ANNAPOLIS, Md.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Robert Palmisano, 17, of Phoenix and Ellie Feaga, 12, of Woodbine today were named Maryland'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. Robert was nominated by Hereford High School in Parkton, and Ellie was nominated by Glenwood Middle School in Glenwood. 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).
Robert, a senior at Hereford High School, has distributed more than 8,000 items of surplus and donated sports equipment to kids in need in Baltimore over the past two years. When Robert heard that a school near his home in an affluent Baltimore suburb was going to throw away 200 pairs of unwanted roller skates, he knew he could find a way to use them. He hauled the skates home, cleaned them, and after many phone calls, arranged to deliver the equipment to a recreation center at an elementary school in central Baltimore. The tears, smiles and hugs he received from the children at the school when he arrived made a powerful impact on Robert. “That was when I discovered what I was truly meant to do,” he said.
Over the next several months, Robert contacted rec centers and schools in his area to see if they had sporting goods they no longer needed, and began making regular deliveries of surplus baseball bats, soccer balls, football pads, lacrosse sticks and other items to Baltimore’s inner city. Then he decided to really ramp up his effort. He formed a nonprofit organization called “All Kids Should Play” and started passing out flyers, giving speeches, hosting a website, and contacting local and national businesses and organizations to solicit donations. Aided by newspaper and TV coverage, Robert has collected more than 8,000 pieces of sports equipment worth $120,000 for inner-city kids. “I challenge other young people to pass the torch of opportunity off to another young person in need,” he said. “Because there’s no experience more rewarding than making dreams come true.”
Ellie, a seventh-grader at Glenwood Middle School, has raised more than $20,000 for a variety of charities by hosting an annual bake sale that has become a major event in her community. When she was 7, Ellie told her mother she wanted to go to Haiti after that nation was struck by natural disaster. “There were so many people who had lost everything, including their families, and I wanted to help them,” she said. “My mom said no because it was too dangerous, but told me to think of other ways I could help.” Since Ellie liked to bake, she decided to hold a bake sale, which ended up generating $2,000 for the America Red Cross Haiti relief fund.
Ellie felt so good about the results that she turned her sale into an annual event that gets bigger every year. She advertises for donors and customers with flyers, posters, email messages, T-shirts and a Facebook page, and gets help from her family, church, school, 4-H club and local businesses. In addition to the Red Cross, Ellie’s bake sale has benefited the Susan G. Komen Foundation, March of Dimes, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, the Wounded Warrior Project, a children’s education fund, and a local food pantry and fire department. “It makes me feel happy and proud to be able to pull my community together and help people in need at the same time,” said Ellie.
As State Honorees, Robert and Ellie 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 Maryland students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are Maryland's Distinguished Finalists for 2015:
Isabella Allen, 13, of Crofton, Md., a seventh-grader at Crofton Middle School, collected 188 pairs of gently-used jeans with her “Jeans for Teens” project and donated them to teenagers who are homeless throughout Anne Arundel County. Isabella, who has previously organized coat drives and costume drives, plans to host another jean drive in 2015.
Vasiliki Argeroplos, 16, of Woodbine, Md., a junior at Garrison Forest School, co-founded a nonprofit organization called “Okay to Play” with her brother that has collected and recycled 2,000 electronic products to raise $30,000 to buy toys, books and sporting goods for more than 200 children in hospitals, orphanages and foster homes. Vasiliki, who partnered with a recycling company and built a website with information for people to send their electronics in by mail, has recruited seven teenagers in five other states who are running the programs in their areas.
Zachary Azrael, 18, of Baltimore, Md., a senior at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School, created and wrote the curriculum for a tutoring outreach program through his school’s National Honor Society, and currently directs the program, which brings more than 50 high school students on a daily basis to tutor nearly 100 children who participate in the after-school program run by the U.S. Dream Academy. In addition to tutoring the children in math, science, technology and reading, the program also focuses on art, music, athletics and personal development.
Athena Kan, 16, of Clarksville, Md., a senior at River Hill High School, co-founded the nonprofit “Coalition Halting Obesity Against Children Everywhere (CHOICE),” for which she has coordinated two health fairs and helped to revise the county’s policy on wellness and nutrition to help slow the growth of childhood obesity. Athena also volunteers with the American Heart Association as a Heart Walk team captain and has helped to raise $80,000 since 2010.
Sareana Kimia, 16, of Bethesda, Md., a home-schooled junior, founded and is the president of “Youth for National Change,” a national youth advocacy organization with 12 chapters that aims to provide a youth voice in government, and has advocated for all state boards of education to include at least one student member. Sareana, who overcame physical and emotional abuse as a child, and mistreatment and discrimination, works toward equality so others do not suffer the way she did.
Marie Sgouros, 17, of Ellicott City, Md., a member of Girl Scouts of Central Maryland and a senior at Mount Hebron High School, founded two summer programs, “English Kids to Kids” and “Bridging Cultures,” that pair teenagers with Burmese refugee children to teach them to speak English and help them understand the American culture. Marie, who works with her twin sister to co-lead the English Kids to Kids program, has created lessons, recruited and managed a team of volunteers, and coordinated the program in two locations for the more than 200 children who have attended since its inception in 2011.
“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