JEFFERSON CITY, Mo.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Nicole Shah, 16, of Springfield and Blake Harris, 14, of Kansas City today were named Missouri'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. Nicole was nominated by Greenwood Laboratory School in Springfield, and Blake was nominated by Congress Middle School in Kansas City. 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).
Nicole, a junior at Greenwood Laboratory School, co-founded a nonprofit organization made up of teen volunteers from five high schools and two colleges who have raised $65,000 over the past two years to benefit sick children and others with serious illnesses. “As a kid, I watched my mother make an impact on the lives of those in need nearly every day,” said Nicole. “She made me realize how important giving back to my community is, and how I can make an impact.” When Nicole and a group of peers got together to organize a local service project, Nicole realized the need for an organization that could give teens the opportunity to not only volunteer on an ongoing basis, but to become leaders in their community. So Nicole and a friend launched a nonprofit called “ETHIC” (for “Every Teen Helps Inspire Change”). As president, Nicole recruits members, manages budgets, organizes fundraisers, and promotes the organization money to buy a frozen beverage machine for a local hospital, to alleviate the pain of mouth sores that young cancer patients often develop when undergoing chemotherapy. In addition, the group created an event to pay for life-changing surgery for 10 patients from Nepal. Nicole said she hopes to start a chapter of ETHIC in her college next year.
Blake, an eighth-grader at Congress Middle School, has made it his mission to perform lots of small but important tasks to make life easier for people in need in his community. Blake says he “caught fire” with community service while participating in volunteer projects through Boy Scouts, his church, the National Junior Honor Society, and simply by following the example of family members. Still, he thought he could do more. “I felt the world lacked spontaneous giving and service,” Blake said. “I came up with the idea of doing lots of activities for lots of different ages so that it could be ongoing. I can’t help everybody, but I can help a lot of people some.”
So two years ago, Blake started his project, “Pass It On,” to perform acts of kindness for people who need a helping hand. He has done errands for the elderly, visited the sick and lonely, mowed lawns for neighbors, worked at a food bank, participated in fundraising walks, read to children with special needs, purchased food to provide a Thanksgiving dinner for a family in need, and gathered items for Christmas gift baskets. One of his favorite experiences was shoveling a driveway for a woman who otherwise could not have gotten to a dialysis appointment. Blake also spends time everyday helping to care for his brother, who has autism. “Helping others in lots of small ways everyday creates joy,” said Blake.
As State Honorees, Nicole and Blake 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 Missouri students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are Missouri's Distinguished Finalists for 2015:
Sophie Bernstein, 15, of St. Louis, Mo., a freshman at Clayton High School, is an advocate for the prevention of hunger and, since growing her own backyard garden and donating the produce to local food banks, has built and maintained four additional gardens and donated more than 5,000 pounds of fresh produce to benefit children and local food banks. In addition, Sophie has taught 225 pre-school children how to plant and maintain a garden and how important it is to eat fresh produce.
Taylor Brooks, 18, of Dora, Mo., a senior at Dora High School, is the administrator of the “Snackpack Backpack Program” at his school, and has raised more than $11,000 through corporate sponsorships to provide 1,000 weekend snackpacks for 122 elementary school students who participate in the reduced-cost lunch program. Taylor, who took over the program when its founder graduated last year, packs the weekly snack packs, attaches a card to each pack to credit each weekly sponsor, and restocks his inventory with the help of just one classmate.
Aileen Markovitz, 18, of Wildwood, Mo., a senior at Eureka High School, founded the “National Honor Society Outreach Program” in an effort to expand community service opportunities beyond the NHS membership to the entire student body. Aileen, driven to volunteer by watching her mother fight ALS, also founded the “St. Louis Association of National Honor Societies” as a resource to help local chapters work together on joint service projects.
Jade McNeil, 17, of Troy, Mo., a senior at Troy Buchanan High School, has distributed more than 500 backpacks filled with school supplies to children in need through the program she founded, “Success in a Backpack.” Jade, who started the program after volunteering at an office supply store and noticing how many teachers purchased school supplies for their students, secured $11,000 in donations from local businesses, and works closely with the school district to determine exactly how many students are in need.
Jordan Richardson, 18, of Platte City, Mo., a senior at Platte County High School, has been an active volunteer since 2010 at The Farmer’s House, an organization where youth and adults with disabilities can learn practical social and vocational skills through a gardening, catering and baking program. Jordan also founded an awareness campaign called “Differently Abled” to spread acceptance of those with disabilities.
Yearam Tak, 18, of St. Charles, Mo., a member of the St. Charles County Family YMCA in St. Peters and a senior at Francis Howell High School, founded “Hope for Next Generation,” a charitable organization that pairs 40 homeless teens with student mentors who help them tackle schoolwork and personal issues. In addition, Yearam and her group of volunteers have raised more than $9,800 through various fundraising events, and she is expanding her program to local shelters and families in need.
“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