ATLANTA--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Evan Barnard, 16, of Johns Creek and Carter Ries, 13, of Fayetteville today were named Georgia'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. Evan was nominated by Johns Creek High School in Johns Creek, and Carter was nominated by Konos Academy in Fayetteville. 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).
Evan, a junior at Johns Creek High School, volunteered to repair a vandalized nature trail that featured Braille signs and guide ropes for the blind, and then set out to build more “Braille trails” so that many more visually impaired people can enjoy the great outdoors. Evan was looking for a way to get involved in nature conservation when he heard that someone had stolen all of the Braille signs along a specially designed forest hiking trail and caused other damage. He installed new signage and cleaned up the trail, and then, after the trail was vandalized a second time, he replaced the trail’s guide ropes and again repaired the pathway.
When he was done, Evan led a hike on the trail for 25 members of the Georgia Council of the Blind, and began speaking at council chapter meetings about Braille trails and the importance of making nature accessible to the visually impaired. After his work was highlighted in a radio show and international Braille blog, Evan was contacted by people all over the country who wanted Braille trails in their communities. That’s when he decided to start building new trails. For his first, he found a location at an environmental center, and recruited both young people and adults to create a pathway and install Braille signs, guideposts and ropes. He then used a service award grant to begin hosting educational programs on the new trail. Evan is now working to reconfigure existing nature trails in other locations to make them accessible to the visually impaired and people with other disabilities.
Carter, an eighth-grader at Konos Academy, created a weeklong educational curriculum with his younger sister that is teaching kids about the importance of reducing plastic pollution. After watching TV coverage of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, Carter and his sister, who had already been working on projects to save endangered species, spent four months collecting animal rescue supplies and then delivered them to a rescue center on the Gulf. While there, they were shocked to learn from a veterinarian that plastic trash in the oceans is an even greater threat to marine animals than oil spills. “After hearing that, we knew we had to do something to educate communities about plastic pollution,” said Carter.
The two siblings spent the next five months educating themselves about the issue and decided to develop a program to teach their peers across the country “how bad the problem is and how they could be part of the solution,” he said. They consulted community leaders and anti-pollution organizations, and then worked with teachers to create their “Plastic and Recycling Awareness Week” curriculum. In five one-hour lessons over the course of a week, it teaches kids about the dangers of plastic refuse, how to identify recyclable types of plastic, and how to “precycle” by using things like reusable water bottles and cloth shopping bags. After the program was tested successfully in Carter’s school, he and his sister began taking it to other schools and youth organizations around the U.S., and have introduced it in the United Kingdom as well.
As State Honorees, Evan and Carter 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 Georgia students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are Georgia's Distinguished Finalists for 2015:
Katie Dionne, 17, of Gainesville, Ga., a junior at North Hall High School, collected 600 pounds of fresh produce with her “Sow More, Grow More” summer produce donation program to help feed more than 1,200 families with children who receive free or no-cost meals during the school year. Katie, who implemented the program when she learned that more than 60% of students in the Hall County School District receive meal assistance through school, worked with local government, churches, food pantries and the media to encourage gardeners and farmers to grow more so they could donate the extra.
Jack Griffin, 16, of Duluth, Ga., a senior at Peachtree Ridge High School, founded “FoodFinderGA.org,” a website that quickly searches and identifies soup kitchens, food banks, churches and other free food resources available to families in his county who are food-insecure. Jack, who raised $6,000 to fund the construction of the site with an IndieGoGo campaign, built and maintains the site’s database of 167 public schools and 97 food resources and hopes to take the site nationwide sometime this year.
Ansley Knight, 16, of Newnan, Ga., a member of the Girl Scouts of Greater Atlanta in Mableton and a junior at Newnan High School, founded “Project EcoAthlete,” for which she collected more than 320 pounds of shoes and donated them for use in the creation of new public playground surfaces and track molds. Ansley, who devised the idea after participating in a mud run and realizing her dirty shoes could be recycled, worked with local organizations to encourage shoe recycling, placed donation boxes at various facilities, and also donated wearable shoes to homeless shelters and American soldiers.
Hayden Elizabeth Ramsey, 18, of Atlanta, Ga., a member of the Girl Scouts of Greater Atlanta in Mableton and a senior at Lakeside High School, is the founder of the “I Am Unsinkable” campaign, a social media awareness project intended to inspire teens to learn coping skills to overcome hardships such as the death of a loved one, divorce, serious illness or disability, bullying and natural disasters. Hayden, who considers the hallmark of her program the 20-minute documentary she filmed featuring the personal stories of eight teenagers from all over the world, has reached more than 25,000 people from 40 countries with her stories.
Joshua Seides, 16, of Alpharetta, Ga., a junior at Alpharetta High School, has worked to help senior citizens better connect with friends and family via technology by creating “Technocademy,” a nonprofit that recruits high school volunteers to teach summer technology courses at senior living communities. Joshua recruited a team of more than 60 high school volunteers and has partnered with organizations including the United Way and Cisco to support the program.
Samantha Stahlman, 17, of Sandy Springs, Ga., a junior at Riverwood International Charter School, has written and taught a creative writing class for students learning English as a second language through the nonprofit organization, “LaAmistad.” Samantha, an ESOL tutor who is passionate about writing, created the program to inspire children from non-English speaking families to overcome their fear of writing in English so they could reach their full potential.
“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