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

Missoula and Great Falls students earn $1,000 awards, engraved medallions and trip to nation’s capital

Honors also bestowed on youth volunteers in Cut Bank and Stevensville

HELENA, Mont.--()--Keegan Nicholson, 17, of Missoula and Jayson Wanner, 13, of Great Falls today were named Montana'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. Keegan was nominated by Loyola Sacred Heart High School in Missoula, and Jayson was nominated by East Middle School in Great Falls. 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).

Keegan, a senior at Loyola Sacred Heart High School, has been refurbishing old laptop computers for the past several years, and donating them to students and young adults who cannot afford to buy one. “I have always had a keen interest in working with computers,” said Keegan, “and have found that I am very good at refurbishing people’s old computers to make them run almost like new.” Recognizing the vital role computers play in students’ education, and the fact that many students cannot afford them, Keegan realized he could use his skills to fill a “technological void” in his community.

Initially, Keegan conducted his project only within the Loyola Sacred Heart community, seeking donated computers through the school’s marketing director and providing restored machines to fellow students. The first recipient, he said, “was so thrilled she started crying.” Keegan later decided that young people throughout Missoula could benefit from his program, so he established a website to promote his service. Before long, local news media picked up on his story, state agencies began sending him their old laptops, and the local school district asked Keegan to extend his program into the public schools. To manage his growing enterprise, Keegan recruited other high school students to serve on a management board and help coordinate donations and deliveries. Keegan’s “Laptops for Students” program has given away dozens of refurbished machines so far, and he is encouraging others to start similar programs in their communities with detailed instructions on his website.

Jayson, an eighth-grader at East Middle School, volunteers to assist kids with special needs both as a unified partner for a Special Olympics athlete and as an assistant in the special education room at his school. Jayson’s mother is a special ed teacher at a local high school, and he wanted to get involved in helping young people with disabilities, too. He asked to have his school schedule changed so that he could work in the special ed room at East Middle School, helping the students there with their assignments and doing whatever else the teacher wants him to do.

Jayson saw another opportunity to pursue his volunteer interests when he heard about the Special Olympics program. He contacted the organization and the head coach of a local team, and then signed on as a unified partner to help an athlete with disabilities compete in Special Olympics sporting events. Soon after, Jayson persuaded his mother and sister to become Special Olympics volunteers, as well. “I have pride in what I do,” said Jayson. “All of the people I have worked with, as well as myself, have benefited.”

As State Honorees, Keegan and Jayson 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 two other Montana students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.

These are Montana's Distinguished Finalists for 2015:

Shelbi Fitzpatrick, 18, of Cut Bank, Mont., a senior at Cut Bank High School, founded a support and service group at her school called “Helping Others Provides Encouragement (H.O.P.E.),” and serves on the Montana Student Advisory Board, where she lends her voice to important discussions on bullying, graduation rates, academic success and social challenges. Shelbi, who founded H.O.P.E. as a positive way to help her peers overcome everyday issues, learned that coming together to help others created a common bond that enabled them to also help each other.

Emily Jones, 16, of Stevensville, Mont., a member of the Ravalli County 4-H in Hamilton and a junior at Ravalli Classical Academy, has raised $1,500 to support Burmese refugee children living in an orphanage in Thailand by repurposing feed bags into tote bags and selling them through her project, “Bags4Burma.” Emily, who has been working with the pastor at her church to connect with the orphanage, went on a missionary trip to Thailand to visit with the children who have benefitted from her service.

“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 or


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

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

Editors: For full-color pictures of the Spirit of Community Awards program logo and medallions, click here:


Prudential Financial
Harold Banks, 973-802-8974 or 973-216-4833


Prudential Financial
Harold Banks, 973-802-8974 or 973-216-4833