2014 National Honorees

Ten young Americans were selected in the 2014 Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program for national recognition based on their outstanding achievements in community service. The national selection committee that chose the national honorees was chaired by Prudential chairman and CEO John R. Strangfeld. Also serving on the committee were Barbara-Jane (BJ) Paris of NASSP; Tracy Hoover, president of Points of Light; Jennifer Sirangelo, president and CEO of the National 4-H Council; Andrea Bastiani Archibald, chief girl expert for Girl Scouts of the USA; James E. Starr, vice president for volunteer management for the American Red Cross; Robert Bisi, senior marketing specialist for the Corporation for National and Community Service; Dru Tomlin, director of middle level services for the Association for Middle Level Education; André Wesson, senior program associate for strategic communications, outreach and development for Achieve; Reneé Jackson, senior manager of education programs at the National PTA; and two 2013 National Honorees: Emma Astrike-Davis of Durham, N.C., a senior at Cary Academy, and Joshua Williams of Miami Beach, Fla., an eighth-grader at Ransom Everglades School. The 2014 National Honorees are:
High School National Honorees


   

Jessica Bird
Jessica Bird, 18, of Atherton, Calif., a senior at Sacred Heart Preparatory, is a dedicated advocate for young sex-trafficking victims around the world, and last year led a team to Costa Rica to provide girls at a safe house with the means to earn a living so that they would not have to return to prostitution. Jessica had visited the safe house for young prostitutes during a church trip to Costa Rica and became friends with Eva, a young girl whose father began prostituting her when she was 12 years old. After returning home, Jessica invited Eva to her home and hosted a fundraiser that collected $29,000 for the safe house. “But only two weeks later, Eva called me high on drugs,” said Jessica. “She was back into a life of prostitution.” It was then that Jessica realized that the problem of sex trafficking could not be solved by money alone.

Jessica set out to educate herself about the global issue of child prostitution, and then started educating others, including her school community and Girl Scout troop. As a youth delegate to the 57th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, she helped facilitate an all-youth tribunal and addressed U.N. Assembly members on the issue. Then, when her church cancelled its annual service trip to the Costa Rican safe house, Jessica recruited five friends and three adults to make the trip on their own. While there, her team built a chicken coop, refurbished a greenhouse, and created a job training program so that the six girls at the safe house would not have to fall back into prostitution. The girls also were taught how to cook healthy meals, sell produce at a farmers’ market, manage money, and exercise leadership and responsibility skills. “These are the skills they need to know for a life beyond prostitution, skills that my friend, Eva, did not possess,” said Jessi

   

Sean Egan
Sean Egan, 18, of Staten Island, N.Y., a senior at Monsignor Farrell High School, founded an organization of more than 300 students who assist and thank veterans of the U.S. armed forces by sponsoring events, providing goods and services, and visiting military hospitals. After Sean’s father, a firefighter, died in the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York City, Sean realized the nation had enemies and that service members were called upon to stop them. “They are the one group most responsible for protecting our way of life, and they deserve our thanks,” he said.

Two years ago, Sean organized a holiday visit with some fellow high school students to a VA hospital in Brooklyn. When he saw how much the wounded warriors there appreciated their company, he formed a group called “Hearing Our Heroes” at his school to support and celebrate veterans. Since then, the organization has grown to include more than 300 students at six schools. They have provided hundreds of books and games for the recreation room at the Brooklyn hospital and donated basic necessities to veterans who leave the hospital homeless. They also bring supplies and gifts to amputee veterans at Walter Reed Medical Center in Maryland every few months. The group has worked on hundreds of events for service members including lunches, barbecues, parades and sporting events for wounded veterans. After Hurricane Sandy, Sean’s organization helped veterans salvage their properties and rebuild their homes. Last summer, it raised money to send a military family to Disney World. “Hearing Our Heroes” members also do yard work for local vets, and assist with the upkeep at veterans cemeteries and monuments. “It is our duty to ensure that those who have served our nation and defended our precious freedom receive the appreciation and recognition they deserve,” said Sean.

