, our cities and our nation,” said John R. Strangfeld, chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial. “By recognizing these honorees, we hope to encourage other young people – our future leaders – and all Americans to think more about the value and importance of volunteering in their communities.”
“The young people recognized by the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards demonstrate an enormous capacity for giving and reaching out to those in need,” said Gerald N. Tirozzi, executive director of the National Association of Secondary School Principals. “NASSP is proud to honor these student leaders because they are wonderful examples of the high caliber of young people in our nation’s schools today.”
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 affiliates of HandsOn Network, were eligible to select a student or member for a local Prudential Spirit of Community Award this past November. Nearly 5,000 Local Honorees were then reviewed by an independent judging panel, which selected State Honorees and Distinguished Finalists based on criteria such as personal initiative, creativity, effort, impact and personal growth.
While in Washington, D.C., the 102 State Honorees will tour the capital’s landmarks, attend a gala awards ceremony at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, and visit their congressional representatives on Capitol Hill. In addition, 10 of them – five middle level and five high school students – will be named National Honorees on May 3 by a prestigious national selection committee. These 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.
Serving on the national selection committee will be Strangfeld of Prudential; Steven Pophal, president of NASSP; Michelle Nunn, president and CEO of the Points of Light Institute & Hands On Network; Marguerite Kondracke, president and CEO of the America’s Promise Alliance; Donald T. Floyd Jr., president and CEO of National 4-H Council; Pamela Farr, the American Red Cross’ national chair of volunteers; Elson Nash, associate director for project management at the Corporation for National and Community Service; Michael Cohen, president and CEO of Achieve, Inc.; and two 2009 Prudential Spirit of Community National Honorees: Shardy Camargo of Orlando, Fla., and Colin Leslie of Rye, N.Y.
In addition to granting its own awards, The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program will distribute President’s Volunteer Service Awards to more than 2,800 of its Local Honorees this year on behalf of President Obama. The President’s Volunteer Service Award recognizes Americans of all ages who have volunteered significant amounts of their time to serve their communities and their country.
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards represent the United States’ largest youth recognition program based solely on volunteer service. Since the program began in 1995, more than 90,000 young volunteers nationwide have been honored at the local, state or national level. Many prominent public figures have assisted in saluting these honorees over the years, including President Jimmy Carter, Barbara Bush, Magic Johnson, John Glenn, Madeleine Albright, Rudy Giuliani, Whoopi Goldberg, Colin Powell, Peyton Manning, Duchess of York Sarah Ferguson and Laura Bush. The program also is conducted by Prudential subsidiaries in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Ireland.
For information on all of this year’s Prudential Spirit of Community State Honorees and Distinguished Finalists, visit spirit.prudential.com.
In existence since 1916, the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) is the preeminent organization of and national voice for middle level and high school principals, assistant principals, and aspiring school leaders from across the United States and more than 45 countries around the world. NASSP’s mission is to promote excellence in school leadership. The National Honor Society ®, National Junior Honor Society ®, National Elementary Honor Society™, and National Association of Student Councils ® are all NASSP programs. For more information about NASSP, located in Reston, Va., visit www.principals.org or call 703-860-0200.
Prudential Financial, Inc. (NYSE: PRU) is a financial services leader with operations in the United States, Asia, Europe, and Latin America. Leveraging its heritage of life insurance and asset management expertise, Prudential is focused on helping approximately 50 million individual and institutional customers grow and protect their wealth. In the United States, the company’s Rock symbol is an icon of strength, stability, expertise and innovation that has stood the test of time. Prudential's businesses offer a variety of products and services, including life insurance, annuities, retirement-related services, mutual funds, investment management, and real estate services. For more information, please visit www.news.prudential.com.
Editors: Graphics depicting the award program’s logo and medallions may be downloaded from spirit.prudential.com.