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

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

Honors also bestowed on youth volunteers in Columbia, Columbus, Madison and Biloxi

JACKSON, Miss.--()--Katie Rogers, 17, of Collins and Shields Haire, 13, of Tupelo today were named Mississippi'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. Katie was nominated by Simpson County Academy in Mendenhall, and Shields was nominated by Tupelo Middle School in Tupelo. 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).

Katie, a senior at Simpson County Academy, volunteers in the children’s activity room at a local hospital and serves as an intern for the American Cancer Society, both of which reflect her deep concern for sick children. When a good friend was diagnosed with acute leukemia in the third grade, “I instantly felt this urge to take care of him, which I did when I was allowed,” said Katie. Soon after, she decided she wanted to spend her life helping children with cancer and eventually become a pediatric oncology nurse. “But I wanted to get involved with the kids before then,” she said. So when her mother suggested she volunteer at Blair E. Batson Hospital in Jackson, Katie began filling out the required paperwork.

Once she was accepted as a hospital volunteer, Katie was assigned to the children’s “activity room,” the place where young patients go to play and hang out with each other. “My job there is to help the kids have fun and forget where they are for a second and just be kids,” said Katie. “The most difficult part is knowing some of the kids I have become so close with will not make it, but putting a smile on the kids’ faces is the most rewarding part of my day.” This prompted her to volunteer for the American Cancer Society, delivering toys to hospitals, designing T-shirts, supporting fundraising races, and providing other assistance. In addition to her work at home, Katie has traveled to Peru to teach English to children in rural villages. “My goal in all my actions is to see kids smile when they are at their lowest,” said Katie.

Shields, an eighth-grader at Tupelo Middle School, raised nearly $8,000 by selling T-shirts he helped design to assist in the rebuilding of four local churches after they were severely damaged or destroyed by a tornado that struck Tupelo last spring. Huddled in his basement, Shields listened as the tornado ripped through his town. When he finally was able to walk outside, “it was like a bomb had exploded, a new world,” Shields said. “I didn’t know Tupelo anymore.” Shields felt he needed to do something positive in the wake of the disaster, and decided to help four churches because they do so much for people in his community. “I thought how can I do this and it hit me: everybody needs a T-shirt!”

Shields worked with a graphic artist to design a T-shirt that read “I survived the Tupelo Tornado” on the back and “Tupelo Strong” along with a Bible verse on the front. He placed an order for shirts, made posters to hang around town, and with the help of his family, began spreading news of his project. Shields sold shirts at his school, at his parents’ businesses, and at local events. After stories about the T-shirt appeared on TV and in the local newspaper, sales quickly escalated. It wasn’t long before Shields had sold more than 400 shirts and was able to present almost $2,000 to each of the four churches. “This made me realize the impact that one small idea can make,” said Shields.

As State Honorees, Katie and Shields 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 Mississippi students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.

These are Mississippi's Distinguished Finalists for 2015:

Mary Mock, 17, of Columbia, Miss., a senior at Columbia High School, volunteered with the Baptist Friendship House in New Orleans to help conduct a human trafficking awareness training for law enforcement officials in and near Columbia. Mary, who worked closely with the local authorities and a representative from the Baptist Friendship House, helped to prepare handouts and a visual presentation about how to recognize the signs of human trafficking, how to prevent it, and how to best assist victims.

Elizabeth Phillips, 17, of Columbus, Miss., a senior at New Hope High School, has volunteered for two years in a row at the “Joy Prom,” a special dance event sponsored by her church for teens with disabilities who would not normally be able to attend their school-sponsored proms. Elizabeth, who helps to plan the prom, decorate, and prepare the food for the celebration, has also attended the Joy Prom as the date for attendees, ensuring they dance and have a great time.

Tolar Purvis, 18, of Madison, Miss., a senior at Jackson Preparatory School, founded “Project Eagle’s Nest,” a project that has raised $30,000 since 2013 through direct donations and fundraising events to support the building of a new floor and a garage for the Eagle’s Nest Orphanage in Guatemala. Tolar, who came to learn about the orphanage after his basketball team participated in a service trip, gathered a committee of 15 people who have helped him with the project.

Kimberly Sanchez, 18, of Biloxi, Miss., a senior at Biloxi High School, entertains patients at local nursing homes and a local hospice by playing her violin and visiting with the patients after her performances. Kimberly, who is referred to as a “musical therapist,” has been sharing her talent since 2013 and plans to apply all she’s learned from the experience to her future as a doctor.

“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