WASHINGTON--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Mississippi's top two youth volunteers of 2014, Reagan Norwood, 17, of Biloxi and Jonah Holland, 14, of Belmont, were honored in the nation’s capital last night for their outstanding volunteer service during the 19th annual presentation of The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. Reagan and Jonah – along with 100 other top youth volunteers from across the country – each received $1,000 awards and personal congratulations from Academy Award-winning actor Forest Whitaker at an award ceremony and gala dinner reception held at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program, sponsored by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), named Reagan and Jonah Mississippi's top high school and middle level youth volunteers in February. In addition to their cash awards, they each received an engraved silver medallion and an all-expense-paid trip with a parent to Washington, D.C., for four days of recognition events.
Reagan, a junior at Biloxi High School, has collected more than 1,000 pairs of shoes and socks for homeless people over the past four years through her project, “S.O.S. (Shoes or Socks) for the Homeless.” Reagan first became aware of the problem of homelessness by listening to stories her grandfather told about working at a shelter in Washington, D.C. Then, one Christmas, Reagan’s family took toys to a local mission. “We were allowed to drop off the items, but were not allowed in because my sister and I were minors,” said Reagan. She wondered how children and teens could get involved, and found the answer when a family friend mentioned that there was a real need for shoes and socks at homeless shelters.
In eighth grade, Reagan launched her first drive to collect shoes and socks at her school. Since then, she has held drives at other junior high schools, elementary schools, her high school and a local military base. She created a logo for S.O.S. and a Facebook page and a petition on change.org to acquaint people with homelessness and publicize her mission. She monitors newsletters and updates from agencies that work with the homeless and passes along information about the current needs of the homeless in her community and state, and ways to help. And, recently, Reagan organized a collection contest at Biloxi Junior High that yielded more than 400 pairs of shoes and socks; the winning homeroom earned a breakfast and Q&A with stars from a local production of the musical “Legally Blonde” – one of which was Reagan. “S.O.S. is not a program that will save the world,” said Reagan, “but by going through our closets and donating shoes, we can truly make a difference in someone’s life - one pair of shoes at a time.”
Jonah, a member of the Tishomingo County 4-H and a home-schooled eighth-grader, led his 4-H club in raising money to purchase reusable shopping bags that local merchants can use to cut down on the number of plastic bags that end up in landfills. Jonah’s 4-H club had been looking for ways to implement a community-wide recycling program, but because his town is not near a recycling center, a cost-effective solution proved elusive. “It was very discouraging and would have been easy to simply forget about it,” said Jonah. But he wouldn’t let the idea drop. Jonah continued to do research online and joined several forums where people exchange ideas. “One day while shopping, it hit me that so many merchants offer reusable shopping bags,” Jonah said. He wondered, why couldn’t the stores in his community do the same thing?
Jonah presented a plan to the city council that could reduce plastic bag use and promote recycling awareness at no cost to the city. With the town’s endorsement, Jonah and fellow 4-Hers put up a “road block” to ask drivers to donate their change to the cause, and in three hours they raised more than $400. The group then ordered reusable shopping bags in the local school colors and distributed them to local merchants, who sell them to customers for $2 apiece. Not only is the project expected to save merchants money and reduce plastic bag waste, but the $1 profit on each bag sold will be donated to benefit wounded servicemen, said Jonah.
“These honorees are shining examples of what is possible when young people use their energy and initiative to help their communities,” said John Strangfeld, chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial, Inc. “We are proud to recognize their accomplishments, and look forward to seeing the great things they achieve in the future.”
“Through their service, these students have not only made a difference in the lives of others – they’ve provided their peers with a powerful example of what it looks like to be an outstanding youth volunteer,” said Barbara-Jane (BJ) Paris, president of NASSP. “Congratulations to each of the 2014 honorees for a job well done.”
Youth volunteers in grades 5-12 were invited to apply for 2014 Prudential Spirit of Community Awards last fall through schools, Girl Scout councils, county 4-H organizations, American Red Cross chapters, YMCAs and affiliates of the HandsOn Network. More than 30,000 middle level and high school students nationwide participated in this year’s program.
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program was created in 1995 to identify and recognize young people for outstanding volunteer service – and, in so doing, inspire others to volunteer, too. In the past 19 years, the program has honored more than 100,000 young volunteers at the local, state and national level.
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 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 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 www.news.prudential.com.
Editors: For full-color pictures of the Spirit of Community Awards program logo and medallions, click here: http://bit.ly/Xi4oFW