WASHINGTON--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Amanda LaMunyon, 14, of Enid, Okla., was named one of America’s top ten youth volunteers for 2009 in a ceremony today at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, winning a national Prudential Spirit of Community Award for her outstanding volunteer service. Selected from a field of close to 20,000 applicants across the country, she received a personal award of $5,000, an engraved gold medallion, a crystal trophy for her school, and a $5,000 grant from The Prudential Foundation for the nonprofit charitable organization of her choice.
Also honored in Washington was Daniel Bates, 15, of Chickasha. He and Amanda were named Oklahoma’s top youth volunteers in February, and were officially recognized last night at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, along with the top two youth volunteers of every other state and the District of Columbia. At that event, all of the Prudential Spirit of Community State Honorees for 2009 were presented with $1,000 awards, and congratulated by former First Lady Laura Bush. The honorees also received engraved silver medallions and an all-expense-paid trip with their parents to Washington, D.C., for this week’s recognition events.
“The young people receiving these awards genuinely care about making a difference in the lives of others and have accomplished so much – in their own communities and around the world,” said Mrs. Bush, who delivered the keynote address at last night’s ceremony. “I thank and congratulate them for their outstanding volunteer work. Students with this kind of commitment and leadership ability are essential to the future of our nation.”
Amanda, an eighth-grader at Oklahoma Bible Academy, performs at charitable events, sells cards and prints of her paintings to raise money for sick children, and draws upon her experience with autism to educate others about the disorder. After Amanda was diagnosed at age 8 with Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism, her parents encouraged various activities to find something that would help her focus. “Thankfully, they found that I could paint, and I learned to focus on something I loved,” Amanda said. She discovered she had the ability to help others when she gave one of her paintings to a former teacher who had cancer, and later learned that it had greatly lifted her spirits while she was dying. “I couldn’t believe something I had done meant so much,” she said. “This changed the entire direction of my life.”
Amanda now paints her impressions of songs she likes, and contributes her artistic, singing, and speaking talents to a wide variety of causes. She has participated in many events for the Children’s Miracle Network and other charities, created a website to sell copies of her artwork for the benefit of children’s health programs (www.amandalamunyon.com), and performed at nursing homes. She also has spoken to United Nations delegates to promote awareness of autism. “I do not look at myself as a person with a disability,” said Amanda. “I see myself as someone with something to give.”
Daniel, a freshman at Chickasha High School, organized an annual charity bicycle ride that has raised nearly $12,000 to benefit the Children’s Miracle Network after that nonprofit organization came to Daniel’s rescue in a medical emergency. In 2004, Daniel shattered his leg in a motorcycle accident and was taken to five different hospitals in search of a surgeon who could repair the damage. Finally, “I underwent an intricate and delicate surgery that was performed by a surgeon brought in from out of state by Children’s Miracle Network,” he said. Following his surgery, Daniel had to spend hours a day pedaling a stationary bike to keep his leg muscles in shape, and soon became an avid cyclist.
Grateful to the Children’s Miracle Network for its role in his recovery, Daniel decided to return the favor by organizing a bicycle ride to raise money for the network’s programs. Daniel put together a plan, sold sponsorships to local businesses, distributed entry forms to bike shops throughout Oklahoma, and advertised his event in the newspaper, on radio, and on the Internet. He asked local law enforcement officials to help with safety issues, and recruited his family and Boy Scout troop to assist with logistics. He also persuaded a local Wal-Mart store to supply food, drinks and door prizes, so that all entry fees could be used for children’s medical care. Last year, nearly 100 bicyclists participated in Daniel’s “Survivor Ride.” “I have found through my own experiences that when my focus is on others and not on myself, it is then that I realize how truly blessed I am,” said Daniel.
“Amanda and Daniel are inspiring examples of young Americans who care deeply about the needs of others and who have taken the initiative to help meet those needs,” said John R. Strangfeld, Chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial, Inc. “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.”
Nearly 20,000 young people submitted applications for the 2009 awards program last fall through schools, Girl Scout councils, county 4-H organizations, American Red Cross chapters, YMCAs and affiliates of the Points of Light Institute’s HandsOn Network. The top middle level and high school applicants in each state were selected as State Honorees in February, and were flown to Washington this week with their parents for four days of special recognition events.
Ten of the 102 State Honorees were named America’s top ten youth volunteers for 2009 at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce headquarters 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 ceremony can be viewed at http://spirit.prudential.com.]
