Wisconsin's Top Two Youth Volunteers Selected in 20Th Annual National Awards Program

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

Honors also bestowed on youth volunteers in Burlington, Wauwatosa, Mt. Pleasant, Appleton, Waukesha and Amery

MADISON, Wis.--()--Marlaina Perelshtein, 17, of Grafton and Lia Haile, 11, of Manitowoc today were named Wisconsin'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. Marlaina was nominated by Grafton High School in Grafton, and Lia was nominated by Stangel Elementary School in Manitowoc. 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).

Marlaina, a senior at Grafton High School, founded a volunteer group at her school that gives students the opportunity to participate in service activities with numerous nonprofit organizations. While volunteering at the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin at age 12, Marlaina met a little boy awaiting a heart transplant, and realized the impact that volunteers can make on those who are sick or in need. “It was at that moment that I knew more people needed to get involved as there is strength in numbers,” she said.

Marlaina continued to volunteer on her own, doing things like chairing a committee for a March of Dimes fundraising walk, assisting with Children’s Hospital’s annual prom, and singing to young patients in the pediatric cancer ward. Eventually, however, she decided she needed to share her love of volunteering with fellow students by forming a volunteer group at her school. She met with school administrators to propose a student-run organization called “Teens on the Scene” (TOS), which soon became an official school activity. When the group meets, each member must propose at least one service opportunity so that there are plenty of ideas to choose from. Many of the opportunities result from Marlaina’s close ties to organizations such as Children’s Hospital, March of Dimes, Children’s Miracle Network and Make-A-Wish Foundation. The concept has been so successful that there are now four more TOS chapters across Wisconsin. “My friends frequently question my love of volunteering,” said Marlaina. “What they don’t realize is that volunteering can be just as fun as any other activity.”

Lia, a fifth-grader at Stangel Elementary School, created a community club of more than 600 adults and children who help her provide welcome bags, birthday parties, holiday celebrations and other items and events for children and families staying at a local homeless shelter. In 2012, Lia went to Hope House with her mother to drop off donations that her Girl Scout troop had collected. It happened to be one little boy’s birthday, and when Lia asked if he was going to have a party, the shelter’s director replied that there was no money for parties. “I told my mom I wanted to have a party for him,” said Lia. “From that day on, I have been throwing birthday parties for every child who celebrates a birthday at the homeless shelter.”

She now has plenty of help. After Lia formed a “Hopeful Hearts Club” to get people in her community involved and a newspaper published a story on her efforts, lots of adults and young people volunteered to work with her. “Even the mayor joined my club!” said Lia. That enabled her to expand her activities. In addition to birthday parties, Lia’s club gives each child arriving at Hope House a “Welcome Home” bag containing toiletries and a fleece blanket. The club also hosts holiday dinners at the shelter, as well as monthly events such as Easter Egg hunts, ice cream socials, Christmas cookie swaps, pizza parties and family excursions. Lia works closely with local businesses to obtain goods and services at a discount for these activities. She also has coordinated drives to collect books for the shelter and school supplies for children in need. In addition, Lia won a $1,000 grant to improve Hope House’s backyard, and will use that money to install a fence, swing set and sandbox for the kids there.

As State Honorees, Marlaina and Lia 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 Wisconsin students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.

These are Wisconsin's Distinguished Finalists for 2015:

Eric Beets, 18, of Burlington, Wis., a senior at Burlington High School, received a $1,000 grant to fund the “Young Eagles Rally,” an event that provided free small airplane rides to 130 children in an effort to encourage future careers in aviation. Eric, who himself is a pilot, sought sponsorships from local businesses to offset costs, secured the participation of 10 pilots, promoted the event in local media and is already organizing another event for next year.

Hannah Doyle, 18, of Wauwatosa, Wis., a senior at Brookfield Academy, founded a bi-weekly adolescent support group for teens like herself with trichotillomania, a medical condition that involves chronic hair-pulling, and takes video calls to help those who cannot attend the meetings. Hannah also conducted an awareness campaign at her school and recruited help from classmates to send letters to 250 pediatricians in the Milwaukee area to help them better understand the often misdiagnosed illness.

Mary Graebner, 18, of Mt. Pleasant, Wis., a senior at J.I. Case High School, has collected 33 gently-used graduation caps and gowns and donated them to students who otherwise could not walk in their graduation ceremonies because they could not afford the $90 cap and gown fee. Mary, who founded “Gowns for Grads” when she learned that graduates were opting out of the ceremony because of the cost, is now helping to institute the well-established program at other area high schools.

Maya Murzello, 18, of Appleton, Wis., a senior at Appleton North High School, created a music video to encourage bystanders of bullying to intervene, based on her research which showed that, when a bystander steps in, the bully will back down within 10 seconds nearly 57% of the time. Maya, inspired by the story of a student from a neighboring school who had been terribly victimized by bullies, has used the video in bullying prevention workshops she has presented at local schools and the local Boys and Girls Club.

Nicolas Spindt, 11, of Waukesha, Wis., a sixth-grader at Kettle Moraine Middle School, has collected more than 1,000 pairs of socks and 300 pairs of shoes through his program, “Socks & Sole-diers,” and donated them to homeless veterans through the Milwaukee Homeless Veterans’ Initiative. Nicolas, who witnessed a large number of homeless veterans on a trip to Washington, D.C., has organized drives at his church, elementary school, the local police, fire and sheriff departments and the America Legion.

Connor Wears, 18, of Amery, Wis., a senior at Amery High School, led an initiative to renovate the overgrown baseball field at his high school, a project that involved recruiting and overseeing the volunteer help of 26 fellow baseball players and Boy Scouts to recreate the bullpen mounds and home plate area, and spruce up the batting cage. Connor, a baseball player, took on the project after growing tired of the run down condition of the field.

“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