SANTA FE, N.M.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Renaya Demarest, 18, of Edgewood and Justin Allen, 14, of Albuquerque today were named New Mexico'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. Renaya was nominated by East Mountain High School in Sandia Park, and Justin was nominated by Holy Ghost Catholic School in Albuquerque. 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).
Renaya, a senior at East Mountain High School, organized a series of basketball games at her high school to raise money and awareness for cancer research. Renaya was watching the American Cancer Society’s 2013 Coaches vs. Cancer (CvC) men’s basketball tournament when it occurred to her that her high school could hold its own version of the fundraiser to fight cancer. “My desire to host our own CvC games was ignited by my love of basketball and something even deeper – my dearest grandmother was a victim of cancer in 2011,” said Renaya. But there was an obstacle: typically colleges, not high schools, hosted CvC games, and no high school in New Mexico had ever been involved.
Renaya did not let that stop her. First, she emailed the American Cancer Society with her idea and got approval. Then, as student body president, she asked her student council to help her plan three basketball games, including an alumni vs. staff game and a game against her school’s main sports rival. Renaya and her fellow volunteers went to local businesses to solicit donations and sponsorships, sold tickets to the games, and organized halftime ceremonies that honored three local cancer survivors, who were presented with basketballs signed by the teams. Renaya’s games raised $700 for the American Cancer Society and prompted many of her fellow students to participate with her in the cancer society’s Relay for Life fundraiser. Renaya hopes to inspire underclassmen to continue the games after she graduates.
Justin, an eighth-grader at Holy Ghost Catholic School, volunteered at his old summer camp last year, performing a variety of tasks to help the camp run smoothly. As a youngster, Justin had attended the camp and looked up to the teen volunteers, including his older sibling, who assisted the staff. “All of the volunteers seemed to look happy even when they were working, so I felt this was something that I wanted to do. I felt that it was important to be a good role model for children,” said Justin.
Every day, Justin worked at the camp from 8 a.m. until 1 p.m. He did any task he was asked to do, including cleaning up after breakfast, lunch and snack time; cleaning camp buses and the playground; taking out the trash; feeding the camp’s bunnies and fish; and cleaning the cages and tanks that house the animals. In addition, Justin helped set up the stage and organize the music for special events. One of his favorite things, Justin said, was helping the young campers. After giving a little boy ice to soothe a bumped head, Justin said he was surprised when the boy later ran up to him and gave him a big hug. “It felt so great to have a young kid adore you just for helping in their time of need,” he said.
As State Honorees, Renaya and Justin 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 two other New Mexico students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are New Mexico's Distinguished Finalists for 2015:
Issach Martinez, 18, of Rio Rancho, N.M., a senior at Independence High School, organized a toiletry drive to help homeless teens at his school, and also coordinated a Halloween dance with a portion of the proceeds benefitting the local food bank. Issach organized these and other charitable events through his school, where he currently serves as student body president.
Matthew Villareal, 18, of Albuquerque, N.M., a senior at St. Pius X High School, initiated a community service project through his National Honor Society to collect and distribute 200 backpacks to children at a local homeless shelter who will use the backpacks instead of plastic bags when they move from the shelter to other homes. Matthew embarked on the backpack campaign, which will now be an annual project, as a result of his prior volunteer work at the homeless shelter.
“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