California's Top Two Youth Volunteers Selected in 21st Annual National Awards Program

Encino and Mission Viejo students earn $1,000 awards, engraved medallions and trip to nation’s capital

Honors also bestowed on youth volunteers in Walnut Creek, San Diego, Laguna Hills, Portola Valley, Beverly Hills, Carlsbad, Rancho Santa Margarita and Emerald Hills

SACRAMENTO, Calif.--()--Emmi Eisner, 16, of Encino and Alyssa Simmons, 13, of Mission Viejo today were named California's top two youth volunteers of 2016 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism. Emmi was nominated by Sierra Canyon School in Chatsworth, and Alyssa was nominated by Los Alisos Intermediate in Mission Viejo. The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, now in its 21st year, is conducted by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).

Emmi, a junior at Sierra Canyon School, founded a nonprofit organization called “Play It Forward” that has supplied sports equipment to 19 schools that lacked adequate gear for their physical education programs, benefiting thousands of students in the Los Angeles area. On a field trip with her seventh-grade class, Emmi visited a nearby elementary school and was shocked to see that the students there had no balls or other equipment to play with during recess. “I couldn’t believe not all students grow up with access to basic PE equipment, something I took for granted,” said Emmi, an accomplished soccer player.

Soon after, she began collecting donations of new and gently used balls, jump ropes, hula hoops and other athletic equipment for schools in low-income areas, partly by holding a walk-relay at her school that accepted sporting goods in lieu of a registration fee. Emmi supplied one elementary school that first year. She then started organizing fundraising events to buy equipment for more schools. So far, Emmi has collected $80,000 in donations, recruited 50 student volunteers to help, and given kids at 19 underserved schools the equipment they need to enjoy the full benefits of a physical education program. “The impact of a quality PE program at a young age is far-reaching,” noted Emmi. “Sports build character, teach teamwork, and demonstrate the importance of being responsible to others.”

Alyssa, an eighth-grader at Los Alisos Intermediate, has been a spokesperson, mentor and advocate for kids like herself who have sickle cell anemia since she was 5 years old. After her mother started the Sickle Cell Foundation of Orange County, Alyssa became a “spokesperson for tots” and began encouraging children with sickle cell anemia to share their feelings about the daily challenges of their chronic disease. “I acted as the voice for that age group,” she said. “It felt good because some kids didn’t have an advocate like I did, and I wanted them to get the same chances I got.”

Several years later, Alyssa led friends and classmates on visits to children in hospitals, bringing them gifts and tutoring them so they wouldn’t fall behind on their schoolwork. Then she created a program that encourages young sickle cell patients to chronicle their feelings and activities in a daily journal. Alyssa also has represented people with sickle cell anemia in the news media, helped raise thousands of dollars for sickle cell causes, mentored individual patients, and wrote a book about sick kids. Her plan, said Alyssa, is to “continue inspiring others to look beyond their challenges and reach toward their goals.”

As State Honorees, Emmi and Alyssa 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 2016.

Distinguished Finalists

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 2016:

Corinne Hindes, 16, of Walnut Creek, Calif., a junior at Horizons Alternative School, founded “Warm Winters,” an organization that has distributed 10,000 coats, hats and gloves from the lost and found at ski resorts to 7,000 people who are homeless or in great need. Corinne partnered with her best friend, and in 2013 the two received an endorsement from the National Ski Areas Association that helped launch the organization at 17 ski resorts in America and two in Australia, with 300 active teen volunteers helping to collect, sort and distribute coats, socks and personal care products.

Jessica Carscadden, 13, of San Diego, Calif., a seventh-grader at Oak Valley Middle School, founded the “We Care Bear Project” in 2012, and has since helped to collect and donate more than 25,000 stuffed animals to first responders, who give them to scared children to help comfort them. Jessica, who lived in an orphanage and had serious medical issues as a young child, began the project by donating her own unused stuffed animals to help children who were going through traumatic and painful times.

