SACRAMENTO, Calif.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Kenzie Hall, 17, of Temecula and Raghav Ganesh, 12, of San Jose today were named California'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. Kenzie was nominated by Great Oak High School in Temecula, and Raghav was nominated by Joaquin Miller Middle School in San Jose. 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).
Kenzie, a junior at Great Oak High School, started a program at age 11 that grants several “wishes” each year to children who have had a parent killed or severely wounded while serving in the armed forces. When their father was deployed to Afghanistan, Kenzie and her sister were allowed to “live out a dream” for a year, “to give us something positive to focus on so we wouldn’t worry and have the stress of wondering if my dad was going to be okay,” said Kenzie. As much as she enjoyed her “dream” year of acting classes in Los Angeles, Kenzie kept thinking about other kids in military families. “They needed to know the sacrifices they had made had not been forgotten, and that they were not alone,” she said.
That concern sparked Kenzie’s idea of granting wishes to children of fallen or wounded soldiers. Her first project was sending two sisters on a five-day trip to Disneyland after their father failed to return from his overseas deployment. Kenzie solicited donations from businesses, spoke at several events in LA, and asked friends and family members to help raise the necessary funds. “Seeing Julia and Eva’s faces and learning how much a stranger’s support meant to them made me want to do even more,” she said. Since then, Kenzie has launched a “Brat Pack 11” website and filed for nonprofit status. She holds regular weekly meetings with her board members to discuss future wishes, fundraising events and ways to inspire youth to give back to their communities. Kenzie also has created videos and a blog on her site to share the stories of each wish recipient, and hopes to start Brat Pack high school clubs around the country to spread awareness and further support the needs of young military “brats.”
Raghav, a seventh-grader at Joaquin Miller Middle School, designed and built a device that uses sensors to detect objects beyond the reach of the white canes used by many visually impaired people. Raghav got the idea after watching a video about the challenges faced by those with limited or no eyesight. “I saw how, despite being used for several centuries, the white cane does not provide users enough information about their environment,” he said. “I also saw why many high-tech alternatives are not meeting the needs of visually challenged folks.”
Because he enjoys science and electronics, and has become familiar with sensors and motors through a toy-building hobby, Raghav decided to see if he could design something better. He built a small prototype and entered it in a local science fair. He then sought advice from the head of a local blind center, and over the next several months made five major revisions based on feedback from blind center staff and actual cane users. He ended up with a device that clamps onto the cane, uses ultrasonic and infrared sensors to detect obstacles more than six feet beyond the end of the cane, and communicates this information to the user through vibrations in the cane’s handle. Raghav secured a grant to make multiple copies, and hopes to create an open patent so that organizations for the blind around the world can make the device for their clients.
As State Honorees, Kenzie and Raghav 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 10 other California students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are California's Distinguished Finalists for 2015:
Dahkota Brown, 16, of Jackson, Calif., a junior at Argonaut High School, founded “NERDS (Native Education Raising Dedicated Students)” in eighth grade, and has since raised $63,000 to provide awareness, mentoring and educational services to help his Native American peers stay in school, graduate, and open their futures to great possibilities. Dahkota, whose research identified alarming statistics about poverty, school drop-out rates, alcoholism and suicide among Native American teens, currently runs a summer school, frequent inspirational events and bullying and suicide prevention campaigns.
Morgan Davidson, 17, of Woodland Hills, Calif., a senior at New Community Jewish High School, has recruited more than 350 potential bone marrow donors as a fierce advocate for the bone marrow donor program “Be the Match,” and raised more than $46,000 for the City of Hope cancer research center. Impassioned by her grandmother’s fight with aggressive lymphoma, Morgan has also launched Ambassadors for Hope Clubs at two local high schools to encourage other teens to take up the fight by raising funds and awareness, and recruiting bone marrow donors.
Alec Dominick, 17, of Santa Monica, Calif., a senior at Harvard-Westlake School, is the co-president for the Ohana Foundation’s Junior Board and has helped to raise more than $56,000 to offset education and medical expenses for Hawaiian families in need through various fundraising projects, including a customized Monopoly board that will be sold this winter. Alec, whose family spends summers and breaks in Hawaii, presented the Monopoly idea and has been spearheading the project’s manufacturing, marketing and other logistical issues.
Kevin Huo, 16, of Foster City, Calif., a sophomore at San Mateo High School, uses his abilities as a painter and writer to lend his voice in support of environmental issues, and has received national recognition for his “Birds Over the Bay” painting, for using his artwork to explore important ecological issues, like the preservation of bird habitats. Kevin has also volunteered with the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory and has taken classes in hawk watching and identification.
Angela Liu, 16, of San Marino, Calif., a member of the American Red Cross in San Marino and a sophomore at Polytechnic School, has raised more than $38,000 to provide financial support to 200 children who are either blind or severely sight impaired through the “Blind Light Foundation,” an organization she founded in 2013 after returning from a mission trip to the Zhengzhou Blind School in China. Angela, who has worn glasses since she was a child, is also a junior ambassador for Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, where she helps with their mission to prevent blindness in premature babies around the world.
Samantha Ludes, 17, of Newport Beach, Calif., a senior at Newport Harbor High School, is a co-founder and current president of “Beckett’s Buddies,” a club at her school that has raised more than $160,000 over the past four years to help to find a cure for, and to provide financial assistance for people with, cystic fibrosis. Samantha, who founded the club with her sisters after a young neighbor, Beckett, was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, coordinates a group of 35 club members to raise awareness and funds through bake sales, charity walks and other events.
Anant Pai, 17, of Redlands, Calif., a senior at Redlands Senior High School, founded “Manipal Foundation,” a nonprofit organization for which he has raised $55,000 to provide food for victims of Typhoon Haiyan, polio vaccinations for 7,500 children in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria, books for children in Zimbabwe, and other health and educational needs of children all over the world. Anant, who was motivated by two service trips to India as a Cultures for Youth ambassador, also provides assistance in the United States by organizing various projects, including a book collection to improve literacy programs in struggling schools.
Sonali Ranaweera, 14, of San Jose, Calif., a freshman at Del Mar High School, turned a $100 Christmas gift into “Recycling4Smiles,” a nonprofit organization through which she has collected 34,500 pounds of recyclable materials for $30,600 that has provided 40 cleft lip surgeries for children through the organization Smile Train. Sonali’s organization also conducts toy drives and backpack drives, and provides financial support for those in need throughout the Bay Area.
Ryan Traynor, 15, of Emerald Hills, Calif., a sophomore at Saint Francis High School, founded the Youth Literacy Council in 2013 and has created and implemented a book drive at 26 locations that collected more than 21,000 books that were distributed through charities, libraries and schools to children in need. In addition, Ryan has sponsored science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) classes, financial literacy classes, a literacy website, and has raised more than $53,000 to support his literacy programs.
Alexander Triestman, 13, of Aliso Viejo, Calif., an eighth-grader at Don Juan Avila Middle School, created a project to help provide new school supplies and “Brickbot” toys made from Lego pieces to some of the 3,000 children who are homeless in the Orange County School District. Alexander, who was shocked to learn of the serious homelessness problem in his area, raised $2,600 with a GoFundMe campaign and grants, and recruited his friends to help build the Brickbots for the program.
“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