   

Elijah Evans
Elijah Evans, 16, of Youngsville, La., a sophomore at Comeaux High School, works in his community to raise awareness of child abuse and improve the lives of foster children by promoting and hosting an annual Christmas party for children in foster care. Elijah knows from personal experience what it’s like to be abused and to be a foster child. When he was 2, his biological mother put him in a tub full of scalding water. “I was burned from the waist down and lost all the toes on my right foot and my toes on my left foot are webbed together,” he said. He spent nearly three years in foster care until he was adopted by one of the nurses who had cared for him during his many trips to the hospital. By the time he was in eighth grade, Elijah decided he wanted to make people more aware of child abuse, and do something special for foster kids. “One of my dreams I had when I was 8 years old was to give a Christmas party for children in foster care, because I knew what it was like to not get gifts you really want,” he said.

Elijah estimated that he would need $5,000 to host his first Christmas party, so he began fundraising. He spoke about child abuse prevention and shared his story and his plan with local churches, schools, civic organizations and the news media. He recruited volunteers, collected donations, and sold raffle tickets and T-shirts that he designed. The Department of Children and Family Services identified 72 foster kids for Elijah to invite. Each child filled out a Christmas wish list and Elijah went shopping for presents. “Seeing the smiles on the children’s faces when they received their gifts and watching them enjoy the party” made it all worthwhile, said Elijah. Since then, his “Christmas of Hope” party has become a yearly event; he has formed an official organization called “No Use for Abuse” to pursue more initiatives to help abused children and foster children “feel wanted and know someone cares for them.”

   

Kinsey Morrison
Kinsey Morrison, 17, of Goshen, Ky., a senior at St. Francis High School, is a motivational speaker who’s delivered more than 50 speeches on a variety of topics and helped raise a significant amount of money for dozens of charities. When Kinsey was 5, she was diagnosed with a rare bone marrow condition called aplastic anemia. Her parents were told she only had one month to live, but Kinsey beat the odds. When she was 6, while attending a luncheon to thank donors for the transfusions that helped save her life, she gave a five-minute impromptu speech in which she referred to her illness as the “dragon” and herself as a “dragon slayer.” That speech launched her quest to tell her story with the goal of raising money for health charities and inspiring audiences to “appreciate every day as a gift, to live, not just exist.”

Over the past 11 years, Kinsey has reached more than 25,000 people by speaking at events for some of the nation’s leading health and education organizations, including the American Heart Association, Girl Scouts of the USA, American Cancer Society and the American Red Cross. In addition to health-related topics, Kinsey’s speeches have dealt with subjects such as marriage equality, bullying, and the importance of living life to its fullest. On a local level, Kinsey is deeply involved with Gilda’s Club Louisville, which provides social and emotional support to cancer patients and their families. In addition to raising money for the organization, she has served as a counselor at its kids’ camp for the past two years. To date, Kinsey's efforts have helped to raise more than $500,000 for dozens of charities. “My dream is using my story to slay more dragons, and to inspire people to live, not just exist,” she said.

   

Katie Stagliano
Katie Stagliano, 15, of Summerville, S.C., a freshman at Pinewood Preparatory School, established a nonprofit organization that has helped kids across the country create and maintain more than 60 vegetable gardens, which have yielded thousands of pounds of fresh produce to feed people in need. Katie’s gardening career began in the third grade when she brought home from school a cabbage seedling that she’d been given to plant. “I tended to my cabbage and cared for it until it grew to an amazing 40 pounds,” said Katie. She then took her cabbage to a local soup kitchen, where it helped feed 275 hungry people. “I began to wonder: if one cabbage could feed 275 people, imagine how many people a whole garden could feed,” she said.

