SALEM, Ore.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Alisha Zhao, 17, of Portland and Michael Murray, 13, of Lake Oswego today were named Oregon'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. Alisha was nominated by Lincoln High School in Portland, and Michael was nominated by Lake Oswego Junior High School in Lake Oswego. 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).
Alisha, a junior at Lincoln High School, created a club at her school to provide services to local homeless people, and then founded a nonprofit organization called “Kids First Project” to expand her efforts and focus on the needs of homeless youth. While volunteering at a homeless shelter several years ago, Alisha realized that the families there were not getting the help they needed to escape the generational cycle of poverty. “I met youth who were capable of becoming doctors, dancers, and even presidents, yet did not have the resources to achieve their dreams,” she said. It quickly became a passion of hers to help supply those resources.
As a freshman, Alisha started the Hope for Homeless Club, which, over the following two years grew to include more than 300 members and conducted projects serving 500 families and an additional 200 individuals. Then, Alisha decided to form a nonprofit that could deliver educational and recreational programs to homeless youth through multiple organizations and shelters. She recruited an advisory board, a board of directors and volunteer leaders, and began organizing activities to help homeless kids reach their potential, including arts and crafts projects, games, tutoring, peer mentoring, life skills classes and donations of school supplies. In recognition of her leadership, Alisha was appointed by Portland’s mayor to be the first young person to ever serve on the city’s Human Rights Commission.
Michael, an eighth-grader at Lake Oswego Junior High School, started a club at his school that has collected enough food and money over the past few years to provide an estimated 10,000 meals to hungry Oregon families. “It became clear to me that I should focus on hunger when I learned how many people in my community do not have access to food,” said Michael. In 2013, he worked with his principal and one of his teachers to get his club off the ground, then advertised for members.
A core group of about 15 students now participate in Michael’s “Hunger Fighters Oregon” club on a regular basis, meeting weekly to talk about how best to collect donations. At first, the members knocked on doors in their neighborhoods, but then began to conduct collection drives at their school. They also sell T-shirts that say “I won’t stand for hunger.” To further educate his fellow students about hunger, Michael delivered a 15-minute speech and a PowerPoint presentation at an assembly for each grade at his school, speaking directly to more than 900 middle-schoolers. All of the donations gathered by his club go to the Oregon Food Bank, which distributes them to food kitchens across the state. “I will never be able to know exactly how many people I helped directly,” said Michael, “but if all of this helped one person who was hungry, then I accomplished what I set out to do.”
As State Honorees, Alisha and Michael 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 Oregon students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are Oregon's Distinguished Finalists for 2016:
Kate Fayloga, 16, of Lake Oswego, Ore., a member of the Girl Scouts of Oregon & Southwest Washington and a junior at Lake Oswego Senior High School, created a program at Tryon Creek State Park called “Discovering the Park Through Science” that featured a series of earth science stations manned by trained teen volunteers along the trails at the park. Kate, a park enthusiast who wanted to spread her enthusiasm to others, worked with science teachers and park rangers to create visual displays and experiments that include testing creek water, studying sediment samples and learning how rocks are formed.
Hannah Joseph, 14, of Gold Hill, Ore., an eighth-grader at Hanby Middle School, has raised $18,000 over the past five years with her organization “Hugs from Heaven,” which provides clothes, supplies and toys for infants in the neonatal intensive care unit at Rogue Regional Medical Center. Hannah started with small fundraising parties and today coordinates an annual golf classic with a team of dedicated volunteers to bring in the funds, which altogether have provided more than 100 gift bags for the hospitalized infants.
Dominic Meads, 18, of Ashland, Ore., a senior at Ashland High School, is an advocate for environmental sustainability who has interned with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to help relocate young steelhead trout, and has researched the effects of forest fires on local salmon. Dominic, who is the founder of his school’s fishing club, has also volunteered with the annual Bear Creek Salmon Festival by planting trees along the river beds to keep the water cool for salmon in the infant stage of development.
Delanie Strauss, 16, of Beaverton, Ore., a junior at Central Catholic High School, founded “Mac Attack,” a project for which she has collected and donated 18,022 pounds of macaroni and cheese boxes for the emergency food supply of local charity The Sunshine Division. Delanie, who came up with the program in 2011 after volunteering for the charity, contacts school principals each year to encourage their participation, and coordinates and promotes the program, which is now the emergency food program’s sole supplier of macaroni and cheese.
“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