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2016 Honorees Find Innovative Ways to Make a Difference

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

This month, The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards named the top youth volunteers of 2016 in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. This year’s State Honorees and Distinguished Finalists, ranging in age from 10 to 18, have made a meaningful difference in the lives of people in the United States and around the world. And they’ve found some innovative ways to do it.

A number of 2016 honorees helped kids with illnesses or injuries. Lauren Browning of Kansas, for example, oversees a group of trained volunteers who paint faces at community events to benefit kids with cancer. Zachary Rice of New Jersey raised enough money to buy gaming systems for every room in a local children’s hospital by initiating an “Action for Distraction 5K.” And Rohith Koneru of Ohio helped people uncover unclaimed government funds in exchange for donations to the Nationwide Children’s Hospital and Research Foundation. 

They extended a hand to students in crisis

Many of these young volunteers offered support and resources to young people experiencing bullying, traumatic events and mental health issues. Moved by the story of a girl’s suicide after being bullied online, Trisha Prabhu of Illinois developed an app that aims to prevent cyberbullying by alerting a user that their social media post could cause harm. Teresa Shockley of Kansas created five “little libraries” with books to help preteens and teens dealing with depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicidal thoughts. And James Lea of Nevada helps brighten the holiday season for kids who have recently lost a parent by surprising their families with an anonymous, 12 days of Christmas-themed gift every day for 12 days – a gesture that brought comfort to his family after his father died. 

They worked to bring people together

Several honorees worked to promote inclusion and acceptance. Motivated by his own experiences, Jonathan Jossell of Oklahoma created and hosted a workshop on racial unity and awareness. Reshini Premaratne of Virginia started a program that brings together high schoolers and homeless people to learn computer programming and foster tolerance and understanding. 

“The best way to go about creating change is for people to learn how to respect, trust and communicate,” said Gavrielle Kamen of Washington, D.C., who organizes weekly Skype sessions where teens from the United States, the Middle East and southern Asia talk about their experiences and perspectives to promote peace and understanding in a troubled part of the world.

That’s just a few of the stories of this year’s 102 State Honorees and 235 Distinguished Finalists. Read more about each of them here.