SPRINGFIELD, Ill.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Jungin Angie Lee, 17, of Naperville and Nicolas Ramkumar, 14, of Champaign today were named Illinois' top two youth volunteers of 2016 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism. Angie was nominated by Metea Valley High School in Aurora, and Nicolas was nominated by Franklin Middle School in Champaign. 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).
Angie, a junior at Metea Valley High School, co-founded a nonprofit organization that has generated nearly $200,000 over the past nine years through annual fundraising events to help find a cure for her rare neuromuscular disease. When she was 15 months old, Angie was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), a genetic disorder that causes debilitating and often fatal muscle weakness. In second grade, she made friends with a girl who, upon learning that Angie would never be able to walk, wanted to do something to help. So together they started a nonprofit called “Angie’s Hope” to raise money for SMA research.
The two friends first set out to raise $200 with a penny drive. Then, every year they organized another fundraising event, including garage sales, pasta parties, and most recently a “big ball” soccer tournament. Thirty teams of 8-12 players each compete in this wheelchair-friendly tournament, which also features a disc jockey, photo booth, concessions, cheerleaders, a capella groups, raffles and a silent auction. In addition to coordinating and playing in the tournament, Angie has sought support from local businesses, created promotional videos, and managed a website. In 2015 alone, Angie’s Hope raised nearly $40,000 for the national organization Cure SMA. These efforts demonstrate “how huge a difference individuals can make when they combine efforts,” she said, and have become “a way for our small community to unite to make a change.”
Nicolas, an eighth-grader at University of Illinois High School, has raised nearly $10,000 over the past two years to purchase laptop computers for his school, with the goal of giving every student access to his or her own machine. “I always try to help whenever I can, and I was taught to always give back,” said Nicolas. In fourth grade, he organized a drive that collected 300 pairs of shoes for people in need. He knocked on doors to seek donations for earthquake victims in Haiti. In addition, he has planted “pollinator-friendly” gardens at home, and at a school and a church.
When Nicolas arrived at Franklin Middle School, he saw the impact his older brother made by raising $1,500 to help the school buy 30 Google Chromebooks. “I saw firsthand how much the computers helped other students and myself, so I decided to expand the fundraising,” he said. Over the past two years, Nicolas asked friends and family members for donations, contacted other potential donors, knocked on doors in his neighborhood, sought sponsorships from local businesses, and ran in a 5k race to fund the purchase of more school laptops. So far, Nicolas has helped his school acquire a total of 360 computers for its 659 students, a majority of whom come from low-income families. “The school is more than halfway to achieving the goal of one-to-one computing,” he said.
As State Honorees, Angie and Nicolas 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.
The program judges also recognized eight other Illinois students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are Illinois' Distinguished Finalists for 2016:
William Bauman, 16, of Grayslake, Ill., a sophomore at Grayslake North High School, created an awareness project aimed at teaching about the dangers of distracted driving after being involved in a fender bender where the driver was reading a text. William also created a campaign called “On the Road to Safe Driving” that teaches children and teenagers about pedestrian, bicycle and driver safety, and is working with youth from India on a campaign called “Safer Roads Safer India.”
Annika Huprikar, 13, of Deerfield, Ill., an eighth-grader at Alan B. Shepard Middle School, co-founded “Music is Medicine,” a project that involves her and her brother conducting musical performances for patients with memory disorders at care centers in the area. Annika founded the program along with her brother in 2014, and since then the two play piano concerts and arrange for other guest musicians to perform at least twice monthly.
Callie Oxford, 15, of Harrisburg, Ill., a member of Saline County 4-H and a freshman at Harrisburg High School, began a personal mission in 2014 called “PASS IT ON” to conduct a service project once every month. Since beginning her campaign on National Pay it Forward Day in April 2014, Callie has visited nursing home patients, left scarves and gloves around town for those in need to take, raised awareness for the chronic illness lupus, and launched a get well card campaign for a child waiting for a heart transplant.
Trisha Prabhu, 15, of Naperville, Ill., a sophomore at Neuqua Valley High School, conducted extensive research to develop and test “ReThink,” an application that aims to prevent cyberbullying by alerting a user that an intended social post could cause harm to someone. Trisha, who developed the application after hearing of a young girl’s suicide due to cyberbullying, has made the app free to the thousands who downloaded it so far, and has created a sister program called “ReThink Ambassadors,” which uses young advocates to encourage their peers to embrace a “ReThink” attitude in order to promote positive cyber relations.
Bianca Spalla, 16, of Woodridge, Ill., a junior at North High School, founded “Bianca’s Backpack Fundraiser” in 2011, for which she raises funds to purchase backpacks and school supplies to benefit children in need at local schools. Bianca, who has raised $15,000 and provided more than 400 backpacks over the years, has also created “Project Playground,” a project involving a committee of dedicated volunteers who raise the funds to improve the outdated playgrounds at two local schools.
Elizabeth Spurlock, 17, of Wheaton, Ill., a junior at Wheaton North High School, has raised nearly $10,000 by selling sneakers that she hand-paints with athletic team logos through her project, “Kustom Team Kicks.” Elizabeth, who has sold 250 pairs of sneakers in the past two years, donates a percentage of all sneaker sales to benefit two charities, one that promotes pediatric cancer research and one that promotes animal welfare.
Jessica Trinh, 17, of Loves Park, Ill., a senior at Auburn High School, became a passionate volunteer for the Down Syndrome Awareness Center “GiGi’s Playhouse,” for which she interviewed participants and created a promotional video and a comprehensive marketing campaign called “I’m A Person First.” In addition, Jessica initiated a collection drive that resulted in $1,354 worth of personal care items, and is chairing a charity event planned for the spring of 2016 to benefit the program.
Medha Verma, 17, of Inverness, Ill., a senior at Barrington High School, has raised $7,000 since 2011 by making and selling custom dresses to support her “Beads of Courage Program,” for which pediatric patients at Children’s Hospital and Research Center in Oakland receive beads for every medical procedure they endure. Medha, who conceived of the program while volunteering at the hospital and witnessing the pain many children go through, secured sponsors to offset the cost of materials, and has partnered with crafters in India to help her make the dresses.
“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.
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