Elena Crespo, 17, of San Diego, Calif., a member of the Girl Scouts of San Diego and a senior at Del Norte High School, founded “Let Children Learn,” an organization through which she has raised $175,000 to help provide a library in Nicaragua, a hearing aid lab in Bolivia, internet access in a Honduran school and wheelchairs for a school in Mexico. To help raise the funds, Elena educated students in San Diego about the educational disparity between the youth in America and in third world countries, leading more than 800 local kids to participate in her project.

Sydney Fredette, 16, of Laguna Hills, Calif., a junior at Santa Margarita Catholic High School, created “Be the Change,” a project that today has provided more than 1,600 children in need with $65,000 worth of custom stuffed bears, blankets, pajamas, books and more. Sydney, who began her project to honor the memory of her best friend who died of cancer, hosts an annual winter carnival and donation parties to support the program.

Nicholas Jaeger, 17, of Portola Valley, Calif., a senior at Woodside Priory School, founded the “Another Door Opens Fund,” through which he has raised $85,000 to help raise awareness about domestic violence. Nicholas, who first became aware of domestic violence when he volunteered at a local shelter for abused women and their children, also speaks to the media and conducts awareness events to support the shelter’s objective to help all those who seek refuge from abuse.

Ji Yu (Judy) Kim, 17, of Beverly Hills, Calif., a senior at Beverly Hills High School, founded “HeartShare Club,” a nonprofit organization that, by creating and selling original art, has raised $10,000 and run more than 200 community art projects at centers for senior citizens and people with disabilities. Judy, who attributes her desire to help those in need to her family’s escape from an abusive father, started the project to recreate services that were lost after the closure of a center for people with disabilities where she’d been volunteering.

Anthony O'Leary, 14, of San Diego, Calif., a freshman at Horizon Christian Academy Junior High, has become a passionate supporter of children in foster care, helping to raise awareness and funds to benefit the Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Program and the Polinsky Children’s Home. Anthony, who spent several years in foster care, collected games, sports equipment and backpacks with his “Foster Fun” campaign, and spoke at a fundraising event for the CASA program that raised significant amounts of money that will be used to train and provide more advocates for foster children.

Alexander Rejto, 17, of Carlsbad, Calif., a senior at Canyon Crest Academy, founded “Champions Baseball,” a league that enables children with special needs to play baseball by matching them with trained, volunteer teen buddies. Alex, an avid baseball player who partnered with the La Costa Youth Organization to give all kids the chance to enjoy baseball, wrote and received $25,000 in grants, secured donated equipment, recruited adult coaches, and trained the teen volunteers to work with children with special needs.

Shalin Shah, 16, of Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., a junior at Tesoro High School, built an iPhone application called “Voice” that takes photos of documents and then reads them to the user, and has provided the app for free to 15,000 people who are blind or visually impaired. Shalin, who conducted research with the blind, has added 40 languages to the app and is now working with the blind assistance organization Project Starfish to take the app worldwide.

Ryan Traynor, 16, of Emerald Hills, Calif., a junior at St. Francis High School, is a passionate literacy advocate who has conducted literacy awareness projects over the years, including most recently the “Youth for Literacy” program that has hosted numerous literacy campaigns, book drives and STEM classes. In addition, Ryan has raised $55,000 in grants and donations to support the project, created literacy websites, and conducted numerous speaking engagements to raise awareness about the importance of literacy.

“Prudential commends each of these young volunteers for using their creativity and compassion to bring positive change to their communities,” said Prudential Chairman and CEO John Strangfeld. “We hope their stories inspire others to consider how they can make a difference, too.”

“We are pleased to honor these students not only for their exemplary acts of service, but for the powerful example they’ve set for their peers,” said JoAnn Bartoletti, executive director of NASSP. “Congratulations to each of the 2016 honorees.”

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 2, 10 of the State Honorees – five middle level and five high school students – will be named America’s top youth volunteers of 2016. 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 115,000 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, China and Brazil. 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 or


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

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

Editors: For full-color pictures of the Spirit of Community Awards program logo and medallions, click here:


Prudential Financial
Harold Banks, (973) 802-8974 or (973) 216-4833


Prudential Financial
Harold Banks, (973) 802-8974 or (973) 216-4833