AUGUSTA, Maine--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Connor Archer, 17, of Stillwater and Benjamin Levesque, 14, of Lyman today were named Maine'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. Connor was nominated by Old Town High School in Old Town, and Benjamin was nominated by Massabesic Middle School in East Waterboro. 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).
Connor, a senior at Old Town High School, works to educate the public about autism and the challenges faced by people with autism like himself, and has raised more than $12,000 for organizations that help people with special needs. Connor was diagnosed with autism when he was 3 years old. Luckily, he said, his parents were tireless advocates for him and searched until they found a preschool that could help him develop his full potential. As he grew older, he wanted to give back to the school that had helped him so much, so he created “sensory learning gardens” for the children there. In 2014, Connor decided he wanted to do more for kids with special needs and founded “The Courageous Steps Project.”
The project’s initial event was a walk-run fundraiser to benefit local schools that help children with special needs. The first one raised nearly $4,000, and a second one brought in more than $6,000. Other fundraising activities, such as a benefit dinner at a local restaurant, have pushed Connor’s total to more than $12,000. Much of that money has been donated to benefit organizations that have played a key role in Connor’s own development, and other groups that work with kids with autism. Connor also has awarded scholarships to three graduating seniors who have overcome their own challenges, purchased iPads and a sound system for his former preschool, and conducted two drives to collect supplies for area schools. “Strong communities begin with individuals who have the support to take their own courageous steps,” he said.
Benjamin, an eighth-grader at Massabesic Junior High School, has been involved for the past three years in a variety of service projects in his community through the Boy Scouts and his school. His first foray into community service occurred when Benjamin contacted his town hall and asked if he could volunteer at the local cemetery. With help from the head of the cemetery committee, Benjamin replaced tattered flags on veterans’ graves with new ones, and removed debris from the cemetery grounds.
Working with his Boy Scout troop, he also helped clean up a local shopping area, facilitate community dinners, construct a sandbox at a local elementary school and promote healthy lifestyles for young people. To teach his classmates about climate change, Benjamin created wall-sized murals and maps to illustrate the problem. “I feel that these actions have positively impacted my community, and I’m honored to have participated,” said Benjamin.
As State Honorees, Connor and Benjamin 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 two other Maine students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are Maine's Distinguished Finalists for 2016:
Alyssa Burbank, 15, of Winslow, Maine, a freshman at Winslow High School, began volunteering weekly at the welcome desk at Thayer Hospital in the summer of 2015. Alyssa also volunteers for special events at the hospital, including Cancer Survivor Day, for which she helped distribute event T-shirts to cancer survivors and their families.
Harper Gordon, 17, of Rockport, Maine, a senior at Camden Hills Regional High School, performs classical music concerts monthly with her brothers for the residents of a local nursing home. Harper, a passionate community volunteer who is involved with many volunteer organizations and projects, began playing in the concerts when she was two years old.
“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 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