New Mexico's Top Two Youth Volunteers Selected in 19th Annual National Awards Program

Albuquerque students earn $1,000 awards, engraved medallions and trip to nation’s capital

Honors also bestowed on youth volunteers in Albuquerque and Cloudcroft

SANTA FE, N.M.--()--Annika Cushnyr, 17, and Parker Lovesee, 13, both of Albuquerque, today were named New Mexico's top two youth volunteers of 2014 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism. Annika was nominated by Bosque School in Albuquerque, and Parker was nominated by New Mexico Virtual Academy in Farmington. The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, now in its 19th year, is conducted by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).

Annika, a junior at Bosque School, collected 4,000 new and used books to start a “giving library” so that children and their families who visit a local medical center can get free books to take home and keep. Annika said she began her project after learning that her state has an unusually high rate of illiteracy, with nearly 50 percent of the population being functionally illiterate. “This means that half the state can work only minimum wage jobs and can barely make their way through a chapter book,” said Annika, an avid reader. For many people, Annika discovered, buying a book is not an affordable option, and even getting to a local library can be difficult. This gave her the idea of creating access to books in a place where parents take their children for regularly-scheduled checkups. Annika’s project, “Start My Library,” was born.

To begin, she met with officials at a local medical center, who were receptive to the idea. She then created a website and publicized her project through local media. It wasn’t long before donations of new and used books began arriving. Annika also conducted a very successful “book ball/book drive” to collect books. Annika’s giving library opened in April 2013 with an inventory of 4,000 books – mainly for children but also for adult readers. So far about 500 have found permanent homes with families who come to the hospital for doctor visits. “These books are inspiring them to read and to continue to read, ending the cycle of illiteracy and opening doors in their work, education and personal lives,” said Annika.

Parker, an eighth-grader at New Mexico Virtual Academy, collected more than $1,000 worth of badly-needed art supplies for an after-school program of the Albuquerque Boys & Girls Club. Parker has been volunteering through his church and Boy Scouts for many years, but had never taken on a project of his own. Since he loves to read, he initially thought he would donate books to the club, but when he saw how few supplies it had for its art room and animation program, he knew he could make a bigger impact. “They didn’t have much more than watercolors and paper,” Parker said. “When I realized that this program is designed to change a kid’s life and keep them out of a gang or off of drugs, I knew I had to help.”

Parker decided to assemble craft kits that would be easy for adults to use with kids, and recruited a small army to help that eventually included more than 50 fellow volunteers. He went to local craft and office supply stores and asked if he could set up a booth in front and ask customers to donate supplies. “I was really surprised how much stuff people gave me,” he said. As donations flowed in, Parker and his team got to work assembling the kits, which included clay, glue guns, ribbon, scissors, beads, rubber stamps, stickers and other items. They then packed up the kits and delivered 50 large boxes filled with art supplies to the Boys & Girls Club. “The best part is that the club has plenty of varied and fun supplies to last them for many years,” said Parker.

As State Honorees, Annika and Parker 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 four days of national recognition events. During the trip, 10 students will be named America’s top youth volunteers of 2014.

Distinguished Finalists

The program judges also recognized two other New Mexico students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.

These are New Mexico's Distinguished Finalists for 2014:

Khirah Burger, 17, of Albuquerque, N.M., a junior at Albuquerque High School, created a band with two of her friends and hosts concerts to raise money for her school’s special education program. Khirah, who volunteers as an aide in the special education class, donates the money to purchase much-needed supplies for the program.

Dalton Wright, 15, of Cloudcroft, N.M., a sophomore at Cloudcroft High School, built a 3-D archery shooting course at the Sacramento Methodist Assembly Camp. Dalton, who earned his Eagle Scout Award for this project, secured sponsors who provided the materials, recruited 20 volunteers, designed the course and constructed 14 platforms and ramps.

“We applaud each of these young people for their exemplary volunteer service,” said Prudential Chairman and CEO John Strangfeld. “They use their time and talents to make a meaningful difference in their communities, and we hope their example inspires others to do the same.”

“By going above and beyond in their volunteer service, these students have brought positive change to communities across the country,” said JoAnn Bartoletti, executive director of NASSP. “Congratulations to each and every one of them on this well-deserved honor.”

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 HandsOn Network affiliates, were eligible to select a student or member for a local Prudential Spirit of Community Award. These Local Honorees were then reviewed by an independent judging panel, which selected State Honorees and Distinguished Finalists based on criteria including personal initiative, 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, meet top youth volunteers from other parts of the world, attend a gala awards ceremony at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, and visit their congressional representatives on Capitol Hill. On May 5, 10 of the State Honorees – five middle level and five high school students – will be named America’s top youth volunteers of 2014. These National 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 have been honored at the local, state and national level. The program also is conducted by Prudential subsidiaries in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Ireland, India and China. 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.

For information on all of this year’s Prudential Spirit of Community State Honorees and Distinguished Finalists, visit or


The National Association of Secondary School Principals (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 36 countries around the world. The association connects and engages school leaders through advocacy, research, education, and student programs. NASSP advocates on behalf of all school leaders to ensure the success of each student and strengthens school leadership practices through the design and delivery of high quality professional learning experiences. Reflecting its long-standing commitment to student leadership development, NASSP administers the National Honor SocietyNational Junior Honor SocietyNational Elementary Honor Society, and National Association of Student Councils. For more information about NASSP, located in Reston, VA, visit

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 and investment management. 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

Editors: For full-color pictures of the Spirit of Community Awards program logo and medallions, click here:


Prudential Financial
Harold Banks, 973-802-8974 or 973-216-4833


Prudential Financial
Harold Banks, 973-802-8974 or 973-216-4833