WASHINGTON--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Maryland's top two youth volunteers of 2016, Luke Pitsenbarger, 18, of Salisbury and Alyssa Gerhart, 13, of Waldorf, 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. Luke 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 Luke and Alyssa Maryland'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.
Luke, a senior at Parkside High, repaired houses for people in need last summer through the Appalachia Service Project, a Christian volunteer organization that serves impoverished communities in the central Appalachian Mountains. An active volunteer since he was in middle school, Luke has contributed to his community in many ways, including coaching at football camps, serving the homeless, and aiding people with disabilities. “These experiences have been some of the most meaningful moments so far in my life,” he said. So when the opportunity arose to go with a church-sponsored group for a week to work in a poor town in Virginia, he jumped at the chance.
At sunrise that first morning in Jonesville, Luke and his fellow volunteers arrived at a decaying trailer home. Luke was stunned at the poverty. “I could not believe my eyes! A myriad of tires were dispersed amongst the garden. The back porch was crumbling. The dogs were running after our van on the craterous driveway,” he said. The team unloaded their tools, met the family and went to work demolishing the leaky roof over the trailer and building a new one. “I noticed that, as the roof progressed, so did the family’s spirits,” said Luke. He found the experience so uplifting that he continues to work with the same group in his hometown, where they have built a shelter for homeless men, served meals at a soup kitchen, and installed a wheelchair ramp at the home of a local handicapped person.
Alyssa, a seventh-grader at Benjamin Stoddert Middle School, helps feed up to 100 hungry people in her town each week by collecting food, raising money, and working at the soup kitchen her mother co-founded three years ago. When Our Place Waldorf was first being discussed, Alyssa immediately wanted to get involved. She helped sign in attendees at the initial organizing meetings, handed out information on the proposal, and assisted during interviews with potential board members. “I felt this was an important cause from the beginning because nobody should have to go without food,” she said. “I had no idea how many homeless and hungry people were living so close to where I live.”
After the soup kitchen opened in a local church, Alyssa began helping her mother shop for food, cook, set tables, serve, clean up and even fundraise. She also recruited fellow members of her school’s service clubs to volunteer at the facility, participated in fundraising events, and conducted drives to collect non-perishable food items to be sent away with soup kitchen guests. Alyssa is currently helping to raise money to find a permanent home for the soup kitchen so that it can open its doors every day. “As we know, people aren’t hungry only one day a week,” she said.
“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 Maryland's honorees at the 2016 national recognition events, contact Prudential’s Harold Banks at (973) 216-4833 or firstname.lastname@example.org.