Michigan's Top Two Youth Volunteers Selected in 20th Annual National Awards Program

Temperance and Commerce Township students earn $1,000 awards, engraved medallions and trip to nation’s capital

Honors also bestowed on youth volunteers in Kalamazoo, Troy, Ortonville, Alpena, Detroit, St. Clair Shores, Northville and Fenton

LANSING, Mich.--()--Hunter Gandee, 15, of Temperance and Caleb White, 12, of Commerce Township today were named Michigan'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. Hunter was nominated by Bedford High School in Temperance, and Caleb was nominated by Clifford H. Smart Middle School in Walled Lake. 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).

Hunter, a freshman at Bedford High School, carried his 8-year-old brother, who has cerebral palsy, on a 40-mile walk to increase awareness of the disease, and raised $115,000 to support research and build an all-inclusive playground at his brother’s elementary school. Hunter said he had been looking for a way to let people know about the challenges of cerebral palsy because his brother “needed better equipment, better medical practices, and better support from the world around him.” But nothing came to mind until his mother told him she had a dream in which Hunter was carrying his younger brother. “We decided to turn that idea into reality,” said Hunter.

Hunter spent three months talking about his planned walk to the news media and to students at other schools. Then, on June 7, he put his brother, Braden, on his back at 8 a.m. in front of 250 supporters in his school’s wrestling room and began walking. Every three hours they took a break, but the day was hot, and when Hunter stopped walking for the night, it was 11 p.m. The next morning, the boys pushed on and finally, to cheers and applause, arrived in the middle of the afternoon at their destination – the University of Michigan wresting center. “Both my brother and I were physically and emotionally exhausted,” said Hunter. “I was sore and stiff but I knew we had to make it.” Although Hunter did not ask directly for donations, he linked his Facebook page to the Cerebral Palsy Research Consortium at the University of Michigan and attracted more than $15,000 in donations. Since then, over $100,000 has been donated directly to Braden by people who saw stories about Hunter’s walk. This money will be used to build an all-inclusive playground at Braden’s school, said Hunter.

Caleb, a seventh-grader at Clifford H. Smart Middle School, hands out boxes of food, toiletries and warm garments to the homeless on the streets of Detroit each year during the Christmas season, and last August threw a back-to-school party that provided 800 children in need with backpacks stuffed with new school supplies. When Caleb was 6, he was driving to the circus with his family when he saw a homeless man sleeping on the side of the road and wondered why he wasn’t sleeping in a house. When Caleb learned the man didn’t have a home, he wanted to do something to help, so he decided to put together holiday boxes and distribute them to homeless people. During the 2014 holiday season, Caleb passed out 150 of his Christmas boxes and 100 winter coats.

Last summer, Caleb heard from a pastor who had to cancel an annual back-to-school party for kids in need due to lack of funds. “I certainly did want to help,” said Caleb. He sent an email to a prominent businessman who helped start a school supply company to see about getting discounted supplies. To his amazement, the man asked the CEOs of several companies to help Caleb plan an event. Caleb’s school also helped by sending emails to parents and a press release to publicize the party. On August 23, more than 100 volunteers showed up to treat 800 children in need to a fun-filled day. Local barbers cut hair, a nail salon gave girls manicures, and there was plenty of food and lots of games to play. Most importantly, Caleb made sure every child left with the supplies needed to start the school year. “I am a boy with lots of new friends,” he said, “who feels thankful for the opportunity to bring a smile to people’s faces.”

As State Honorees, Hunter and Caleb 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 eight other Michigan students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.

These are Michigan's Distinguished Finalists for 2015:

Alexis French, 17, of Kalamazoo, Mich., a senior at Mattawan High School, is one of 13 members of the “Mattawan Dream Team,” a group that has raised $51,000 since 2012 to support cancer research by sponsoring an annual district-wide kickball tournament. Alexis, who initially supported the project by forming a team with her friend, who is a cancer survivor, later joined the Dream Team and helped to secure sponsorships, donations and participants.

Curtis Hsu, 17, of Troy, Mich., a senior at Athens High School, collected 1,650 pairs of shoes for children in developing countries and 1,500 articles of clothing for the people living on Native American reservations as the founder of “Cross Continents,” a club at his high school he started in 2012. Curtis, inspired by his father’s stories of growing up in Taiwan and walking to school barefoot, has worked closely with school administrators and nonprofit organizations, recruited student volunteers, and coordinated shoe and clothing drives at local schools to help inspire kids to help kids in need.

Sophia Koolwick, 17, of Ortonville, Mich., a senior at Everest Collegiate High School, served on the leadership team for her Catholic Youth Organization and, as a sophomore, she was responsible for planning the group’s annual Rainbow Youth Conference, hosting several segments during the conference and facilitating weekly meetings. More recently, Sophia went on a service trip to Haiti with the group Missionaries of Charity and helped to run a summer day camp, comfort the sick, and assist physicians during medical procedures.

John McHarg, 17, of Alpena, Mich., a senior at Alpena High School, started a pumpkin patch charity with his brother in 2006 and has donated 100% of the proceeds over the past eight years to a variety of local causes, including helping people pay for medical bills and supporting soup kitchens and women’s shelters. John, who works with his brother to till the land, plant the seeds, maintain the patch and tend to the harvest, plans to continue his charity patch for many years to come.

T'Yara McMillan, 17, of Detroit, Mich., a senior at Mercy High School, founded “Young People of Purpose,” a mentoring and tutoring program that pairs mentors from several local schools with students between grades 5 and 10 who lack self-esteem or need a positive role model. T’Yara conducted research and developed a plan for the program, pitched it to the local middle school to receive approval and has been coordinating the program since the summer of 2014.

Megan Notoriano, 17, of St. Clair Shores, Mich., a senior at Regina High School, founded the “All Kids Matter” pageant for children and adults with special needs in 2011, and collaborated with the administrators of the Miss Downriver Scholarship Program to help. Megan, who holds the title of Miss Teen St. Clair Shores, encouraged typical pageant sponsors to sponsor this special pageant, and also recruited friends to mentor the participants and help them with hair, makeup and, most importantly, their self-esteem.

Michael Shao, 18, of Northville, Mich., a senior at Detroit Country Day School, collected more than 3,200 children’s books and donated them to the Central Detroit Christian Community Development Corporation to help stock its new library for kids in need. Michael, who first learned that many children do not have books of their own while volunteering at the Summer in the City summer camp, reached out to libraries, schools and friends to arrange book drives for his project, and is now raising funds to purchase book shelves for the library.

Julia Teatro, 17, of Fenton, Mich., a senior at Fenton Senior High School, has helped to raise $30,000 to support the local animal shelter by co-chairing the shelter’s annual auction. Julia, an animal lover who originally began volunteering at the shelter but wanted to do more, stepped up to co-chair the auction in 2012 and is responsible for sorting, organizing and preparing 300 silent auction items.

“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