INDIANAPOLIS--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Makenzie Smith, 15, of Borden and Olivia Keith, 11, of Fishers today were named Indiana'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. Makenzie was nominated by William W. Borden Jr.-Sr. High School in Borden, and Olivia was nominated by Sand Creek Intermediate School in Fishers. 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).
Makenzie, a sophomore at William W. Borden Jr.-Sr. High School, has collected more than 20,000 coats and thousands of hats, scarves and gloves over the past eight years to help people in need stay warm during harsh Indiana winters. When she was in the second grade, Makenzie’s teacher had a talk with her class about how they all should be grateful for the advantages they’d been given. “She told us that the winter was going to be really cold and that many people do not have the simple necessities in life such as a warm coat,” said Makenzie. The idea that people were cold in the winter really bothered her; she went home and told her parents she wanted to collect coats for people who need them. That was the beginning of “Makenzie’s Coat Closet.”
In the early years, Makenzie simply asked friends and family members for coat donations, stuffed them into a large trash bag and delivered them to the local Society of St. Vincent DePaul. The first year she collected 79 coats. By the fourth year, she set a goal of 1,000 coats and knew that to reach her goal, she would have to find a better way to gather donations. She came up with the idea of using collection boxes so people could drop off outerwear at businesses, churches, schools and neighborhood sites. She also needed to make more people aware of her project, so she began seeking interviews with local media, speaking at churches and corporations, and communicating through social media and a website. Today, Makenzie has 100 collection sites and typically takes in 4,000-5,000 coats a year. Once she collects the donations, a team of volunteers sort and size the coats, then deliver them to St. Vincent DePaul, hang them on hangers like at a department store, and allow people to choose coats for themselves and family members. “The people we help have so many obstacles and struggles in their daily lives,” said Makenzie. “I know that what we do helps to ease some of those struggles.”
Olivia, a sixth-grader at Sand Creek Intermediate School, was motivated by the experience of both her parents in dealing with brain injuries to educate other young people about brain health and injury prevention, and to raise money for the Brain Injury Association of America (BIAA). Olivia’s father still grapples with the effects of a stroke, while her mother deals with the aftermath of two traumatic brain injuries. Having seen their struggles and her mother’s efforts to warn others about brain injury, Olivia decided she needed to make young people aware of the dangers. “Brain injury, especially concussion, is a very important topic for kids my age as we start getting involved in contact sports and may not know the best way to protect our brains,” she said.
As early as third grade, Olivia began giving presentations at schools, Boys and Girls Clubs and local sporting events. She also offers brain health and safety tips on a website and Facebook page, developed a game to make learning her safety tips fun, and encourages peers to pledge that they will always wear a seatbelt in cars and helmets when riding bicycles. Last April, Olivia handed out 20 donated bike helmets to children at a school safety fair, and then won a $1,000 grant to distribute more helmets. In addition, Olivia organized her own bowling team to participate in an annual BIAA fundraiser, ultimately helping to raise more than $70,000 for brain injury education in Indiana. “Seeing how brain injury has affected my family, I want to help other kids learn about protecting their brains so they can enjoy all that life has to offer,” she said.
As State Honorees, Makenzie and Olivia 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 six other Indiana students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are Indiana's Distinguished Finalists for 2015:
Korinna Brown, 17, of Bunker Hill, Ind., a junior at Maconaquah High School, has been a passionate volunteer since her diagnosis with primary immune deficiency as a 6 year old, and has raised $150,000 in the past 11 years by organizing a Relay for Life team for the American Cancer Society and forming the “iroK Foundation,” which provides financial support for children diagnosed with cancer and blood diseases. Korinna, who began “iroK” in 2009, has been able to help 46 families by helping to pay their day-to-day expenses.
Courtney Dunn, 18, of Greenfield, Ind., a senior at Greenfield-Central High School, was driven to help people with cancer after losing her mother to the disease, and one year after her mother’s death, raised $3,000 for the American Cancer Society with her “Greenfield-Central Kickin’ For Cancer Soccer Tournament.” Courtney received help and support from her high school soccer coach to plan the tournament, sponsorship and support from local sports organizations, and sold T-shirts and luminaries at the event which were lit in memory of those who died from the disease.
Jacob Reynolds, 18, of Warsaw, Ind., a senior at Warsaw Community High School, raised $1,300 by planning the “Perspective 5K” in August 2014 to provide financial support to members of the military in honor of his late grandfather, a 25-year Navy veteran. Jacob sought race sponsorships from local businesses and coordinated all the details of the race, which drew 53 runners.
Gradyn Rogers, 15, of Kokomo, Ind., a freshman at Kokomo High School, has raised more than $11,000 for the “Pennies for Patients” fundraising program through the Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia Association, an organization that provided support to Gradyn when he underwent chemotherapy for ALL, a diagnosis he received when he was three years old. Gradyn, who is in remission and is considered an ALL survivor, volunteered with his family to sponsor a pasta dinner event to support Pennies for Patients.
Hannah Roper, 18, of Cicero, Ind., a senior at Hamilton Heights High School, worked with her principal and Gleaner’s Food Bank of Central Indiana to create a food pantry at her high school that has helped provide food to more than 1,500 people in the past year. Hannah, who is the president of the school’s food bank and oversees a volunteer crew of 30 students to manage inventory and assist patrons, is planning to add a garden to the food bank program to provide fresh vegetables and fruit.
Alexandra Skinner, 17, of Vincennes, Ind., a senior at Lincoln High School, founded “After School Art Program (ASAP)” at her former elementary school, providing hands-on art projects for children and an accompanying website with projects to download. Alexandra then worked with her high school art teacher and members of the National Honor Society to expand the program, which is now offered in four counties in Indiana and five other states.
“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