MONTGOMERY, Ala.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Corinne Phillips, 17, of Gardendale and Samuel Sherling, 12, of Greenville today were named Alabama's top two youth volunteers of 2015 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism. Corinne was nominated by Hope Christian School in Pelham, and Samuel was nominated by Fort Dale Academy in Greenville. The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, now in its 20th year, is conducted by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).
Corinne, a junior at Hope Christian School, has led a small army of volunteers in knitting more than 3,000 hats for premature babies and cancer patients through “Hats for Health,” an organization she founded almost five years ago. Corinne started knitting hats after her aunt gave her a loom one Christmas, and before long had “more hats than I knew what to do with,” she said. After hearing a friend’s mother – a nurse in a local neonatal intensive care unit – talk about the perils of being born too early, and then touring the NICU, Corinne knew she had found a way to put her hats to good use. “I learned most of your body heat escapes from your head and my hats were the perfect solution for these babies,” she said. She also decided to make hats for people undergoing treatment for cancer.
Realizing that the impact of her project would be greater with more participants, Corinne began teaching friends to knit hats, and then conducted nine free classes for nearly 300 people from all parts of Alabama, who then went home to teach others the skill. News coverage of her campaign brought inquiries from other states, so Corinne filmed an instructional YouTube video and created a Facebook page. During a service trip, she donated looms and yarn to women in Jamaica and taught them knitting skills to help support their families. So far, Corinne and her army of knitters have donated hats to hospitals in 14 states and in Tanzania, Jamaica, Haiti, and Honduras. Her goal, she said, is to expand her project to encompass every state and as many countries as possible around the world.
Samuel, a sixth-grader at Fort Dale Academy, initiated a pen pal program in which his fifth-grade classmates wrote letters once a month to 40 local senior citizens to let them know the students cared about them and wanted to get to know them. In the summer of 2013, Samuel’s mother encouraged him to look for a community service activity, which sparked a memory from second grade when his class wrote letters to people in assisted living facilities. “Lots of people in assisted living homes don’t have any visitors,” Samuel explained. “I knew I could make someone happy just by sending them a note and letting them know I was thinking of them.”
With the support of his teacher, Samuel designed a logo for a poster announcing his project at his school. To find senior citizens interested in participating, he presented his idea to a senior Sunday school class at his church, and asked the directors of an assisted living facility and a local hospice to recommend candidates. After Samuel paired each student with a senior, the letter writing began. “It was kind of hard to write to someone we didn’t know, but as time went on, it got much easier,” he said. “The first time we all received a letter was awesome!” Some of the seniors sent pictures and books, and some came to Samuel’s school to meet their pen pals. At the end of the school year, Samuel organized an ice cream party so everyone could meet. “The biggest accomplishment was the friendships we made,” he said. “We learned how different our lives are from when they grew up.”
As State Honorees, Corinne and Samuel 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 2015.
The program judges also recognized four other Alabama students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are Alabama's Distinguished Finalists for 2015:
Cameron Gallups, 14, of Birmingham, Ala., an eighth-grader at Hewitt-Trussville Middle School, is an avid community volunteer whose most recent service project, “To Save a Life,” encourages people with mental illnesses to seek treatment. Cameron created and maintains social media accounts and sold bracelets to spread her organization’s message of hope.
Brittany McDade, 18, of Anniston, Ala., a senior at Faith Christian School, founded “Sisters in Salvation,” a Christian mentoring program and Bible study group for girls between seventh and twelfth grades. Brittany, who matches younger girls with the older girls as mentors, leads the group’s activities and worship, coordinates guest speakers, and writes a monthly letter for the group.
Kerri Tang, 16, of Hoover, Ala., a junior at Hoover High School, initiated an 80s-themed 3K race called “Dash into the 80s” at her school that raised more than $8,000 to benefit The Forgotten Initiative, a nonprofit organization that provides resources and services for foster children and families. Kerri, who learned about the foster care system from a family friend who serves as a foster parent, also collected more than 1,000 items in a diaper and wipes drive.
Morgan Whetstone, 17, of Hoover, Ala., a senior at Spain Park High School, implemented a project to raise the funds and personally construct and install five benches in the historic Bailey Cemetery. Morgan sought township approval, secured nearly $600 in donations, and recruited a team of volunteers to help complete the project.
“Prudential is honored to celebrate the contributions of these remarkable young volunteers,” said Prudential Chairman and CEO John Strangfeld. “By shining a spotlight on the difference they’ve made in their communities, we hope others are inspired to volunteer, too.”
“These students have not only improved their communities through their exemplary volunteer service, but also set a fine example for their peers,” said JoAnn Bartoletti, executive director of NASSP. “Each of their stories is proof of the impact one young person can have when they decide to 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 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 4, 10 of the State Honorees – five middle level and five high school students – will be named America’s top youth volunteers of 2015. 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.
The National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) is the leading organization of and voice for middle level and high school principals, assistant principals, and school leaders from across the United States and 35 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