WASHINGTON--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Wisconsin's top two youth volunteers of 2016, Ananya Murali, 18, of Shorewood and Luke Smith, 13, of Manitowoc, 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. Ananya and Luke – 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 Ananya and Luke Wisconsin'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.
Ananya, a senior at Shorewood High School, designed and conducted an educational leadership camp to teach more than 100 middle school girls life skills and strategies to stand up against bullying and other forms of aggression in school. Ananya became interested in that subject when her family experienced harassment and discrimination after moving from India to the U.S. “They started smashing our car windshields and tires and saying ‘Go back to your country, we don’t want you here,’” said Ananya. She did some research and learned that bullying is a huge problem in schools, especially for minority children. “I was determined to take action,” she said.
With $2,000 in grant money and the help of several dozen youth and adult volunteers, Ananya developed an anti-bulling/leadership curriculum and then organized a camp at a local middle school called “Step-Up Against Bullying and Violence.” The more than 100 girls in attendance heard national and local speakers, took part in group discussions and team-building activities, learned peace songs written by Ananya and participated in a yoga session. Since then, Ananya has conducted her camp for more than 1,000 youth at other schools, Girl Scout gatherings, Native American reservations, an international youth peace conference and five schools in India. Because of her efforts, Ananya was invited to be a delegate and speaker at the United Nation’s 59th Commission on the Status of Women.
Luke, a seventh-grader at Wilson Junior High School, raises awareness of people with special needs, promotes inclusion through speeches in his community, and helped raise money to build a rubberized baseball field and an all-accessible playground for children with and without disabilities. He also is an avid volunteer for the local Humane Society. Luke, who has autism, was bullied when he was in elementary school because he was different. But instead of making him withdrawn and fearful, the experience motivated Luke to stand up for victims of bullying and prove his ability to make a difference in his town.
Luke began his volunteer work at the Humane Society, where he helped with fundraisers, brought in supplies and fostered special-needs animals because “no one understands like me what it is to be different.” After hearing about the Miracle League and its desire to build a special baseball field and playground that children with special needs could use, he gave public presentations to raise money and awareness for the project, recruited players and coaches for games, and was chosen to sing the National Anthem at the field. To combat bullying, Luke, a peer ambassador for Generations Against Bullying, gives speeches to promote universal acceptance. He also uses the intervention techniques he learned as an ambassador to stand up when he sees someone being mistreated.
“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 Wisconsin's honorees at the 2016 national recognition events, contact Prudential’s Harold Banks at (973) 216-4833 or firstname.lastname@example.org.