ST. PAUL, Minn.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Shivani Nookala, 17, of Golden Valley and Alanna Worrall, 12, of Brooklyn Park today were named Minnesota'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. Shivani was nominated by Breck School in Golden Valley, and Alanna was nominated by Anoka Middle School in Anoka. 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).
Shivani, a junior at Breck School, started an indoor, vertical community garden at her school and leads a group of 10 students who work on the garden every day to provide fresh produce for a local food shelf. While Shivani’s homeroom class was volunteering at the FOCUS Minnesota food shelf, her teacher led discussions about hunger and mentioned that community gardening can play an important role in fighting hunger. “This moment sparked a call to action within myself,” said Shivani. “I thought our school could play a major part in donating not just food, but fresh produce, to those in need.”
Shivani embarked on a year-long independent study of community gardening, conducting research, networking with individuals and organizations across the country, and hosting a cross-community learning event. Then she persuaded her school to let her install an indoor garden with support and advice from a teacher, a gardening specialist and a couple of nonprofit organizations. Shivani recruited 10 fellow students to help her maintain the garden and donate its produce to feed the hungry. They are now assisting community gardens in other locations, and helping the city of Golden Valley start one. “Community gardening involves people directly making a change, and having the ability to do so regardless of their abilities and background,” said Shivani.
Alanna, a sixth-grader at Anoka Middle School for the Arts: Washington Campus, assembles “Feel Better” baskets and provides other items to help distract sick children from the fear they often experience in the hospital. When Alanna had outpatient surgery at Gillette Children’s Hospital in 2009, “I was really scared,” she said, but hospital staff members made her smile and laugh by giving her stickers, a blanket and a stuffed animal. Alanna wanted to do the same for other kids in the hospital, so several months later, she emptied her piggy bank to make four Easter baskets for young patients at Gillette.
The next year, she asked family members and friends to help her make more Easter baskets, and then summer baskets as well. Eventually, Alanna also solicited donations through collection boxes, letters to local businesses, a partnership with a local nonprofit group and a “hat day” at her school. So far, she has distributed more than 300 “Feel Better” baskets, each containing a bubble-blowing kit, a toy or activity, candy and a stuffed animal. In addition, Alanna has used some of her $2,000 in monetary donations to buy DVDs, video and board games, and craft supplies for hospitalized children. “Kids should have time to be kids even when they’re in the hospital,” said Alanna. “I don’t want them to be scared.”
As State Honorees, Shivani and Alanna 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 Minnesota students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are Minnesota's Distinguished Finalists for 2015:
Claire Baker, 18, of Maple Grove, Minn., a senior at Totino-Grace High School, began collecting shoes in 2010 for children without the basic necessities in Haiti, and has since collected and distributed 90,000 pairs of shoes and taken three trips to Haiti to personally distribute them. Claire, motivated to help by the devastation of the Haitian earthquake, partnered with the international organization Soles4Souls, which awarded her its Lifetime Achievement Award.
Emily Matlack, 18, of Carlton, Minn., a senior at Carlton High School, created “DRV TXT FREE” in 2013, an educational campaign for which she received a $1,000 grant to host a driving course at her school where teen drivers learned the dangers of driving while texting. In 2014, Emily used the skills she developed during her driving campaign to assist a friend with a bullying prevention program that taught seventh- and ninth-graders how to make positive decisions.
Manashree Padiyath, 13, of Woodbury, Minn., a seventh-grader at Math and Science Academy, raised $10,000 to support the building of an inclusive playground in her town sponsored by the Madison Claire Foundation, to help those in wheelchairs like her friend, Sydney, enjoy playing alongside other children. Manashree created a campaign through a crowdfunding site, made and distributed brochures, spoke with local businesses, and went door-to-door to collect the funds.
Shrey Pothini, 11, of Savage, Minn., a fifth-grader at Harriet Bishop Elementary, founded a community service club at his school when he was 9 years old that has grown into a club with more than 60 student participants who have volunteered more than 3,000 hours. Shrey, who teaches the students about a different nonprofit at each meeting and then initiates a service project to benefit each organization, is planning to work with students at all 10 elementary schools in the district to launch similar clubs.
Rachael Price, 17, of Excelsior, Minn., a senior at Minnetonka High School, received a $500 grant to build and maintain a charity garden run by the young members of her school’s Teens Taking Action Club, for which she is president and co-founder. Rachael, who donated the produce to the ICA Food Shelf, also secured donations of seeds and starter plants from local businesses and a plot for the garden from the city.
Kelly Reger, 18, of Edina, Minn., a senior at Edina High School, has raised $2,000 by partnering with Cub Food Stores and local youth groups to bag groceries to benefit cancer research at the University of Minnesota Cancer Research Center, where she has served 250 hours as a research intern in hopes of helping to find a cure for colon cancer, a disease that she and her family are genetically predisposed to. In addition, Kelly is the tournament director for “Slam Cancer!” a celebrity tennis tournament that she hopes will raise $100,000 in 2015.
“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