TRENTON, N.J.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Arturo (AJ) Mattia, 15, of Turnersville and William Cook, 13, of Washington Township today were named New Jersey'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. AJ was nominated by Holy Cross Academy in Delran, and William was nominated by Westwood Regional Jr./Sr. High School in Township of Washington. 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).
AJ, a freshman at Holy Cross Academy, survived bone cancer and a leg amputation to become a prominent champion for pediatric cancer awareness and fundraising. One day in 2011, AJ fell to the ground at school screaming in pain. The femur in his left leg had suddenly broken, and he soon learned that a cancerous tumor was the cause. “After many months of chemotherapy, several major surgeries, and a leg amputation, I felt like I needed to make a difference in this world of ‘cancer’ that I was living in,” he said.
AJ knew about well-publicized campaigns for other types of cancer, but never saw anything about childhood cancer. So he set out to have major landmarks in the Philadelphia/South Jersey area lit in gold, the official color of the fight against pediatric cancer, during the month of September, which is Child Cancer Awareness Month. Several Philadelphia buildings, the Ben Franklin Bridge and an Atlantic City casino all took part. Then he partnered with a pediatric cancer foundation to sell gold shoelaces in his hometown, and raised $30,000 with the help of teachers and fellow students. In addition, AJ started his own foundation to “bring the outside world into the lives of patients and their families through technology.” He also sits on the board of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and is executive director of an organization that provides wigs to women with cancer and grants wishes to young patients.
William, an eighth-grader at Westwood Regional Jr./Sr. High School, has sent more than 3,000 baseballs signed by Americans of all ages to U.S. soldiers as an expression of love, thanks, hope and praise. William, whose grandfathers and great-grandfather served in the military, started out by participating in a letter-writing campaign for U.S. troops. “But baseball is my passion!” he said. “I really wanted to do something baseball-oriented for my volunteer hours.” His mother suggested including baseballs with his letters, and then William thought: why not write letters on baseballs.
He began to collect baseballs from friends, family members and local businesses, and then set up a table at his former elementary school during a town festival and asked attendees to write encouraging notes on the balls. He took 100 signed baseballs home that day, packaged them in a treat bag, and shipped them to military contacts. Since then, William has held baseball signings with youth groups, Girl Scouts, senior citizens, police and fire departments, sports teams, corporations and military organizations. In addition, volunteers in Florida, South Carolina, Connecticut and Pennsylvania have picked up on his idea and sent hundreds of baseballs on their own to active servicemembers. William recently turned his project into a nonprofit called “Billy’s BASEballs” with a website to spread the word. “I intend to keep this going as long as our troops are fighting for our freedom,” he said.
As State Honorees, AJ and William 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 six other New Jersey students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are New Jersey's Distinguished Finalists for 2015:
Soo Bean Jo, 18, of Cresskill, N.J., a senior at Bergen Academy for Business and Finance in Hackensack, founded “All Together,” a student-run organization that provides support to young victims of maltreatment and abuse through special programs including taekwondo and cooking classes, and has raised more than $5,000 to support the program. Soo Bean, whose program now involves more than 100 teen volunteers, started the program in an attempt to provide a strong support system for those most vulnerable.
Valerie Kologrivov, 18, of Wyckoff, N.J., a junior at Ramapo High School, co-founded “Making A Difference for Kids (MAD4Kids),” a nonprofit organization that has raised $50,000 in four years through the efforts of two student clubs that plan regular fund-raising projects and awareness events to help children across the world escape poverty and tragedy. Valerie, who serves as co-president of the chapter at her high school and director of the chapter at a middle school, organized a Hurricane Sandy fundraiser and an awareness campaign for kidnapped Nigerian girls.
Jessica Levy, 18, of Sewell, N.J., a senior at Washington Township High School, created “The Celebration of Service Gala” with a group of friends, and held the event in March 2014 to honor 70 members of the community for their extraordinary service. Jessica, who coordinated logistics including the award recipients, the programs and the keynote speaker, also arranged for a fifth grade chorus to perform a song in American Sign Language, and for representatives from local charities to distribute volunteer information.
Sabina London, 17, of Haworth, N.J., a junior at Northern Valley Demarest High School, founded “Girls Science Interactive,” a program that provides free science summer camps for elementary and middle school girls to spark their interest in science. Sabina used her own passion for science to write a curriculum that included hands-on experiments in energy and matter, global warming and renewable energy, the solar system, electricity, chemistry and neuroscience.
Jessica Martin, 18, of Manalapan, N.J., a senior at Manalapan High School, spearheaded the creation of a Teen Center in her town, which involved working with town officials and recruiting volunteers to help refurbish an unused firehouse and turn it into a safe and fun hang-out to keep teens away from unsafe social pressures. Jessica, disappointed by not making the varsity soccer team after a life-long dream and years of practice, chose to use her newfound spare time for the benefit of others.
Olivia Perlmutter, 18, of Chatham, N.J., a senior at Chatham High School, founded “Teens Connecting With Teens,” a friendship organization that bridges gaps between teens from her high school and teens with special needs, like Olivia’s twin sister. Olivia, inspired by her sister’s desire to have the same opportunities she has, founded the club in her freshman year, recruited a slate of officers and a faculty advisor, and has since organized a series of successful Teen Nights that bring together all the teens for singing, dancing, arts and crafts and fun.
“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.