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

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

Distinguished Finalists also named in Huntington and Parkersburg

CHARLESTON, W.Va.--()--Thad Taylor, 17, of Huntington and Emilee Ellison, 12, of Parkersburg today were named West Virginia'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. Thad was nominated by Huntington High School in Huntington, and Emilee was nominated by Wood County 4-H in Parkersburg. 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).

Thad, a junior at Huntington High School, designed and installed a 54-foot-long tile mural at the entrance to a new children’s hospital in Huntington, so that scared children arriving at the facility would be greeted with a bright and cheerful river scene instead of just a gray concrete wall. Thad has participated in volunteer activities for most of his life, but wanted to find a project “that was going to have a big impact in my community,” he said, and one he could “come back to in 20 years and show my children.” He knew a new children’s hospital was being built, and figured a colorful mural at the entrance would be an ideal undertaking.

Starting almost three years ago, Thad convened more than 10 meetings with hospital officials and various professionals to come up with a plan. Then he created a blue-and-green mural design depicting a river flowing through grass, raised over $2,600, bought nearly 16,000 one-inch glass tiles and other supplies, and found a tile contractor willing to donate his time. Thad worked as the contractor’s assistant during the installation, and recruited other volunteers to assist with other parts of the project, which Thad calls “Tiles for Smiles.” Said Thad: “Sick children arriving at the hospital for painful tests, frightening treatments or intimidating surgeries will now see a wall that is bright, glittering, uplifting and happy, hopefully distracting their uneasiness and calming their fears, because it is dazzling.”

Emilee, a sixth-grader at Williamstown Elementary School, launched a project called “Operation: Spread the Love” to perform random acts of kindness to others in her community, and encourage the beneficiaries of her kindness to do the same. “My family has always viewed Valentine’s Day as a golden opportunity to show love to our friends and family,” said Emilee. “After finding out that Valentine’s week was also Random Acts of Kindness week, I decided to take things a step further and come up with small projects that could put smiles on the faces of others.”

She tried out her idea on her 4-H club by having members write compliments to each other on cut-out hearts, and spoke to them about ways they could spread random acts of kindness to others. She gave a similar talk to her fifth grade class. Next, Emilee gathered some friends to begin her own acts of kindness. One weekend, they spent over 14 hours packaging homemade crafts and goodies into hundreds of baggies, and then distributed them both to acquaintances and to strangers. One of Emilee’s favorite “acts” is using colored chalk to decorate driveways, sidewalks and concrete walls with rainbows, hearts, smiling faces, and inspirational words and sentiments at the homes of friends or anyone she knows who “could use a smile,” she said.

As State Honorees, Thad and Emilee 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 West Virginia students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.

These are West Virginia's Distinguished Finalists for 2015:

Ginny Blake, 17, of Huntington, W. Va., a senior at Huntington High School, founded “The Bucks for Ducks Fund,” and has raised more than $7,000 to provide 250 stuffed “Chemo Ducks” used a medical learning tool for children undergoing chemotherapy. Ginny, who was inspired to help those with cancer by her grandfather’s fight with the disease, founded the organization in the spring of 2014 when she sponsored a charity walk to raise the initial funds.

Ryan Thompson, 16, of Parkersburg, W. Va., a member of the Wood County 4-H in Parkersburg and a sophomore at Parkersburg South High School, conducted an awareness campaign for Tourette syndrome that included hosting presentations for his school and his 4-H Club, and selling T-shirts reading, “Tourette Syndrome Tics Me Off!” Ryan, who has Tourette syndrome, encouraged all who bought T-shirts to post on their social media accounts during National Tourette Syndrome Awareness Month in May, and also prepared an informational packet so each person could become advocates when asked about the T-shirt.

“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