BOSTON--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Katie Curran, 18, of Pocasset and Lauren Eppinger, 14, of Grafton today were named Massachusetts' top two youth volunteers of 2016 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism. Katie was nominated by Sturgis East Charter Public School in Hyannis, and Lauren was nominated by Worcester Academy in Worcester. 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).
Katie, a senior at Sturgis Charter Public School, founded an organization three years ago that conducts free social science workshops to teach civics and leadership skills to middle school students and help them become more involved in their communities. “With zero dollars and a dream,” Katie was inspired to create her “Project Next Generation” (PNG) after reading that most people eligible to vote in recent elections did not. “I feel that the issue is important because my generation will be taking on the mantle of leadership one day,” said Katie. She envisioned an organization that would provide the tools to enable them to do just that by teaching skills that are not traditionally acquired in the classroom.
To begin, she created a website (projectnextgeneration.org). She then applied for grants, developed curricula for her workshops and contacted the media to publicize her organization. One of Katie’s workshops was a United Nations program, where each participant was assigned a country that he or she had to represent during a debate. Another was a camp at the John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum, where students were immersed in the political process, designing a policy platform, running a campaign, debating, and writing speeches to give at a mock political convention. In addition, Katie has individually mentored 200 middle school students, and has represented her organization at youth leadership events both in the U.S. and overseas.
Lauren, an eighth-grader at Worcester Academy, sold stuffed bears at her school for Valentine’s Day and used the proceeds to buy needed items for an organization that comforts children grieving the loss of a loved one. Lauren, who has initiated several drives and service projects in the past, decided to sell her “Bear-grams” at school after learning that the Children’s Friend Grief Support Center needed to replace some of its worn stuffed “comfort” animals and buy supplies. “I thought about how much I would want something soft and fluffy to comfort me if I had lost a loved one,” said Lauren. Since Valentine’s Day was coming, she decided a great way to raise money would be to sell something cuddly with a personalized message attached.
After Lauren got her principal’s permission and recruited two friends to help, she contacted a company that sells small stuffed animals in bulk and asked for a donation. The company gave them 96 bears. Lauren and her friends made posters and sent emails to publicize their project, then began taking orders and wrote messages from the purchasers and attached them to their bears. When all their Bear-grams were ready, Lauren recruited more students to deliver them around campus. Lauren took the $420 in proceeds to local stores to buy the items needed by the grief support center. She said she plans to continue her fundraising efforts in the future.
As State Honorees, Katie and Lauren 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 six other Massachusetts students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are Massachusetts' Distinguished Finalists for 2016:
Mackenzie Anderson, 18, of Foxborough, Mass., a senior at Foxborough High School, recruited a team of 93 walkers and raised $55,000 in the Walk to Defeat ALS over the past two years. Mackenzie, whose mother has ALS, is also a young ambassador for Hope Loves Company, an organization for which she counsels children of parents and grandparents who have been diagnosed with ALS to help them cope with the effects of the disease.
Kira Andreucci, 15, of Fitchburg, Mass., a freshman at Montachusett Regional Vocational Technical School, founded “Karing 4 Kidz,” a weekend emergency food program that has raised $55,000 through corporate donations to provide weekend food packs for 164 children from four local elementary schools. Kira, who originally started helping just 10 children with the help of her mom and dad, now has a crew of 10 volunteers to help shop and prepare the food packs, and plans to raise additional funds through events like bake sales, spaghetti dinners and a pancake breakfast.
Nelson Barrios, 17, of Lynn, Mass., a senior at Lynn Vocational Technical Institute, has helped to raise $20,000 since 2012 to support the Greater Boston Food Bank by organizing schoolwide events including a benefit walk, a toiletries drive and a socks/hat drive. Nelson, who has volunteered with the food bank since 2012, has taken on a leadership role to help fight hunger and homelessness, and is also developing a workshop on drug abuse awareness.
Amanda Judah, 17, of Wayland, Mass., a member of the Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts and a senior at Wayland High School, created toolkits featuring the stories of four local historic women – Lucy Larcom, Ida Annah Ryan, Cornelia Warren and Stephanie Wilson – for third grade teachers to use in their classrooms. Amanda, who took on this project because information about these important women is scarce, recruited a team of 20 student volunteers and experts who helped research and approve the toolkits, which are also available online and through the local library.
Megan Mahan, 16, of North Andover, Mass., a junior at Austin Preparatory School, has raised $16,600 to benefit the American Cancer Society’s Making Strides Against Breast Cancer campaign in the past five years by selling homemade cookies at her golf club and hosting an all-women golf tournament. Megan, who founded “MMM Good Cookies for a Cause” after the parents of two close friends were diagnosed with breast cancer, solicits corporate sponsorship and raffle prizes, sells event tickets and handles the promotion of the golf event, and was recently named one of the youngest “ACS Making Strides Pacesetters.”
Grace Soultanian, 14, of Ayer, Mass., a freshman at Francis W. Parker Charter Essential School, has raised $7,000 through the nonprofit organization she founded in 2013, called “HEARTSTRONG,” to fund the purchase of automatic external defibrillators (AEDs) for local schools and athletic teams, and to raise awareness and provide the necessary training about the signs and symptoms of sudden cardiac arrest (SCA). Grace, moved to act by the death of a young football player, learned that SCA is the leading cause of death in young athletes and that they can be saved if they receive CPR and the shock of an AED within three to four minutes of collapse.
“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