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

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

Honors also bestowed on youth volunteers in Tukwila, Prosser, Kettle Falls, Mount Vernon, Everson and Bellevue

OLYMPIA, Wash.--()--Leah Shin, 18, of Bothell and Fiona Cowell, 12, of Olympia today were named Washington'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. Leah was nominated by Henry M. Jackson High School in Mill Creek, and Fiona was nominated by the Thurston County 4-H in Olympia. 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).

Leah, a senior at Henry M. Jackson High School, started a literacy club at her high school that mentors immigrant students in learning English and adapting to their new environment, and collects books written in English for kids locally and in third-world countries. When Leah, a third-generation Korean-American, was in elementary school, she was placed in an ESL (English as a Second Language) class even though she spoke fluent English. In that class, she saw how kids from more recent immigrant families struggled to read. “They did not own English-written books at home, so the little English they learned at school would be quickly forgotten,” said Leah. “After years of seeing transfer students enter my high school lost, I wanted to do something that could help them get on their feet.”

Leah formed a club called “Literacy for Love” and invited classmates to come to school early to meet with ESL students to practice English, form friendships, and help them integrate into their new community. She and club members developed a website, promotional video, and a Facebook page; and made flyers and posters to promote a book drive that yielded 6,000 books. She distributed the books to ESL classrooms and students, hospitals, senior centers and shelters; and made care packages containing books for children in third-world countries. Literacy for Love now has about 80 members and has expanded to other high schools in her area.

Fiona, a sixth-grader at Black Lake Elementary, has worked on many volunteer projects with her 4-H club that benefit both animals and people. Fiona joined 4-H when she was 5 years old when her mother, a former 4-Her herself, became a leader. “Being in 4-H has helped me appreciate how blessed my life is,” said Fiona. “Being a 4-Her has changed my life by allowing me to change the lives of others for the greater good.”

Every month, club members discuss the needs of the community and how they can help. That was how Fiona got involved in helping a financially struggling pet shelter stay open. Fiona and club members donated toys, beds, food and money. “It felt nice to help the place that I adopted my own dog from,” she said. She often takes her dog Daisy on trips to a local nursing home, and recalls one particularly rewarding visit with a bed-ridden elderly woman who fell in love with the dog. “By the time we had to go, Daisy and the lady were inseparable!” she said. Fiona also has worked with her 4-H group to clear vegetation that was clogging a salmon stream, clean animal enclosures at a wildlife rehabilitation center, stuff stockings for children in need at Christmas, and collect food for a food bank.

As State Honorees, Leah and Fiona 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 Washington students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.

These are Washington's Distinguished Finalists for 2015:

Sujan Bhandari, 18, of Tukwila, Wash., a senior at Foster Senior High School, volunteers with the Refugee Women’s Alliance as a homework tutor and mentor for the children of refugees, inspired by his own time growing up in a refugee camp in Nepal. Since he began volunteering in 2010, Sujan’s role has grown to involve promoting the program throughout the community in the hopes of increasing awareness about its services.

Sebastian Castilleja, 16, of Prosser, Wash., a junior at Prosser High School, is a passionate volunteer with the local Boys & Girls Club who has volunteered more than 500 hours in an effort to provide children with positive role models and help keep them out of trouble, something he himself did not have as a young teen. Sebastian, whose goal is to make the children he mentors feel accepted, has recruited other high school students to volunteer there as well.

Joshua Dugger, 18, of Kettle Falls, Wash., a senior at Kettle Falls High School, volunteers as a firefighter for the Kettle Falls Fire Department, inspired by his father’s time as a volunteer firefighter. Joshua, who was trained in 2013, not only helps fight fires but also participates in mutual aid calls for ambulance crews.

Jessica France, 17, of Mount Vernon, Wash., a senior at Mount Vernon High School, has organized weekly visits to the Friendship House homeless shelter, where she works with the women and children on art projects and helps the children with their homework. Jessica, who first began working with the homeless in 2011 when she joined other members of her church to serve meals and provide basic items to the homeless community, gets help from her family for the program and also secured donated materials from local art stores for the projects.

Skyler Hamilton, 15, of Everson, Wash., a freshman at Meridian High School, is an avid volunteer for the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation and, as a survivor of brain and spine cancer, has shared his story through public speaking engagements to inspire young cancer patients and raise awareness of the need for better cures. Skyler has also helped raise funds for the Bob’s Buddies Radio-thon, the Kiwanis Children’s Cancer Program, and the American Cancer Society Relay for Life.

Nina Reckinger, 17, of Bellevue, Wash., a junior at Newport Senior High School, is an active volunteer for TeenLink, a teen crisis help line for which she answers calls from teens, serves as a peer advisory board member, and is a youth advocate. Nina, who began volunteering in 2013 after a friend experienced a crisis, attended a 50 hour training course to be able to help callers with issues related to grief, sexual orientation, sex and pregnancy, and also took specialized training to assist with suicide calls.

“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