Erica and Elissa were named the top high school and middle level youth volunteers in Maryland in February. In addition to their cash awards, they received engraved silver medallions and an all-expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C., for this week's recognition events.
Conducted in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards were created 11 years ago by Prudential Financial, Inc. to encourage youth volunteerism and to identify and reward young role models. Since then, the program has honored more than 70,000 young volunteers at the local, state and national level.
"Erica and Elissa exemplify the spirit of community that is so important to the future of our neighborhoods, our towns and our nation," said Arthur F. Ryan, chairman and CEO of Prudential. "By honoring them, we hope not only to give them the recognition they so richly deserve, but also to inspire others to follow their example."
Erica, a junior at Glenelg Country School in Ellicott City, plans events and activities to help hospitals enhance their neonatal intensive care units (NICUs). While volunteering at a local hospital over the past few summers, Erica was struck by the stressful environment of the NICU, where babies born prematurely or with other health problems are cared for. The families of these tiny patients often face months of hospitalization and years of special needs, said Erica, plus the "unfamiliar sights, sounds and equipment as well as the busy atmosphere can be very overwhelming."
Knowing that one's environment can have a big impact on the healing process, Erica began developing a project called "Ahead of Our Time" to help make NICUs less stressful and foster good relationships between the units and the families of their patients. She has recruited schoolmates, local Girl Scout troops, and NICU staffers to help brighten the facilities with artwork and photo albums, and has raised money to support these projects. Her biggest undertaking was a reunion at the University of Maryland Hospital for "graduates" of its NICU and their families, which drew more than 200 attendees. She plans to host reunions for NICUs at other hospitals, and to expand her project eventually to include hospitals across the country.
Elissa, a sixth-grader at The Learning Community International, has provided packages of baby blankets and other infant items to hundreds of needy mothers and their newborns over the past five years. Elissa can pinpoint the beginning of her "Baby Blanket Project" to a January morning in 2000. "I was thinking about all of the things I had, and the mothers and babies all over the world who had hardly any of these things," she said. After discussing this with her mother, Elissa decided that there were six basic items that every baby should have: a blanket, bottle, bib, book, booties or socks, and a toy.
She began a letter-writing campaign seeking donations from family members, friends and others in her community. As contributions come in, Elissa shops for her six basic items, bundles them into individual packages and then contacts hospitals or other organizations that serve pregnant mothers needing financial assistance. So far, she has collected more than $2,500 and many donated supplies, enough to deliver packages to more than 300 mothers in America and Israel. "It really is a magical thing to think that you have made many people experience a little joy in their hard lives," said Elissa.
Applications for the 2006 awards program were submitted last fall through schools, Girl Scout councils, county 4-H organizations, American Red Cross chapters, YMCAs and Volunteer Centers affiliated with the Points of Light Foundation. The top middle level and high school applicants in each state and the District of Columbia were announced in February. These 102 State Honorees are in Washington this week with their parents for four days of special recognition events.
Ten of the 102 were named America's top ten youth volunteers for 2006 at the International Trade Center today. These National Honorees received additional $5,000 awards, gold medallions, crystal trophies for the schools or organizations that nominated them, and $5,000 grants from The Prudential Foundation for charities of their choice.
The ten National Honorees are:
Evan Alicuben, 17, of Hilo, Hawaii, who spearheaded a project that placed "personal emergency dialers" in the homes of nearly 50 senior citizens in his community, to enable them to call for help quickly and easily in case of emergency.
Ellie Ambrose, 12, of Nashville, Tenn., who organized an annual carnival and a five-kilometer running race called "Ellie's Run for Africa," which together have raised more than $40,000 over the past two years for sick and disadvantaged children in Africa.
Hillary Hughes, 11, of Bedford, N.H., who started a nonprofit foundation that has collected more than $11,000 worth of personal-care products and other items to distribute to needy kids in her community, poor families in Chile, tsunami victims in Asia, and hurricane victims on the U.S. Gulf Coast.
