New York State's Top Two Youth Volunteers Selected in 14th Annual National Awards Program

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

Honors Also Bestowed on Youth Volunteers from Albany, Bronx, East Amherst, Patterson, Pittsford, Rockville Center, Ronkonkoma and Scarsdale

ALBANY, N.Y.--()--Colin Leslie, 17, of Rye and Charlotte McKane, 13, of Oneonta today were named New York state'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).

Colin was nominated by Rye High School in Rye, and Charlotte was nominated by Oneonta Middle School in Oneonta. 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.

Colin, a junior at Rye High School, has raised more than $150,000 for the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University over the past three years by organizing an annual walkathon in his community. When he was 14, Colin began experiencing excruciating joint pain and migraine headaches. After four months of visits to many specialists, he was finally diagnosed with celiac disease, a genetic autoimmune disorder triggered by eating gluten from wheat, barley, or rye. The difficulty that doctors had in diagnosing his ailment convinced Colin that something needed to be done to increase awareness of celiac. He decided on a walkathon.

Colin contacted city officials, met with the police commissioner, and persuaded his school district to let him use his high school for the event. Then he obtained insurance, arranged for parking and shuttle buses, and began publicizing the walk by posting on blogs and websites, making posters, and contacting local support groups. About 1,000 people have come to the Colin Leslie Walk for Celiac Disease each year, not only to walk and contribute, but also to attend education sessions conducted by doctors and nutritionists, and to enjoy a gluten-free food fair. One year’s event also featured a blood screening that diagnosed more than 60 people with celiac disease. “All of the money raised will go toward promoting awareness of celiac disease and research, so that one day a cure will hopefully be found,” said Colin.

Charlotte, an eighth-grader at Oneonta Middle School, built a network of monthly donors that has enabled her to purchase more than $30,000 worth of needed supplies for organizations serving the disadvantaged in her community. Her project, called “Charlotte’s Circle,” began at age 5 when she and her grandfather spent time together wrapping loose change and then, at her father’s suggestion, used the money to buy hygiene items and cleaning supplies for people served by the Family Service Association in Oneonta.

Intrigued by the idea of helping others, Charlotte started setting aside part of her allowance and writing letters and making presentations to find additional donors. She asks her supporters to make a monthly donation, and every month she contacts charitable organizations such as the Violence Intervention Program Safe House and Catholic Charities Low Income Housing Program to determine what they need. She then goes shopping for the items, often persuading store managers to donate or discount their merchandise. After making her deliveries, Charlotte sends a detailed report to all of her donors documenting her purchases. More than 70 individuals and organizations have supported

Charlotte’s Circle, enabling her to buy $34,000 worth of supplies since 2003. “I don’t think I could be truly happy if I knew there were people living in extreme poverty and I did nothing to help them,” she said.

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

Chelsea Andersson, 17, of Ronkonkoma, a senior at Sachem North High School in Lake Ronkonkoma, undertook a project at her school to promote positive mental health by creating a display for postcards that students could send in anonymously to share their secrets and fears. When the display came down, the postcards were packaged in a book that was sold at her school, raising $500 for a national suicide-prevention hotline.

Anna Eisenstein, 17, of Patterson, a senior at Carmel High School in Carmel, created a 700-foot handicap-accessible trail in the Putnam County Land Trust’s Peach Lake Natural Area. In collaboration with a fellow student, Anna selected and marked a site for the trail, raised $15,000 for materials, obtained town approvals, recruited volunteers, and oversaw the trail’s installation.

Perri Fetner, 17, of Rockville Centre, a senior at South Side High School, has raised more than $100,000 over the past 11 years to find a cure for multiple sclerosis by leading a fund-raising team in an annual MS walkathon. Perri recruits walkers; solicits donations from neighbors, family members, friends, and local corporations; advertises her campaign; and coordinates her walk team’s effort.

Gregory Henzler, 18, of East Amherst, a member of the Erie County 4-H in East Aurora and a senior at Canisius High School in Buffalo, launched a drive that collected more than 50,000 new and gently used books for disadvantaged people in the United States and around the world. Most of the books were shipped to a village in Liberia, while others were sent to the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Namibia, and to Gregory’s local library.

Christina Johnson, 17, of the Bronx, a senior at Renaissance High School for Musical Theatre and Technology, developed a series of monthly nutrition and fitness workshops attended by more than 300 disadvantaged young women. Afterwards, Christina organized a Young Woman’s Health Day and Fitness Expo for her community to promote healthy lifestyles.

Alexander Metzger, 17, of Albany, a senior at Guilderland High School in Guilderland Center, founded a volunteer organization that has collected 13,000 pounds of unclaimed “lost-and-found” clothing from schools and summer camps over the past seven years, and delivered it to organizations serving poor or emotionally troubled kids. Alexander has recruited about 40 teenagers to help him wash the clothing before he takes it to agencies in his area that can distribute it free of charge to young people in need.

Tara Suri, 18, of Scarsdale, a senior at Edgemont Junior/Senior High School, created “Turn Your World Around,” a program dedicated to encouraging teen volunteerism and helping disadvantaged children and youth around the world. The program has raised more than $46,000 to build a dormitory at an orphanage in India, fund an arts program for daughters of sex-trafficking victims, purchase laptop computers for children, and tackle other projects.

Sujay Tyle, 15, of Pittsford, a member of the United Way of Greater Rochester and a senior at Pittsford Mendon High School, volunteers to conduct environmental research on the production of clean alternative energy, and works to spread enthusiasm for science education and research among young people. Sujay developed a technique for converting waste efficiently into bioethanol, helps produce environmental messages for the Weather Channel, and serves on the Student Advisory Board of the National Environment Education Foundation.

“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