Vermont's Top Two Youth Volunteers Selected in 14th Annual National Awards Program

Hinesburg and Sheffield Students Earn $1,000 Awards, Engraved Medallions and Trip to Nation’s Capital

Honors Also Bestowed on Youth Volunteers from Lyndon Center and Waterbury

MONTPELIER, Vt.--()--Courtney Devoid, 16, of Hinesburg and Lydia Ham, 14, of Sheffield today were named Vermont's top two youth volunteers for 2009 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism. The awards program, now in its 14th year, is conducted by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).

Courtney was nominated by Mount Abraham Union High School in Bristol, and Lydia was nominated by Miller's Run School in Sheffield. 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 – one middle level and one high school youth – 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 2009 at that time.

Courtney, a junior at Mount Abraham Union High School, is a leader in a student organization that is promoting the use of “biomass” pellets as a home-heating fuel in Vermont and, in a pilot project, has installed pellet-burning stoves in the homes of four low-income families. According to Courtney, biomass pellets made from prairie grasses or other plants can lower home heating costs, reduce the effects of global warming, and generate additional business for farmers. “The use of fossil fuels is not okay with me,” she said. “We can and must use renewable energy for the good of the earth.”

Courtney’s organization, the Vermont Sustainable Heating Initiative, is made up of more than 200 students from 26 high schools and several colleges in Vermont. They’ve put together a detailed plan for producing and distributing grass-derived pellets, and for providing low-income households with the stoves to burn them. Courtney has played a key role in educating the public about the need for sustainable energy through speeches, rallies and other events, and has actively lobbied state officials to support the group’s plan. She also helped select the four homes that are taking part in the pilot program, and raised money to install pellet stoves in them. “Working to save the earth is rewarding, and I am willing to do all that it takes,” said Courtney.

Lydia, a home-schooled eighth-grader, has raised money, collected goods and worked on construction projects for an orphanage in Guatemala over the past three years. Lydia has traveled to Guatemala three times as a part of a construction team with her grandfather’s church to build duplexes at The Shadow of His Wings Orphanage, creating facilities for an additional 72 rescued girls. She helped with tiling, painting, shoveling, pouring concrete, and hauling dirt and stones. Lydia was so touched by how grateful the children were that, after she returned home, she began looking for other ways to support the orphanage.

Lydia raised money by working at a local fair, speaking to churches and schools, and contacting businesses for donations. On her birthday, she asked friends to donate clothing, school supplies, and other items for the orphans, instead of giving her presents. She also conducted a campaign that collected 400 pairs of eyeglasses to take to Guatemala. In addition, she has been taking weekly weaving lessons for the past two years so that she can be part of an instruction team on her next visit that teaches older girls in the orphanage and widows nearby a skill to support themselves. “This project has opened my eyes to what a few people can do to change the world,” Lydia said.

In addition, the program judges recognized two other Vermont students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion:

Eden Berube, 18, of Lyndon Center, a senior at Lyndon Institute, initiated “The Princess Project,” which loans gowns and tuxedos to high school students who cannot afford to purchase formalwear for their proms. Eden has collected more than 300 gowns and tuxedos and over 100 accessories for the program, which has already enabled 100 students to attend the annual prom who otherwise would have had to stay home.

Gabriela Meade, 17, of Waterbury, a senior at Harwood Union High School in South Duxbury, helped lead a $68,000 project to install more energy-efficient light bulbs throughout her school. Gabriela and a friend spent more than two years gathering research, corresponding with state agencies and nonprofits, and obtaining funding from the school board. Electricians installed 1,600 new light bulbs along with motion detectors in many classrooms last summer, which will reduce the school’s carbon emissions by 122,000 tons, according to Gabriela.

“The recipients of these awards vividly demonstrate that young people across America are making remarkable contributions to the health and vitality of their communities,” said John R. Strangfeld, chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial. “They truly deserve all of the praise and encouragement we can give them.”

“Congratulations to this year’s state winners in the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards,” stated Gerald N. Tirozzi, executive director of the National Association of Secondary School Principals. “The hard work and determination that these students have exhibited in trying to make a difference in the lives of others is remarkable.”

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. More than 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 4 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 John Strangfeld of Prudential; Larry Bradley, president of NASSP; Michelle Nunn, president and CEO of the Points of Light & Hands On Network; Marguerite Kondracke, president and CEO of the America’s Promise Alliance; Kathy Cloninger, CEO of Girl Scouts of the USA; Donald T. Floyd Jr., president and CEO of National 4-H Council; Pam 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 2008 Prudential Spirit of Community National Honorees: Kristen Allcorn of Sedalia, Mo., and Shanna Decker of Plainview, Minn.

In addition to granting its own awards, The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program will be distributing President’s Volunteer Service Awards to nearly 3,100 of its Local Honorees this year on behalf of the President’s Council on Service and Civic Participation. 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. The program is part of a broad youth-service initiative by Prudential that includes a youth leadership training program administered by the Points of Light Institute; a free booklet of volunteer ideas for young people offered through the Federal Citizen Information Center; and a website featuring profiles of outstanding youth volunteers, volunteer tips and project ideas for students, an electronic newspaper on youth volunteerism, and more ( The Spirit of Community Awards 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 or

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 or call 703-860-0200.

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Editors: Graphics depicting the award program’s logo and medallions may be downloaded from


Prudential Financial
Harold Banks, 973-802-8974


Prudential Financial
Harold Banks, 973-802-8974