Geneva Johnson, 17, of the Bronx, N.Y., the founder and executive director of a successful youth-run organization that seeks to build pride and self-esteem among young people in the inner-city through a wide variety of service projects.
Alexander Lin, 12, of Westerly, R.I., who led a student community service group in a multifaceted project to reduce the adverse environmental impact of discarded consumer electronics - or "e-waste" - through recycling, public education and legislation.
Michelle Loke, 13, of Hartland, Wis., who conducted scientific tests to check for lead content in children's toys and jewelry, and then launched a campaign to remove lead-tainted toys from stores and ban the use of lead in these items.
Ajay Mangal, 18, of Pascagoula, Miss., who lost nearly all of his possessions when Hurricane Katrina flooded his coastal city, yet devoted himself to distributing emergency supplies to other victims immediately after the storm, and helped many families clean out their homes in the following weeks and months.
Kevin Peyton, 18, of Sac City, Iowa, who rallied residents throughout his rural county to help him make colorful wooden "barn quilts" and mount them on historic barns and other buildings, in an effort to boost the local economy by attracting more tourists.
Nicholas Schwaderer, 17, of Superior, Mont., who built and now operates a low-power FM radio station at his school that has become an important source of news and entertainment for a small, mountainous community in western Montana.
Savannah Walters, 13, of Odessa, Fla., who is waging an extensive, multi-state campaign called "Pump 'em Up" to conserve energy resources and reduce pollution by urging drivers to keep their tires property inflated and thereby burn less gasoline.
The National Honorees were chosen by a national selection committee that was co-chaired by U.S. Senators Tim Johnson of South Dakota and Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, and by Arthur Ryan of Prudential. Also serving on the committee were actor Richard Dreyfuss; Alma Powell, chair of America's Promise - The Alliance for Youth; Robert Goodwin, President and CEO of the Points of Light Foundation; Amy B. Cohen, Director of Learn and Serve America at the Corporation for National and Community Service; Kathy Cloninger, CEO of Girl Scouts of the USA; Donald T. Floyd Jr., President and CEO of National 4-H Council; Ken Gladish, National Executive Director of YMCA of the USA; David Vodila, President of NASSP; and two 2005 Prudential Spirit of Community National Honorees: Devin Cohen of Briarcliff Manor, N.Y., and Lindsey Williams of St. Joseph, Mo.
NASSP President David Vodila said, "The young people honored this year with the Prudential Spirit of Community Award exemplify the best America offers to the world. Their actions bring unity and purpose to their communities and across our great nation. Through their leadership, service and compassion, these young people bring us all closer together."
In addition to the organizations above, The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards are supported by the American Association of School Administrators, the National Middle School Association, the National School Boards Association, the Council of the Great City Schools, the National School Public Relations Association and many other national youth and service organizations.
NASSP - celebrating 90 years of excellence in school leadership - is the preeminent organization and the national voice for middle level and high school principals, assistant principals and aspiring school leaders. NASSP provides its members with the professional resources to serve as visionary leaders. NASSP promotes the intellectual growth, academic achievement, character development, leadership development, and physical well-being of youth through its programs and student leadership services. NASSP administers the National Honor Society(TM), National Junior Honor Society(TM), and National Association of Student Councils(TM).
Prudential Financial companies serve individual and institutional customers worldwide and include The Prudential Insurance Company of America, one of the largest life insurance companies in the United States. These companies offer a variety of products and services, including life insurance, mutual funds, annuities, pension and retirement-related services and administration, asset management, securities brokerage, banking and trust services, real estate brokerage franchises and relocation services. For more information, visit www.prudential.com.
(Editors: full-color pictures of the Spirit of Community Awards program logo and medallions are available at www.prudential.com/spirit.)
(Television producers: customized b-roll footage of the Maryland honorees receiving their awards will be transmitted via satellite on Monday, May 8, from 10:05 to 10:10 a.m. EDT on C-Band, AMC 3, Transponder 19, Downlink 4080 Mhz H, Audio 6.2/6.8. For more information, call Faith Armonaitis or Lauren Cardinale at 800-325-8677.)