AUSTIN, Texas--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Cullen Corr, 16, of Irving and Eric Li, 14, of Manvel today were named Texas' top two youth volunteers of 2015 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism. Cullen was nominated by Episcopal School of Dallas in Dallas, and Eric was nominated by Pearland Junior High West in Pearland. 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).
Cullen, a junior at Episcopal School of Dallas, founded a nonprofit organization made up of student leaders from 12 Dallas-area high schools who mentor, tutor and raise money for kids at a local homeless center. When Cullen began volunteering for Family Gateway with his mother in seventh grade, he noticed there was no place there for teens to “hang out,” so he spent the following summer raising money and recruiting volunteers to install a teen room at the center. He then started planning monthly activities for the kids there and helping them with their schoolwork. “Every time I realized there was a need, I wanted to do something to address that need and help the children,” he said.
Cullen eventually formalized his support for kids at the homeless center by establishing a nonprofit and involving students from other high schools in the area. His group conducts tutoring sessions every Sunday afternoon, plans events at the center each month, hosts holiday celebrations, and runs collection drives for needed items, often aided by hundreds of volunteers. In addition, Cullen’s “Kids Helping Kids” organization raised more than $20,000 through two 5K races to buy a 15-passenger van that will enable the kids at Family Gateway to go on educational field trips, attend camps, and take part in preschool programs. And it is selling branded merchandise on its website to fund a college scholarship program for Family Gateway children.
Eric, an eighth-grader at Pearland Junior High West, founded a nonprofit organization with his siblings that has collected nearly $200,000 in cash and in-kind donations to help children around the world recover from major disasters. When Eric was 7, an earthquake in Sichuan, China, killed nearly 90,000 people. “I was very sad, and felt that I had to help the kids there,” he said. He gathered all of his savings – $94.87 – and asked everyone in his school to help him collect more money for the victims. In three months, Eric was able to send more than $4,500 to the Red Cross for disaster relief in Sichuan, and then visited China to deliver $1,500 more.
That experience made Eric realize that there are lots of people around the world who need help. He and his siblings formed a nonprofit charity that has since organized more than 400 activities that have either raised money or collected needed items for young victims of 10 disasters. When Japan was hit by an earthquake and tsunami in 2011, Eric and his fellow volunteers persuaded young people and adults in 16 countries to send over 5,000 letters to children who suffered from the disaster. In November 2013, Eric led an effort to ship 4,210 items of clothing and other supplies to the Philippines in the aftermath of a devastating typhoon. Currently, Eric also is teaching local students to refurbish computers, which are then sent to orphanages in third-world countries.
As State Honorees, Cullen and Eric 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 ten other Texas students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are Texas' Distinguished Finalists for 2015:
Wilson Clark, 18, of Midland, Texas, a senior at Lee High School, raised $11,000 in toy and monetary donations to provide 1,000 children with new toys through “Toys for Cops,” the nonprofit organization he founded in 2011. Wilson, who was bullied as a child and wanted to provide comfort to others as a result, provides toys to police officers who then use them to comfort children in crisis, including those who have been abused or who have lost loved ones to crime.
Karla Espinosa, 17, of Mission, Texas, a senior at Sharyland High School, founded the “Driving for Wishes Golf Classic” in September 2014, which raised more than $73,000 and provided wishes for 14 children through the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Karla, who worked with the event sponsor, Texas National Bank, recruited volunteers and sponsors and promoted the event.
Jake Galant, 17, of Dallas, Texas, a junior at St. Mark's School of Texas, is the director of TeraByte, an organization that provides weeklong camps to teach kids how to design video games and, with the revenue earned from those programs, provides the camps for free to students from low-income families. Jake, who trains and manages volunteer counselors to help teach the camp, hopes to teach students problem-solving and critical thinking skills, the basics of computer programming, and interactive storytelling.
Jocelyn Hernandez, 18, of San Antonio, Texas, a senior at Lee High School, founded “Environate,” a nonprofit organization that offers apprenticeships to high school students in need in business, law, policy and STEM companies that are focused on eco-research. Jocelyn, who hopes to debut the first Environate class during the summer of 2015, has developed the seven-week training program to uncover the hidden talents of students who might not otherwise have these opportunities.
Courtney Janecka, 11, of Woodway, Texas, a fifth-grader at River Valley Intermediate School, raised $4,500 by selling handmade beaded bracelets through her project, “Courtney’s Creations,” and uses the funds raised to provide cancer patients with “This Can’t Be Happening,” a book written by her mom about her own cancer journey. Courtney, who was 10 years old when she began her project, sells her bracelets through gift shops, hospitals, stores and churches.
Sanah Jivani, 17, of Spring, Texas, a senior at Klein Collins High School, created “International Natural Day,” a day to celebrate everyone’s natural selves — an initiative inspired by her struggle with medical hair loss and her desire to help others overcome similar challenges. Sanah, who lost all of her hair by age 12 and now goes without a wig in order to “love her natural self,” prepared a Natural Day kit for people in 11 schools and 28 countries who have hosted the day in their locations, and has also created a website with information and stories of inspiration.
Grace Knight, 17, of Tyler, Texas, a junior at Bishop T.K. Gorman Catholic School, has helped her family in their efforts to raise $1,500,000 to support research for a cure for cystic fibrosis, which Grace was diagnosed with as a baby. Grace, who helps her family with the annual Great Strides Walk they created in 1999, is in the process of creating a poetry book comprised of poems written by cystic fibrosis patients and their loved ones.
Abigail Moorhead, 16, of Houston, Texas, a sophomore at St. John's School, has helped to raise more than $300,000 in the past four years as co-founder of an annual benefit concert, “Voice for Zambia,” and has used the funds to pay the school tuition for Zambian orphans as well as pay for food, books and clothing and help to build a home to provide emergency shelter for several children. Abigail serves as the event emcee, helps with the invitations, marketing, ticket sales and also performs at the concerts.
Katherine Thomas, 17, of Plano, Texas, a junior at Plano West Senior High School, has created and implemented a free summer computer programming and robotics class for 50 children using a $3,000 grant from Dell to purchase robotics kits, and received help to teach the camp from college students at the University of Texas. Katherine, a member of the First Lego League sixth place world team, also worked with a local Girl Scout troop to teach engineering concepts and mentor them to follow science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers.
Kayce Welch, 17, of Texarkana, Texas, a junior at Texas High School, created the “One of a Kind” project to help raise funds and awareness of juvenile diabetes, the disease she was diagnosed with at age 11, and has so far raised $3,000 through a charity walk to support a summer camp for children with diabetes. Kayce is currently planning a “One of a Kind Gala for Diabetes,” to be held in the spring of 2015, which she hopes will raise at least $30,000 to help fund research into a cure.
“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