HARRISBURG, Pa.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Conner Hagins, 18, of Johnstown and Hanna Maier, 12, of Prospect Park today were named Pennsylvania'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. Conner was nominated by Bishop McCort Catholic High School in Johnstown, and Hanna was nominated by Prospect Park School in Prospect Park. 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).
Conner, a senior at Bishop McCort Catholic High School, created his own charity in 2006 that collects stuffed animals and other toys for sick children and kids in need, and raises money for a variety of children’s causes. When Conner’s father was given a stuffed bear in the hospital to help him cough after undergoing heart surgery, Conner asked if the kids in the hospital got stuffed bears. Upon hearing that they didn’t, Conner vowed “to make the hospital stays of children a little brighter by providing them with a stuffed toy to cuddle while they are alone or scared.”
He began gathering stuffed animals and other toys through annual toy drives and events such as “Dress Down Days” at area schools and a “teddy-bear toss” at Johnstown Tomahawks hockey games. He also recruited friends and classmates to help and asked local businesses to host drop-off bins. Over the past nine years, Conner’s “Cuddles for Kids” charity has delivered more than 85,000 toys, not only to kids in the hospital, but also to orphanages, child service agencies and organizations in third-world countries. In addition, Conner has collected school supplies and hygiene items for at-risk youth, and donated more than $5,000 to provide after-school meals to kids in need, support pediatric cancer research, and assist other initiatives that benefit children.
Hanna, a seventh-grader at Prospect Park School, has persuaded four Pennsylvania towns to adopt anti-bullying resolutions and initiated annual community walks that have drawn more than 700 participants over the past two years to discourage bullying and promote kindness among kids. “After being bullied by a fellow student and watching other children being bullied, I wanted to do something,” said Hanna. “I wanted to make a change for myself and for my peers.”
Hanna discussed her desire with her mother, and together they researched the issue of bullying and sought advice from national anti-bullying initiatives. Then Hanna asked her borough council to pass two resolutions declaring Prospect Park a “compassionate borough” and a “bully-free zone.” After their adoption, three other towns in Pennsylvania passed similar resolutions at Hanna’s request. Next, Hanna decided to organize a walk as “a way for other kids to get involved in spreading bullying awareness.” She asked local businesses and organizations to sponsor the walk, and raised enough money to give each participating child a free T-shirt. The first walk attracted 125 walkers, but the second drew approximately 600 after Hanna’s school district got involved. Hanna also started a kids kindness club in her town, and is using some of the money she’s raised to buy “friendship benches” for the schools in her district.
As State Honorees, Conner and Hanna 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 eight other Pennsylvania students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are Pennsylvania's Distinguished Finalists for 2015:
Jamie Feldman, 17, of Wexford, Pa., a senior at North Allegheny Senior High School, has raised $25,000 for leukemia and lymphoma research through McKnight Elementary School's project, “Hop for Leukemia.” Jamie, whose years of service began with the news of her sister’s leukemia diagnosis, has been running events and raising funds for a cure ever since.
Brynn Hackett, 18, of Lancaster, Pa., a senior at Manheim Township High School, founded “TAK(E) CHARGE [Teens, Adults, Kids (Everyone) Can Help A Refugee Get Established],” a youth fundraising project through her church that has raised $20,000 to help cover the cost of rent, cultural and English classes, and other resources for refugees who have settled in the Lancaster area. Brynn, inspired by the work her church is doing for the more than 500 refugees who come to Lancaster to find a new life, has coordinated school dances, concerts, fun nights and other events to raise funds while also recruiting teen volunteers, securing sponsorships, and handling event and program logistics.
Amy Li, 16, of Fort Washington, Pa., a junior at Upper Dublin High School, has raised $32,000 in monetary and in-kind donations to send soccer gear to children in cities across America and in Columbia, San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua and Ghana through her program, “Gear for Cheer.” Amy, a soccer player, has held numerous collection drives, created an online funding site to pay for the shipping of the donated equipment, and forged partnerships with the nonprofit organization Peace Passers to help identify communities with the most need for the equipment.
Cavan McIntyre-Brewer, 13, of Duncannon, Pa., a seventh-grader at The Cove School, founded “Socks for Vets,” a project through which he collects socks, hygiene products and other basic necessities and distributes them to veterans and wounded warriors. Cavan, who draws his inspiration from his father, who currently serves in the military and his uncle, who served in the Korean War, also takes part in other activities including feeding homeless veterans and visiting wounded veterans to offer comfort and friendship.
Cameron Ohrwashel, 18, of Nazareth, Pa., a senior at Nazareth Area High School, has helped to raise $47,500 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation to support the wishes of 12 children through a variety of projects including founding a Wish Club at his school and helping his family run an annual book sale. Cameron, who recruited 80 young people to join the Wish Club, has organized a variety of projects and events, including a fundraising event where his school set the world record for most people whistling with 672 people whistling patriotic songs.
Jenna Shumar, 18, of Brownsville, Pa., a senior at Brownsville Area High School, has secured $300,000 in grants, sponsorships and donations to fund the building of a park and an outside stage in her small town with her project, “Operation Falcon Revitalization.” Jenna, who began working on the project in 2012, is working closely with sponsors, town officials, engineers and contractors to implement the revitalization, which has begun with the demolition of dilapidated buildings.
Norman Stark, 18, of Erie, Pa, a senior at Cathedral Preparatory School, raised more than $15,000 to benefit the “Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund” with his near-25 mile swim across Lake Erie. Norman, who trained extensively for the swim challenge and set up a website to generate donations and support, says the funds will go to support treatment for veterans suffering from traumatic brain injuries and psychological health conditions.
Courtney Thurston, 17, of Mechanicsburg, Pa, a senior at Commonwealth Connections Academy, is helping to encourage girls to get interested in and inspired by science, technology, research, engineering and math (STREAM) in a variety of ways, including the nonprofit that she co-founded, “Magikstra,” a social network that aims to connect girls interested in STREAM fields with mentors. Courtney, who helps to coordinate “ProjectCSGIRLS,” the largest computer science competition for middle school girls in the nation, is also an online community manager for The Scientista Foundation.
“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