She planted a garden in her backyard, then asked her school’s administration if she could start a student-run garden there. Her school gave her a plot of land the length of a football field, and classmates pitched in to help. Realizing she needed to learn more about gardening, Katie contacted the master gardener at Clemson University, who took her under her wing. Before long the garden was supplying fresh produce to the soup kitchen and a local homeless shelter, which soon planted its own garden with Katie’s help. Five years later, “Katie’s Krops” is a nonprofit organization that has raised over $250,000 through a website and individual and corporate donations to provide grants for 9-to-16-year-olds who want to grow vegetables to feed the hungry in their communities. Thanks to her efforts, 61 youth-run gardens are growing from Maine to Hawaii. As for Katie’s first garden, it is still flourishing, producing over 3,000 pounds of produce last year for people in need. And when the local soup kitchen closed down three years ago, Katie began offering garden-to-table dinners that have provided a free, nutritious meal to more than 2,000 hungry people. “I am proud to grow healthy food, prevent hunger and empower kids to grow a healthy end to hunger in their communities,” said Katie.

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Middle School Level National Honorees


   

Lillian Diuble
Lillian Diuble, 11, of Manchester, Mich., a sixth-grader at Manchester Middle School, leads a team that has raised more than $78,000 over the past four years for the Foundation Fighting Blindness, which is devoted to developing treatments and cures for eye diseases like the one affecting Lillian. She was born with a rare disease that may cause her to completely lose both her hearing and vision as she gets older. “I can hear well with my hearing aids and I can see OK with my glasses, but that could change over time,” she said. When Lillian found out about the foundation’s annual VisionWalk fundraiser, she saw an opportunity to impact not only her own prospects, but those of everyone with vision loss. “I am not a doctor or a scientist, so I can’t personally cure people,” she said. “But I can help by spreading the word and raising money for the cause.”

Once she decided to form a walkathon team, Lillian recruited classmates and wrote letters to everyone she knew. With help from her family, she created a webpage on the foundation’s website, made handouts and phone calls, asked local businesses to place donation cans on their counters, and contacted service organizations for assistance. As youth chairperson for her local VisionWalk for the past three years, Lillian also makes frequent speeches to raise awareness of eye diseases and generate support. Over the years, hundreds of people have been part of Lillian’s team, and her efforts have produced significant funds for the Foundation Fighting Blindness. “Many people of all ages and races go blind every day,” she said. “This is a really sad thing. I hope for a future full of vision for everyone!”

   

Kaylee Graham
Kaylee Graham, 14, of Florence, Ore., an eighth-grader at Siuslaw Middle School, initiated an annual citywide day of service in her town that has motivated more than 3,000 residents to work on community improvement projects, raise money for charity, donate food, and take part in other volunteer activities over the past three years. Kaylee grew up volunteering with her family, but when she was 10, she wanted to do something on her own. So she held a garage sale and raised almost $2,000 to stuff 150 backpacks with blankets, toys and other items for children in foster care. "The feeling I had after completing my own successful project was like nothing I have experienced before," said Kaylee. "I wanted to share that feeling with others."

She told her mother she wanted to host a weeklong volunteer camp at her house. Her mother said that was too much, but if it was just one day, Kaylee could invite as many people as she wanted. So Kaylee decided to invite her entire community. She presented her idea to the city council, which eventually proclaimed the third Saturday in July as the "Power of Florence Day." To prepare for the event each year, Kaylee issues press releases, publishes information on her website and Facebook pages, makes videos, shows up at community events, and gives speeches to encourage churches, civic groups and nonprofit organizations to participate. She also sells T-shirts, applies for grant money, and organizes brainstorming meetings. On the actual day of service, Kaylee visits each project and helps or supports any way she can. To date, Power of Florence Day has sparked nearly 40 service projects, raised more than $25,000 for community causes, and collected over 7,500 pounds of food for a food bank and the Humane Society. "I learned the size of a person doesn't truly matter," said Kaylee. "It's the size of their heart that does."

