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

Las Vegas students earn $1,000 awards, engraved medallions and trip to nation’s capital

Honors also bestowed on youth volunteers in Eureka, Reno and Las Vegas

CARSON CITY, Nev.--()--James Lea, 17 and Marquis Jamison, 13, both of Las Vegas, today were named Nevada'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. James and Marquis were both nominated by Faith Lutheran Middle School and High School in Las Vegas. 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).

James, a junior at Faith Lutheran Middle School and High School, helps brighten the holiday season for children who have recently lost a parent by surprising their families with an anonymous gift each day for 12 days, tied to the theme of the song “12 Days of Christmas.” In 2008, when James was 9 years old, his father died from a sudden heart attack. “It was hard on my brother, my mom, and me,” said James. “Even though we would laugh at times, the pain never went away.” Then one day in December, a mysterious gift of pears appeared on the family doorstep. And for each of the next 11 days, James and his family found another gift left for them. It turned out the family’s church was behind the surprise, though they didn’t know it at the time. “By the twelfth day, we were so excited and happy,” said James. “We couldn’t believe that we could feel so normal again.”

Wanting to pass along the joy their family had experienced, James and his brother started ringing the doorbells of other grieving families, leaving gifts, and running away. Soon after, they helped their mother found a nonprofit called “In12Days” to expand the effort. The family built a website and began reaching out to individuals, other charities and companies for support. Every year, they recruit 12 companies to donate $5,000 each to cover the cost of the surprises. To identify families suffering from loss, they contact schools, religious groups and civic organizations. Surprises include things like a basket of fresh pears, an inflatable pool turtle filled with Dove chocolates, a French hen meal, and a wreath of “calling birds” containing airline or sporting event tickets. So far, In12Days has touched the lives of more than 7,000 people in Las Vegas, Chicago, and San Francisco, said James, and now has over 1,000 volunteers supporting its mission.

Marquis, a seventh-grader at Faith Lutheran Middle School and High School, has volunteered in a variety of ways to aid homeless people, at-risk kids, young cancer patients and children with disabilities. He began his volunteering in kindergarten, handing out food to the homeless. In second grade, he cut off his long hair in front of his whole school to draw attention to kids with cancer, and raised more than $3,000 for a cancer foundation.

A few years later, Marquis’ mother started a nonprofit organization called “Vegas Youth Ambassadors,” and Marquis became one of its most active participants. Besides handing out food, clothing and hygiene supplies to the homeless, Marquis has helped teach at-risk youth about teamwork, sportsmanship and how to be productive members of the community. In addition, Marquis has twice traveled to Sri Lanka and Thailand to work with orphaned children and deliver wheelchairs to children with disabilities. “I learned that it feels good to help other people and to stand up to make a change,” said Marquis.

As State Honorees, James and Marquis 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 four other Nevada students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.

These are Nevada's Distinguished Finalists for 2016:

Megan Damele, 17, of Eureka, Nev., a senior at Eureka County High School, joined with her community in an effort to raise funds to support a young resident with cancer. Megan, who personally raised $3,000 of the $45,000 fundraising total, helped print, sort and sell raffle tickets, handed out flyers, and maintained the archive of the raffle prize donations.

Alexandra Jensen, 17, of Reno, Nev., a member of the Girl Scouts of the Sierra Nevada and a senior at Galena High School, produced a video featuring people with Tourette syndrome to help raise awareness about this disorder that causes uncontrollable tics. Alexandra, whose aunt and best friend both have Tourette syndrome, traveled nearly every weekend for a year to personally meet and interview patients for the video, and has also created a short presentation about the disease to go with the video.

Molly Marias, 18, of Las Vegas, Nev., a senior at West Career and Technical Academy, is actively involved in a service club founded by her family in 2006 called “Giving Grizzlies,” which teaches children as young as elementary age the importance of giving back. Once Molly entered high school, she made some modifications to the program, which now involves 35 teen mentors who are paired with 25 elementary students throughout the year to teach them to be community advocates and to engage in community service.

Baylee Mee, 13, of Reno, Nev., an eighth-grader at Edward L. Pine Middle School, worked with a friend and fellow Girl Scout to create “The Buddy Bench,” installing a special bench at her school where a child goes if he or she is feeling left out or bullied, after which fellow students offer assistance. Baylee worked with her friend and the school principal to choose a location for the bench, spent 54 hours on design and installation, and gave a presentation to the students on how to use the bench to help curb bullying.

“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