Kansas' Top Two Youth Volunteers Selected in 20th Annual National Awards Program

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

Honors also bestowed on youth volunteers in Chanute, Shawnee Mission, Overland Park and Effingham

TOPEKA, Kan.--()--Megan Keller, 18 and Caitlyn Willis, 13, both of Wichita, today were named Kansas' top two youth volunteers of 2015 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism. Megan was nominated by Wichita Northwest High School in Wichita, and Caitlyn was nominated by Andover eCademy in Andover. 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).

Megan, a senior at Wichita Northwest High School, helped create an annual teen fashion show that has raised more than $50,000 for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals (CMNH) over the past four years. After Megan’s little brother was born prematurely, he and his family benefited from the support of the Children’s Miracle Network. “When I was thinking about ways to give back to CMNH, I tried to think of an activity that would be fun, engage teens, and raise funds,” said Megan. After discussing this with her parents, they decided to organize a fashion show that could involve local teens in supporting CMNH while raising money for sick and injured children.

Since its inception, the “Models for Miracles” fashion show has featured hundreds of teens who have sold tickets to the event and then modeled outfits provided by participating boutiques. More than 2,000 people have attended the events. As co-president of the CMNH Teen Advisory Board, Megan recruits models and sponsors, promotes the shows, gathers donations, and handles production details. She also has been instrumental in expanding the program beyond Kansas to several other states. Megan says the experience has taught her a valuable life lesson: “be thankful for what you’ve been blessed with, and use your gifts to help others.”

Caitlyn, a seventh-grader at Andover eCademy, volunteers at her church and is currently planning a project called “Hats of Hope” to knit hats for cancer patients and premature babies. Caitlyn said she was motivated to volunteer by her parents and by the needs of the world around her. “Having seen what others have gone through has really inspired me to do the work I have done,” she said.

As an active member of her church, Caitlyn helps in the nursery once a month and has helped cook hot dogs to distribute at a local park in downtown Wichita. She also is planning to go on a mission trip to Kenya next year. “You don’t have to change the world to do amazing volunteer work,” Caitlyn said. “Even if you just change one person’s world, you have at least changed one person’s life forever.”

As State Honorees, Megan and Caitlyn 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.

Distinguished Finalists

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

These are Kansas' Distinguished Finalists for 2015:

Reagan Dillow, 18, of Chanute, Kansas, a senior at Erie High School, founded “Mitten Mania” in 2012 and has since collected $5,000 worth of monetary and mitten donations to help elementary school students keep warm in the winter. Reagan secured mitten donations by sending letters to local businesses, setting up donation boxes throughout town, and using the cash donations to purchase additional mittens.

Paul Freeman, 18, of Shawnee Mission, Kansas, a senior at Rockhurst High School, raised $26,000 to support the search for a cure for cystic fibrosis, a disease his brother has, by creating and implementing “Serving Up a Cure,” a tennis tournament featuring entertainment from five local bands, barbecue and raffles. Paul recruited 30 volunteers and secured sponsorships for the tennis courts, food, T-shirts and raffle items, and has already begun working with the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation on the second annual tennis event.

Nghia Jones, 18, of Overland Park, Kansas, a senior at International Connections Academy, has implemented a number of service projects, including a record-setting student blood drive at her school for which she secured door prize donations from local businesses, organized more than 50 volunteers, and helped to collect more than 300 units of blood. Nghia also created a “Week of Giving” event at her school for which she collected more than 520 toys, coats and outerwear for the benefit of local families in need.

Amber Kelly, 17, of Effingham, Kansas, a member of the Atchison County 4-H in Effingham and a junior at Atchison County Community High School, recruited individuals and groups to donate fabric, host sewing parties, and make dresses for 488 girls from Africa so they can attend school. Amber, who learned of the plight of young African girls when a group of teens came to her school to discuss the poverty and lack of education opportunities for girls in Africa, worked closely with the nonprofit organization “Little Dresses for Africa” to distribute the dresses.

“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.

For information on all of this year’s Prudential Spirit of Community State Honorees and Distinguished Finalists, visit http://spirit.prudential.com or www.nassp.org/spirit.


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


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


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