WASHINGTON--(BUSINESS WIRE)--California's top two youth volunteers of 2016, Emmi Eisner, 16, of Encino and Alyssa Simmons, 13, of Mission Viejo, were honored in the nation’s capital last night for their outstanding volunteer service during the 21st annual presentation of The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. Emmi and Alyssa – along with 100 other top youth volunteers from across the country – each received $1,000 awards and personal congratulations from Academy Award-winning actress Hilary Swank at an award ceremony and gala dinner reception held at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program, sponsored by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), named Emmi and Alyssa California's top high school and middle level youth volunteers in February. In addition to their cash awards, they each received an engraved silver medallion and an all-expense-paid trip with a parent to Washington, D.C., for four days of recognition events.
Emmi, a junior at Sierra Canyon School in Chatsworth, founded a nonprofit organization called “Play It Forward” that has supplied sports equipment to 19 schools that lacked adequate gear for their physical education programs, benefiting thousands of students in the Los Angeles area. On a field trip with her seventh-grade class, Emmi visited a nearby elementary school and was shocked to see that the students there had no balls or other equipment to play with during recess. “I couldn’t believe not all students grow up with access to basic PE equipment, something I took for granted,” said Emmi, an accomplished soccer player.
Soon after, she began collecting donations of new and gently used balls, jump ropes, hula hoops and other athletic equipment for schools in low-income areas, partly by holding a walk-relay at her school that accepted sporting goods in lieu of a registration fee. Emmi supplied one elementary school that first year. She then started organizing fundraising events to buy equipment for more schools. So far, Emmi has collected $80,000 in donations, recruited 50 student volunteers to help, and given kids at 19 underserved schools the equipment they need to enjoy the full benefits of a physical education program. “The impact of a quality PE program at a young age is far-reaching,” noted Emmi. “Sports build character, teach teamwork, and demonstrate the importance of being responsible to others.”
Alyssa, an eighth-grader at Los Alisos Intermediate, has been a spokesperson, mentor and advocate for kids like herself who have sickle cell anemia since she was 5 years old. After her mother started the Sickle Cell Foundation of Orange County, Alyssa became a “spokesperson for tots” and began encouraging children with sickle cell anemia to share their feelings about the daily challenges of their chronic disease. “I acted as the voice for that age group,” she said. “It felt good because some kids didn’t have an advocate like I did, and I wanted them to get the same chances I got.”
Several years later, Alyssa led friends and classmates on visits to children in hospitals, bringing them gifts and tutoring them so they wouldn’t fall behind on their schoolwork. Then she created a program that encourages young sickle cell patients to chronicle their feelings and activities in a daily journal. Alyssa also has represented people with sickle cell anemia in the news media, helped raise thousands of dollars for sickle cell causes, mentored individual patients, and wrote a book about sick kids. Her plan, said Alyssa, is to “continue inspiring others to look beyond their challenges and reach toward their goals.”
“By using their time and talents to better their communities, these young people have achieved great things – and become examples for us all,” said John Strangfeld, chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial, Inc. “Congratulations to an exemplary group of honorees.”
“These students have demonstrated a truly remarkable level of leadership and commitment in the course of their volunteer service, and it’s an honor to celebrate their accomplishments,” said Michael Allison, president of NASSP. “We commend each and every one of them for a job well done.”
Youth volunteers in grades 5-12 were invited to apply for 2016 Prudential Spirit of Community Awards last fall through schools, Girl Scout councils, county 4-H organizations, American Red Cross chapters, YMCAs and affiliates of the HandsOn Network. More than 29,000 middle level and high school students nationwide participated in this year’s program.
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program was created in 1995 to identify and recognize young people for outstanding volunteer service – and, in so doing, inspire others to volunteer, too. In the past 21 years, the program has honored more than 115,000 young volunteers at the local, state and national level.
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. 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 pictures of the Spirit of Community Awards program logo and medallions, click here: http://bit.ly/Xi4oFW
For B-roll of California's honorees at the 2016 national recognition events, contact Prudential’s Harold Banks at (973) 216-4833 or firstname.lastname@example.org.