NASHVILLE, Tenn.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Sara Puryear, 18, of Nashville and Iyonia Boyce, 14, of Memphis today were named Tennessee'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. Sara was nominated by Harpeth Hall School in Nashville, and Iyonia was nominated by Collierville Middle School in Collierville. 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).
Sara, a senior at Harpeth Hall School, started a program to encourage young people around her state to collect toys, clothing and other gifts for patients at a Nashville children’s hospital. Sara had already participated in several donation drives for the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt when one day, as she was delivering some items, she happened to see 70 newly donated red wagons, which are used to transport young patients at the hospital. She immediately thought about filling all of the wagons with things that could make sick children’s hospital stays more comfortable and pleasant.
She presented to the hospital a plan to recruit young volunteers all over Tennessee to conduct donation drives in their local neighborhoods, schools, churches and community organizations for the children of Vanderbilt. The hospital embraced her idea and set up a page on its website featuring the “Red Wagon Project” logo that Sara designed. Sara holds orientation sessions for new “ambassadors” twice a year, and provides them with packets of posters and information to assist them with their own drives. As a result, thousands of items have arrived at the hospital, including games, toys, pajamas, socks and other things on the hospital’s wish list. “The nurses tell us that anything special brings a smile to the patient and helps a rough situation be not so bad,” said Sara. “Being in the hospital is tough on children and any way to make this experience a more ‘normal’ part of childhood is worth the world to me.”
Iyonia, an eighth-grader at Collierville Middle School, founded a mentoring group that volunteers for a variety of charities and conducts numerous activities to combat bullying. Iyonia realized the importance of community service after volunteering for the March of Dimes and learning about all the medical issues facing premature babies. So in 2009 she formed “Little Divas in Training” to encourage other students to volunteer. In the years since, her group has raised funds and collected donated items worth more than $20,000 for organizations such as St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and Girls Inc. The group also works to prevent bullying, which Iyonia experienced in the fourth grade. Like so many others, Iyonia suffered in silence, but when her parents got involved and a local student committed suicide after being bullied, Iyonia decided to speak out and put bullying education on her Little Divas agenda.
Iyonia has made presentations to more than 4,500 students about how to identify and manage bullying situations, and performs interactive exercises to foster understanding of victims’ feelings. She also has taken her anti-bullying message to the media and is involved in a bullying prevention group at her school. In addition, Little Divas has hosted an anti-bullying workshop, a teen dating and domestic violence brunch, and a pageant to instill confidence in girls who have been bullied. The group also collected over 100 dresses for girls who couldn’t afford to buy their own for homecoming and prom dances. “I want to show my peers that you can do anything if you believe in yourself and work hard,” said Iyonia.
As State Honorees, Sara and Iyonia 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 Tennessee students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are Tennessee's Distinguished Finalists for 2015:
Laree Carter, 13, of Germantown, Tenn., an eighth-grader at Riverdale Elementary School, is an active member of the Riverdale Ropers, a Jump Rope for Heart demonstration team at her school, and volunteers with the nonprofit Jump Club, for which she has helped to raise $10,000 to teach kids how to jump rope and live fit lives. Laree, motivated to help others by her grandmother’s struggle with heart disease, has performed at jump rope events at 10 schools in the past year.
Sarah Locke, 18, of Charleston, Tenn., a senior at Walker Valley High School, founded a neighborhood watch program for which she recruits volunteers, organizes meetings and events, and connects with neighbors and local law enforcement. Sarah, who felt compelled to pursue the project after the local elementary school was burglarized, is currently serving as the neighborhood watch director.
Claire Martin, 18, of Petersburg, Tenn., a senior at Cornersville High School, established three “Little Free Libraries,” throughout Marshall County, which are small structures built to resemble a school house and stocked with donated books that anyone can take. Claire, who chose this project to help encourage reading by providing easy access to books, hosted book drives to stock the libraries and worked with town officials for approval to place them in front of the housing authority, the Head Start program and at the local park.
Morgan Munsey, 18, of Church Hill, Tenn., a senior at Sullivan East High School, recently co-founded the “Patriot Stars Cheer Squad” for girls from pre-school through 12th grade with special needs, and has made arrangements for the squad to perform at high school basketball games. Morgan, who was motivated to help those with special needs by her younger brother’s autism diagnosis, works with a friend to choreograph dances and create cheers for 15 girls.
Abigail Ridenour, 17, of Oak Ridge, Tenn., a senior at Oak Ridge High School, created “Blessings Through a Blankie,” an organization through which she has personally made 125 blankets and delivered them to children undergoing chemotherapy and to loved ones staying at the Ronald McDonald House. Abigail, who knows from her mother’s cancer treatment that a side effect is a constant sense of feeling cold, made her mother a blanket to use during treatment, which inspired her make more blankets to help others.
Michael Zietz, 18, of Murfreesboro, Tenn., a senior at Oakland High School, sponsored various fundraising events that have raised $10,000 for “Honor Flight,” an organization that provides free flights for veterans to visit their war memorials in Washington, D.C. Michael, who embarked on this mission as the president of the Tennessee Children of the American Revolution, was motivated by a Navy reunion trip he attended with his grandfather, and hopes to fund 32 trips at $500 each and fill an entire flight with veterans.
“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