OKLAHOMA CITY--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Sarah Kellogg, 18, of Yukon and Olivia Kuester, 14, of Coweta today were named Oklahoma'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. Sarah was nominated by Mustang High School in Mustang, and Olivia was nominated by Coweta Junior High School in Coweta. 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).
Sarah, a senior at Mustang High School, oversees a committee of 48 students that conducts a series of fundraisers throughout the year to support cancer research, in conjunction with the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life program. When Sarah’s father was dying from cancer, people in their community supported the family by bringing meals to their house. “They showed me that family extends much further than those who live in your home,” she said. “As a result, I spend my time giving back.” Much of that time is devoted to chairing her school’s annual Relay for Life campaign, which raised more than $100,000 last year to fund cancer research and treatment.
In addition to coordinating a 12-hour Relay for Life run/walk, Sarah and her committee raised funds last year by hosting a “powder puff” football tournament, a Halloween party, and a teacher vs. student volleyball tournament. They also produced a video featuring professional and student athletes explaining why they support the fight against cancer. In addition, Sarah has organized her own annual golf tournament for the past several years to supplement her fundraising efforts. Sarah has also collected coloring books and crayons for patients at a children’s hospital, boxed food at a local food bank, served meals to the homeless at a rescue mission, and participated in mission trips to serve the disadvantaged in several U.S. cities.
Olivia, an eighth-grader at Coweta Junior High School, recruits volunteers to help her sew quilts and blankets for children in crisis, make fabric hearts for premature infants and their mothers, and collect winter gloves for kids in need. Three years ago, Olivia met a girl in foster care who had been the victim of child abuse. “The abuse was terrifying, but being placed with strangers was equally traumatic,” said Olivia. “As she confided in me, my heart ached for her and all children suffering from crisis. I knew I had to do something.”
What she did was launch a campaign to provide quilts and fleece blankets to children in group homes, hospitals and homeless shelters. In addition to making these items herself with donated money and supplies, Olivia recruits volunteers at group meetings and on a Facebook page, and gives them sewing instructions. She also solicits volunteers to help her make “comfort hearts” for mothers and babies in neonatal intensive care units. In addition, Olivia conducted a winter drive to collect 1,500 pairs of gloves for students from low-income families and for children at homeless shelters. Olivia estimates that her “Olivia’s Hope” activities have involved about 300 volunteers so far, and have resulted in more than $12,000 worth of donated items.
As State Honorees, Sarah and Olivia 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 four other Oklahoma students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are Oklahoma's Distinguished Finalists for 2016:
Avery Crawford, 13, of Noble, Okla., a seventh-grader at Curtis Inge Middle School, serves as secretary of her school’s chapter of Students Workshop Against Tobacco (SWAT), a youth organization that empowers young people to stand up, speak out and take action against the tobacco industry. Avery, inspired by her mom quitting smoking, helps to raise awareness about the dangers of smoking through various events including the Great American Smoke-Out.
Jonathan Jossell, 18, of Arcadia, Okla., a senior at Destiny Christian School, created and hosted a workshop on racial unity and awareness in October 2015 featuring both white and black community leaders. Jonathan, who pursued this project following his own experience with racial discrimination, has since been invited to become a youth board adviser for Stronger Together OKC, an organization focused on improving racial unity.
Emily Messimore, 17, of Claremore, Okla., a senior at Verdigris High School, founded an after-school reading program for kindergarten students at her school called “Cardinal Connection,” which has 83 high school volunteers that help make reading fun at weekly sessions filled with phonetic games and reading activities that Emily develops. Emily, who is president of her school’s service organization and volunteers for many other organizations, also wrote and received a $1,000 grant to fund the purchase of iPad Minis for the program.
Camryn Sanders, 17, of McAlester, Okla., a senior at Sanders Academy, founded “The Storybook Exchange” in 2013 and has raised more than $7,500 to support the campaign, which has provided more than 15,000 new and gently used children’s books for free through elementary schools, early childhood centers, shelters, Boys and Girls clubs, and other areas where there is need. Camryn, who wants to increase the literacy rates in Oklahoma, places donation boxes throughout the community and stores all the donated books in her home, where she cleans and prepares them before distribution.
“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