SPRINGFIELD, Ill.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Nicholas Tasiopoulos, 17, of Green Oaks and Madeline Hoskins-Cumbey, 14, of Oswego today were named Illinois' top two youth volunteers of 2015 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism. Nicholas was nominated by Libertyville High School in Libertyville, and Madeline was nominated by Wheaton Christian Grammar School in Winfield. 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).
Nicholas, a senior at Libertyville High School, created a volunteer organization with his sisters that has raised more than $80,000 to find a cure for the disease that took their cousin’s life: pancreatic cancer. “When my cousin died at a young age, my sisters and I were devastated,” said Nicholas. “The loss we endured spurred us to organize the ‘I Want To Be a Lifesaver’ organization.” Initially, the siblings made necklaces in the shape of lifesaver candies and sold them to friends and family members, with the proceeds going to the Lustgarten Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research.
Soon, Nicholas and his sisters were engaged in other activities to raise awareness and funds for research, and dozens of other volunteers joined their campaign. Nicholas, for example, knocked on doors to ask for donations, sat outside of local grocery stores to sell necklaces, helped host ice shows, and held silent auctions and bake sales. He also contacted local businesses and large corporations, eventually obtaining large financial commitments. He plans to start a chapter of his organization in college, and vows to “continue to raise funds until a cure has been found.” “I thought I had lost hope forever when my cousin died of this horrible disease,” he said, “but I now feel surrounded by that hope, nourished and encouraged to step up to any challenge with the knowledge that I have the power to make a difference.”
Madeline, an eighth-grader at Wheaton Christian Grammar School, founded a nonprofit organization with her younger brother that seeks to engage young people in promoting healthy eating, accessible clean water, and other essentials for healthy living. Madeline’s family has a history of poor health, so she learned early on the fundamentals of a healthy lifestyle. Wanting to share this knowledge with others, she started an after-school club that taught 30 kids about nutrition, hydration and healthy habits. Club members then planted an organic garden at their school with a grant won by Madeline.
Clubs and gardens continue to be a major part of Madeline’s “SMART2bfit” program. She and her brother organize clubs and camps to teach kids how to be healthy through fun physical activities such as cooking and gardening. They have sponsored five youth-run gardens that have raised thousands of pounds of fresh, organic produce for local food banks. And they organize community walks that educate participants about the global water crisis while raising money to build wells and water tanks in Africa. “I believe today’s youth can be a healthier generation that serves others,” said Madeline. “Together, we can end hunger and thirst locally and globally, one garden, walk, and kid at time.”
As State Honorees, Nicholas and Madeline 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 eight other Illinois students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are Illinois' Distinguished Finalists for 2015:
Katherine Andraschko, 18, of Deer Park, Ill., a senior at Barrington High School, has overseen events and projects that have raised $52,000 to support tornado victims, teen runaways, and local Boys and Girls clubs as president of a student-led community service organization, “Go Beyond Barrington.” Katherine, who has been active in the organization since her freshman year, not only engages her members in fundraisers such as car washes, dances, T-shirt sales, and music festivals, but also coordinates projects that involve direct volunteering such as tutoring, and schedules a weeklong service trip every year.
Brianna Carey, 17, of Geneva, Ill., a junior at Geneva Community High School, founded a website to help teens all over the world with their emotional struggles called “A Cutter’s Guardian Angel,” which has grown into an organization that helps those in need via social media, the internet and community events. Brianna, who was motivated by her own experiences to found the site in 2012, recently partnered with three other teens to help coordinate the expanding group, which is in the process of applying for nonprofit status.
Gabriella Cooperman, 14, of Highland Park, Ill., a freshman at Highland Park High School, began hosting an annual “Cookies for Charity Lemonade Stand” when she was five years old, and since then has raised $46,000 in sales and grants to support riders in the Equestrian Connection therapeutic horseback riding program. Gabriella, who saw how her sister responded to the riding program, decided to begin her program when she realized other children could not afford the beneficial therapy.
Elizabeth Einig, 16, of Schaumburg, Ill., a sophomore at James B. Conant High School, was motivated by her own struggles with depression to create and implement a “Mental Health Awareness Day” that reached 600 teens at her high school, and created a video for the Youth and Family Counseling Center that helped raise $100,000 to provide life-saving mental health treatment for 230 children from low-income families. Elizabeth recruited 80 volunteers to help plan the event, which included information about warning signs, stopping the stigma of mental illness, and a toolkit filled with resources to help teens get through difficult times.
Kyla Guru, 12, of Deerfield, Ill., a seventh-grader at Charles J. Caruso Middle School, is a weekly volunteer with “Feed My Starving Children,” for which she helps to pack boxes filled with food and vitamins that get sent to children in poverty-stricken and war-torn countries. Kyla has also raised more than $13,000 by participating in a number of fundraising projects to benefit The Ronald McDonald House, leukemia research and Camp Hometown Heroes.
Grace Khachaturian, 17, of Champaign, Ill., a senior at Centennial High School, founded her school’s annual “Centennial Dance Marathon” in 2011, which has raised more than $30,000 to provide wishes for children who are terminally ill through her local hospital and the Children’s Miracle Network. Grace, who founded another charity when she was younger called “PJs for Pediatrics,” runs the Dance Marathon through her school’s Executive Board, for which she serves as president.
Alec Lopata, 18, of Deerfield, Ill., a senior at Deerfield High School, founded an annual music event, “Bands Battling Cancer,” when he was in the fifth grade, and has since raised $34,000 to support research through the American Cancer Society. Alec, who organizes all aspects of the event from start to finish and serves as its emcee, was motivated to help fight cancer by his best friend’s cancer diagnosis.
Sam Papasotirioiu, 17, of Green Oaks, Ill., a senior at Libertyville High School, has raised more than $80,000 for the Lustgarten Foundation through a program he, his sister and his cousins founded called “I Want to be a Lifesaver.” Sam, who helped start the program in 2006 as a way to cope with his cousin’s death from pancreatic cancer, worked with his cousins to coordinate ice skating shows featuring world renowned ice skaters to raise the funds.
“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