In addition to Amanda, the other National Honorees are:
Brittany Bergquist, 18, of Norwell, Mass., who co-founded a nonprofit organization that has purchased nearly 700,000 prepaid phone cards worth $2.5 million for American servicemen and women throughout the world – by recycling used cell phones. Working with her younger brother, Brittany developed a website to solicit donated phones, recruited volunteers in all 50 states and Canada to set up collection sites, and secured a large donation and other assistance from a phone company.
Jeremy Bui, 18, of Enfield, Conn., who founded the Viet-Sun Foundation with his two brothers to help educate poor Vietnamese children. Their activities so far have raised enough money to fund elementary-school scholarships for six children and buy a year’s worth of textbooks and school supplies for four other students in Vietnam, where Jeremy’s parents grew up.
Shardy Camargo, 18, of Orlando, Fla., who led 40 high school students in writing and publishing a book about homeless people, after experiencing homelessness herself a few years earlier. The students interviewed 30 adults at a local homeless shelter and drafted chapters to tell their stories. Then Shardy spent months editing the manuscript, and after it was published, she arranged book signings at local libraries and spoke at service-learning conferences.
Colin Leslie, 17, of Rye, N.Y., who organized an annual walkathon in his community that has raised more than $150,000 over the past three years to benefit people who suffer from celiac disease, a genetic disorder triggered by the gluten in wheat, barley and rye products. About 1,000 people have come to Colin’s event each year, not only to walk and contribute, but also to learn about celiac disease and enjoy a gluten-free food fair.
Morgan Mariner, 13, of Douglas, Wyo., who has conducted a vigorous campaign over the past three years against the problem of bullying in schools. Since she began speaking frequently on the subject at schools and community meetings, Morgan has influenced many of her friends to join her cause and has seen her school district take a more serious stance against bullying.
Melissa Monette, 16, of Mililani, Hawaii, who founded a nonprofit organization that has provided more than 13,000 pounds of fresh produce and canned goods to low-income senior citizens and homeless people over the past two years. She also arranged for nutritionists to speak to senior citizens about healthy eating, and developed a monthly aerobic exercise program to help the seniors stay in shape.
Sean Nathan, 14, of Shreveport, La., who throws birthday parties every month for children staying at a local homeless shelter. At each “Providence House Birthday Bash,” he and his brother serve pizza and cake, organize games, play music, and give out presents that they pay for by giving musical performances at functions around town.
Shelby Romero, 12, of Hutto, Tex., who organized a charity bicycle ride and other events that have raised nearly $400,000 over the past three years for a horseback-riding therapy center for disabled children. The money has enabled the riding center to build a covered arena and to provide scholarships to children who cannot afford therapy.
Beatrice Thaman, 12, of Toledo, Ohio, who started a donation and fund-raising drive to provide vitamin tablets for malnourished children in Guatemala. She has asked drug manufacturers and local retailers for free tablets, raised funds at public events, and even used some of her own Christmas gift money to buy vitamins. So far, Beatrice has collected 175,000 vitamins, a year’s supply for more than 500 Guatemalan children.
The national selection committee that chose the ten National Honorees was chaired by John Strangfeld of Prudential. Also serving on the committee were Larry Bradley, president of NASSP; Michelle Nunn, president and CEO of the Points of Light & HandsOn 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; 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 2008 Prudential Spirit of Community National Honorees: Kristen Allcorn of Sedalia, Mo., and Shanna Decker of Plainview, Minn.
Conducted in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards were created 14 years ago by Prudential Financial, Inc. to encourage youth volunteerism and to identify and reward young role models. Since then, the program has honored nearly 90,000 young volunteers` at the local, state and national level.
“The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program is a fabulous partnership between NASSP and Prudential, allowing us to recognize the outstanding young people in our schools and communities,” said NASSP President Larry Bradley. “This year’s honorees exemplify the true spirit of helping others and by doing so they give America and the world a promising future, a future filled with compassion and hope.”
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, Girl Scouts of the USA, National 4-H Council, the American Red Cross, YMCA of the USA, the Points of Light Institute, and other national education and service organizations.
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. The company’s well-known 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, visit www.news.prudential.com.
[Editors: full-color pictures of the Spirit of Community Awards program logo and medallions are available at http://spirit.prudential.com.]
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