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

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

Honors also bestowed on youth volunteers in Needham, Dracut, Millville, Sandwich, Plymouth and Whitman

BOSTON--()--Brian Salit, 18, of Seekonk and Megan O'Donovan, 13, of Mendon today were named Massachusetts' top two youth volunteers of 2015 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism. Brian was nominated by Seekonk High School in Seekonk, and Megan was nominated by Milford Public Schools in Milford. 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).

Brian, a senior at Seekonk High School, has organized two large conferences with his brothers over the past two years that have provided more than 700 high school student leaders with the knowledge and tools to implement distracted-driving programs in their own schools and communities. In early 2012, a car accident caused by a texting driver took the life of a track athlete who was scheduled to compete against Brian’s team that night. “The accident had a profound impact on me,” said Brian. “I felt that I had to do something to prevent this from happening to others.”

Several months later, Brian and his two brothers attended an event on teenage distracted driving hosted by the National Organization for Youth Safety in Washington, D.C., and came back determined to host their own local “summits” on distracted driving. They recruited two teachers and several friends to help, raised $5,000 from local and corporate sponsors, and invited government officials, victim advocates and experts in a variety of fields to speak. “The event was a huge success,” said Brian. Student leaders from more than 20 high schools attended that first summit at the Massachusetts State House. A second summit last year attracted over 450 attendees, and a third is now being planned for 2015. The Governors Highway Safety Association has highlighted the Salits’ summits and estimated that they have impacted more than 70,000 students so far across New England.

Megan, a seventh-grader at Miscoe Hill School, promoted “letterboxing” in the town of Milford as a fun way to encourage kids and families to get exercise by walking, running or riding on local trails. Megan had recently been introduced to letterboxing, a kind of treasure hunt in which participants seek out small, weather-proof containers hidden in publicly accessible places by following clues or a map. When Megan learned that Milford was expanding its trail system, “I thought, what a perfect combination: a fun activity for a family, group or individual to do while getting exercise on the trail,” she said.

Working with her school superintendent, Megan presented her idea in a video to a coalition of community members working to promote outdoor and fitness activities in Milford. She researched current locations of letterboxes along Milford’s trails, found places where new boxes could be placed, and created her own letterbox. Then she hosted a table at a health expo, explaining her initiative and handing out information on how to enjoy letterboxing. “It’s fun introducing new concepts to people, especially if those concepts make for a better life,” said Megan.

As State Honorees, Brian and Megan 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 six other Massachusetts students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.

These are Massachusetts' Distinguished Finalists for 2015:

Annie Barringer, 17, of Needham, Mass., a senior at Needham High School, is an avid community advocate and volunteer who serves as president of her school’s “Own Your Peace/Piece,” club, a leadership group with 30 active members who promote respect, peace and tolerance. Annie, who in in her second year as president, helps oversee and implement frequent events including a poster campaign, news reports to students, faculty and parents, and an annual “Speak-Out” featuring the inspirational stories of students who overcame emotional struggles.

Alexander Corcoran, 18, of Dracut, Mass., a senior at Dracut Senior High School, has collected 893 blankets and $17,000 in donations to purchase blankets for families in need in a series of blanket drives that he created and implemented over the past four years. Alexander raised awareness of his blanket drive through a marketing campaign that involved a website and frequent social media updates, posters, flyers, school announcements, media stories, and outreach to churches, schools and other community organizations.

Ella Dehestani, 18, of Millville, Mass., a senior at Blackstone Valley Regional Vocational Technical High School, is a team leader for her school’s SkillsUSA team, for which she led the group to a gold medal in a state competition for the social media safety campaign “Be S.M.A.R.T.I.E.S (Social Media: Acting Responsibly with Technology in Every Situation).” Ella and the team, who partnered with area schools and lawmakers on the project, reached 4,000 local students with the campaign’s message to use social media in a positive manner and to understand the consequences of certain postings for college acceptance and job opportunities.

Alexander Denmark, 17, of Sandwich, Mass., a senior at Sandwich High School, founded “T.I.R.E.S. (The Initiative for Recycling and Environmental Sustainability),” an organization at his school for which he created a district-wide recycling and sustainability program that has resulted in the recycling of tens of thousands of pounds of materials and a cost-savings each year. Alexander, who is passionate about the environment, worked closely with school and local government officials to embark on a recycling education campaign and to design and create a new waste disposal system for the school.

William Digravio, 17, of Plymouth, Mass., a senior at Plymouth North High School, founded the “Youth Climate Coalition,” which has reached 1,000 students, teachers and community members with a comprehensive presentation about climate change and how to help lessen its effects on the environment. William, who created the group after attending the Climate Reality Project Leadership Corps Training with former Vice President Al Gore, recruited a group of teens to help with the project, created a website and social media presence, and is now using its presentations to train other teens to become leaders in their communities.

Mekalia Mason-Rollins, 17, of Whitman, Mass., a sophomore at Whitman-Hanson Regional High School, has raised $1,700 since 2012 to support Boston Children’s Hospital by creating and selling crafts made with duct tape through her project, “Duck and Donate.” Mekalia, who wanted to give back after her sister received life-saving brain surgery at the hospital, cut and donated her hair, and then raised $800 for cancer research when she shaved her head in honor of a friend who died from cancer.

“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.

About NASSP

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

Contacts

Prudential Financial
Harold Banks, 973-802-8974 or 973-216-4833
harold.banks@prudential.com

Contacts

Prudential Financial
Harold Banks, 973-802-8974 or 973-216-4833
harold.banks@prudential.com