Teens make up a sizable portion of the population and they can do much to contribute to their communities. Every year, millions of kids volunteer to help organizations that combat serious issues such as poverty, substance abuse, hunger, and other issues—many of which affect teens, too. Every year for the past twenty-three years, the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards—which is in a sponsored partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals—seeks to find and reward teens who make a positive impact on society. In past years, there have been as many as 33,000 participants and, of them, 102 state honorees —two kids from each state plus Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia—are selected by a judging panel that includes educators and are chosen based on their contributions and merits. These 102 state winners each receive $1,000, an engraved silver medallion, and an all-expense-paid trip with a parent or guardian to Washington, D.C. for national recognition events. A National Finals event is held each May in Washington DC where ten national finalists are announced as “America’s 10 Youth Volunteers,” and are presented with an additional $5,000 award, an engraved gold medallion, a crystal trophy for their school or nominating organization, and a $5,000 grant from the Prudential Foundation grant for to be given to a charitable organization of the winner’s choosing.
Many previous winners supported health-related charities, autism organizations, literacy causes, art clubs, grief counseling programs, anti-bullying campaigns and other worthy causes. In 2017, a number of young people were lauded for their contributions to society.
One national winner was Ariana DeMattei of New York who has given more than 1,000 supply-filled backpacks to children in disadvantaged areas.
Another national honoree was Riley Callen of Vermont who founded a “hike-a-thon” that occurs annually in the hills of Vermont. To date, the event has raised more than $250,000 which goes towards finding a cure for benign brain tumors–a condition which Riley herself suffers from.
National honoree Harmonie Frederick of South Carolina sold lemonade in order to raise money to fight cancer. She also hosted a coat drive to help keep the poor warm in winter as well as volunteering at a local nursing home.
Meghana Reddy of California, is another national winner who created artificial hands for both adults and children from countries around the world. Although disabled, these individuals could not afford prostheses so Meghana created them using 3D printing technology. Amal Bhatnagar of Georgia started a student organization that has gone on to provide thousands of first-aid kits to people all across the globe who have limited access to basic healthcare. Lorelei McIntyre-Brewer of Pennsylvania built an international volunteer network to provide more than 12,000 specially-made pillows for children who are undergoing heart surgery. All of these causes are important and worthy.
Kenan Pala of California started an initiative to help the homeless by raising money for shelters and free meals. In the process, he organized a cereal donation event that set records. Kenan has been volunteering for as long as he can remember.
“I’ve always enjoyed helping others as my parents have taught me to be thankful for what we have and to help others,” he stated in a recent interview. Yet one morning changed his life.
“I was running at Torrey Pines Beach when I saw a sick baby seal lying on the side of the beach,” Kenan explained. “I noticed that there were many people caring for the seal and giving it blankets, calling the rangers, calling animal shelters, etc. On the way home, I encountered a homeless man on the side of the road, sick and asking for help, like the baby seal. However, people were just driving by him and ignoring him like he wasn’t there. I thought to myself, this isn’t right something needs to be done.”
Upon returning home, Kenan began to research homelessness in San Diego and was shocked to find that homelessness in the city has risen 73% since 2007. This alarming statistic promoted him to do something big in order to raise money, awareness, and food for the homeless in a way that would get the community together for a cause.
“After some thinking I thought we could break a Guinness World Record using food that we would later donate to the homeless,” Kenan explained. “I chose cereal since it is long lasting, healthy and tastes really good! I decided to encourage the community to make the largest cereal box mosaic in the world, so people could see how much cereal is needed to feed all the homeless people in San Diego for one day.”
Kenan has since founded a nonprofit called “Kids4Community” which inspired youngsters to volunteer. The charity currently offers monthly dinner servings and sandwich making events at local shelters. In the fall, they are launching an entrepreneurship club for teens at the local school to help them start their own social companies to do good for the community. Additionally, in March of 2018 they are hosting the first annual Bright Futures 5k to help raise awareness for homelessness, and to help raise money to help homeless youth and under-privileged kids.
There were many state honorees, and many wonderful causes and stories.
Sarah “Katie” Eder of Wisconsin was lauded for a creative writing workshop that she created for children between the ages of eight and twelve. Katie understood the fun and effectiveness of such workshops, having attended and enjoyed one when she was in elementary school. Katie realized that, outside of school, there were few opportunities for kids to embrace creative writing, especially if they came from underprivileged backgrounds. She subsequently created a curriculum for a creative writing workshop and started “Kids Tales” in order to publish the children’s stories in a book at the end of the class.
“The most difficult part of starting the Kids Tales nonprofit was potential partners, donors, and teachers telling me ‘no’ because I was too young or too inexperienced,” Katie explained. “Over time, I have developed a thicker skin to this and have really seen that age is not a factor. Anyone, at any age, can change the world.”
To date, Kids Tales has served over 1,000 kids across eight countries including the United States, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Taiwan, and a refugee camp in Hungary; engaged more than 300 teen workshop teachers; and published over fifty books. Katie plans to continue expanding the organization until it is present in every country.
Bradley Ferguson of New Jersey launched a “service-learning club” for veterans and people in need. In the process, he spent years refurbishing an American Legion post, collected food for a local food bank, made lunches for homeless people, and grew fresh produce in community gardens. Bradley was inspired to do this after his community suffered from severe job loss and foreclosures. He was also influenced by the traumatic memory of witnessing a Navy veteran named Charles Ingram III dousing himself with gasoline and setting himself on fire in front of a VA clinic two blocks from Bradley’s house. He plans to continue his charitable services far into the future–including offering events centered on American War Dogs, planting trees in urban areas, and hosting holiday dinners for people in need.
Kelsey Norris of Georgia has given over 1,000 volunteer hours to charities and raised over $25,000 for numerous causes. Kelsey understands the importance of helping others. When she was only eleven months old, she was found sick and starving in a Russian orphanage. She had lice and the doctors did not know if she would ever be able to walk or talk. Kelsey was rescued from that environment and thrived. Today, she does everything in her power to help others–especially children and struggling families to ensure that every child in a crisis situation has the opportunity to receive the assistance that they need. She has also donated over 5,000 pounds of dog food to the Flint Humane Society and written several grant proposals totaling $25,000 to fund several honorable causes. She is also adamant about the rights of individuals with disabilities, including self-advocacy and she wants to spend her future encouraging individuals with disabilities to volunteer and get involved with the causes that matter to them.
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards is sponsored in collaboration with the National Association of Secondary School Principals. The 2018 “Call for Entries” will close on November 7, 2017. The organization is hoping to find more teens who are as caring and dedicated as those involved in the 2017 event. Google “Spirit Prudential” and visit the official website to learn more.
To learn more, visit the official website.