SALT LAKE CITY, Utah--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Eric Babb, 16, of Highland and Morgan Barron, 13, of Riverton today were named Utah's top two youth volunteers for 2012 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism. Eric was nominated by the Utah County 4-H in Provo, and Morgan was nominated by the Girl Scouts Of Utah in Salt Lake City. The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, now in its 17th year, is conducted by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).
Eric, a sophomore at the Utah County Academy of Science in Orem, has mobilized more than 2,200 people over the past five years to help him remove harmful invasive weeds from a wilderness park near his home. Five years ago, Eric was hiking in the park and noticed a lot of weeds along the side of the trail. After some research, he determined that the weeds were non-native invasive plants that were toxic to wildlife. While most people see weeds as a nuisance, Eric understands that they pose a serious problem. “Their population tends to skyrocket, and, in turn, crowd out the native species,” said Eric. “This problem is compounded by the fact that many invasive weeds produce toxins that can poison wildlife or sterilize the ground and kill native vegetation.”
Initially, Eric tried to remove the weeds himself but soon realized the task was too much for one person. So, he started an organization called “Plant Patrol” and began recruiting friends, neighbors, scouts, 4-Hers, students and many others to go on weed-removal outings with him in the park. Eric also organized a major revegetation project in which students from five middle schools and high schools worked together to plant native grass and wildflower seeds where weeds had been pulled, funded by several grants obtained by Eric. In addition to his field work, Eric gives talks about how to identify, remove and dispose of invasive plants, and has made educational displays to exhibit at county and state fairs, a summer youth camp, a Scout Expo and a town event. “I know my project has made a difference because the invasive weed problem in the wilderness park is lessening, but I still plan to continue it in the future because I feel I have just begun to mobilize and educate my community about this serious environmental problem,” said Eric.
Morgan, an eighth-grader at South Hills Middle School, spearheaded several initiatives to grow vegetables for the hungry, involving more than 100 youth volunteers and resulting in nearly 1,500 pounds of produce donated to a food bank. Troubled by the statistic that one in seven children under the age of 5 in Utah go hungry, Morgan began looking for organizations that she could work with to address the problem. Partnering with a community organization, she and 20 other youth and adult volunteers planted and tended a vegetable garden that yielded 250 pounds of fresh produce last year for the Utah Food Bank. They also set up a vegetable exchange at a community event to educate others about their work and collect additional donations for the food bank.
Morgan also piloted a program in which residential gardeners share their produce with those in need. This effort, involving 50 young volunteers from eight church youth groups and congregations, resulted in 1,000 pounds of produce for the food bank. In addition, Morgan recruited 30 young people and obtained three grants to help create two urban gardens on the outskirts of existing parks. They dug pathways, built garden plots, laid down mulch and made the gardens accessible to the handicapped. “My work has led me to meet wonderfully diverse individuals from varied economic situations united by the vision of self-reliance,” said Morgan.
As State Honorees, Eric and Morgan 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 2012 at that time.
In addition, the program judges recognized four other Utah students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion:
M’Lisa Dixon, 17, of Spanish Fork, Utah, a senior at Spanish Fork High School, implemented and organized a “Homeless for One Night” benefit through her student council that raised more than $4,000 to support the local Habitat for Humanity. M’Lisa felt if the students learned what it was like to sleep just one night without a bed, their volunteer service building homes for Habitat would be more meaningful.
Preston Judy, 17, of Gunnison, Utah, a junior at Gunnison Valley High School, raised more than $8,000 to support the tornado victims in Joplin, Missouri, where Preston once lived. After hearing of the devastation, Preston organized a group of friends to collect money and needed items, and then they travelled to Joplin to deliver the supplies and help with the clean-up.
Marshall Lindsay, 15, of Stansbury Park, Utah, a sophomore at Stansbury High School, was partially paralyzed in an ATV accident in 2009, and has since helped raise funds to support Neuroworx, a nonprofit clinic specializing in spinal cord injuries and providing care to those who cannot afford it. Marshall also conducts ability awareness assemblies at local elementary and high schools to spread the message that a disability does not define a person.
Irfan Mahmud, 17, of St. George, Utah, a senior at Snow Canyon High School, has spent the past four summers working with children with cleft lips and cleft palates as a volunteer with the Smile Train Project in City Hospital in Dhaka Bangladesh. Irfan, who now plans to pursue a career in medicine, has helped with X-rays and diagnostic procedures, shadowed surgeries and produced a photo booklet of the surgical procedure to help educate potential patients about the process.
“Through their selfless acts of service, these award recipients have greatly improved the lives of others,” said Prudential Chairman and CEO John Strangfeld. “We hope their stories and their dedication inspire other young people to do the same.”
"We are so pleased to celebrate these student volunteers,” said JoAnn Bartoletti, executive director of NASSP. “It’s important to highlight them as powerful examples of how young people can make a difference."
About The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards represents the United States’ largest youth recognition program based solely on volunteer service. 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. More than 5,000 Local Honorees were then reviewed by an independent judging panel, which selected State Honorees and Distinguished Finalists based on criteria including personal initiative, creativity, effort, impact and personal growth.
While in Washington, D.C., the 102 State Honorees – one middle level and one high school student from each state and the District of Columbia – 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 7. 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.
Since the program began in 1995, more than 100,000 young volunteers nationwide have been honored by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards at the local, state or national level. The program also is conducted by Prudential subsidiaries in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Ireland and India. In addition to granting its own awards, The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program also distributes President’s Volunteer Service Awards to qualifying Local Honorees on behalf of President Barack Obama.
NASSP is the leading organization of and national voice for middle level and high school principals, assistant principals, and all school leaders from across the United States and more than 45 countries around the world. The association provides research-based professional development and resources, networking and advocacy to build the capacity of middle level and high school leaders to continually improve student performance. Reflecting its longstanding commitment to student leadership development as well, NASSP administers the National Honor Society, National Junior Honor Society, National Elementary Honor Society and National Association of Student Councils. For more information about NASSP, located in Reston, VA, visit www.nassp.org.
About Prudential Financial
Prudential Financial, Inc. (NYSE: PRU), a financial services leader, has operations in the United States, Asia, Europe, and Latin America. Prudential’s diverse and talented employees are committed to helping individual and institutional customers grow and protect their wealth through a variety of products and services, including life insurance, annuities, retirement-related services, mutual funds, investment management, and real estate services. In the U.S., Prudential’s iconic Rock symbol has stood for strength, stability, expertise and innovation for more than a century. For more information, please visit http://www.news.prudential.com/.
Editors: Graphics depicting the award program’s logo and medallions may be downloaded from spirit.prudential.com.