   

Morgan Guess
Morgan Guess, 11, of Paducah, Ky., a fifth-grader at Lone Oak Intermediate School, has worked with her mother to focus local, state and national attention on the problem of bullying through a variety of measures, after Morgan herself was bullied. When Morgan was bullied by another child at her school, she suffered in silence and became clinically depressed. When her mother finally found out about it, she “told me that bad things are going to happen in life and I could choose to ignore it, blame others, or be a part of the solution,” said Morgan. After learning that Kentucky leads the nation in teen suicide attempts and that 160,000 kids skip school each day because they’re afraid, Morgan chose to be part of the solution.

Morgan began by sharing her story on a YouTube video that’s been viewed almost 4,000 times. She and her mother then started a foundation to spread awareness of the problem. They arranged for a movie on bullying to be screened in their community, and invited an author who had written a book on the subject to speak to 6,000 students in grades 4-12. Morgan co-authored an opinion piece for the Huffington Post, led an anti-bullying march around the local mall, and distributed anti-bullying bumper stickers and T-shirts. She also was featured in two anti-bullying shows on the statewide educational television station, started a “Kids for Kindness” Facebook page, and spoke about the issue at a college conference. “The beauty of this work is that it isn’t about me,” said Morgan. “It is about my story, and that story has kept the conversation alive and is bringing people together.”

   

William Lourcey
William Lourcey, 11, of Fort Worth, Texas, a volunteer ambassador with the Volunteer Center of North Texas and a fifth-grader at Trinity Valley School, is the founder and CEO of a service group that organizes fun events to raise money and awareness to fight hunger, and to encourage young people to get involved in their community. When Will was 7, he saw a man on the street with a sign that read: “Need a Meal.” “I got really sad inside,” he said. “I knew I needed to do something. I made a plan, gathered friends, and set out to change my community.”

Many of the events organized by Will’s group are baseball, softball, soccer, dodgeball and other sports contests played by kids who recruit sponsors to pledge cash donations for every hit or goal they make. The money raised has provided more than 120,000 meals to the hungry through a local food bank. The group also has packed 14,000 backpacks with food for hungry children, distributed food to 2,000 families through a mobile food pantry, and participated in a variety of other service projects. More than 1,000 kids in north Texas have taken part in Will’s group’s activities. “I might be a little kid,” said Will, “but I am a little kid making a big difference. Other kids can, too!”

   

Michael Stolzenberg
Michael Stolzenberg, 14, of Weston, Fla., an eighth-grader at Pine Crest School, has raised more than $225,000 to help rebuild the lives of people who lost limbs when terrorists detonated two bombs during the 2013 Boston Marathon. Michael knows what it’s like to lose limbs. Five years ago, a bacterial infection made it necessary for doctors to amputate his hands and feet in order to save his life. After watching news of the Boston bombings on TV, he thought about all the support he’d received from his community during his recovery, and told his older brothers he wanted to offer that same kind of support to the bombing victims. “I wanted them to know that help is on the way and they will be OK,” said Michael. “I wanted them to know that if I could get my life back, they could, too.”

With help from his brothers, Michael started “Mikey’s Run,” a campaign to raise money for the bombing victims by soliciting pledges to sponsor his oldest brother’s participation in the 2014 Boston Marathon. The boys created a website and social media accounts to publicize their cause. Michael also designed a T-shirt that’s sold on the website. To raise more money, Michael organized a “fun run” at his school that attracted 350 people, and solicited sponsors from the local business community. It wasn’t long before the national media learned what Michael was doing and publicized his story, which brought in more money, including a $100,000 donation from Oprah Winfrey. Last summer, Michael was invited to attend an amputee convention to meet some of the Boston Marathon victims. “They thanked me for what I was doing,” said Michael. “I told them they didn’t have to thank me, and that one day they will pay it forward, too.”

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