Alabama’s Top Youth Volunteers Of 2019 Selected By National Program

Alabama’s Top Youth Volunteers Of 2019 Selected By National Program

MONTGOMERY, Ala., Feb. 5, 2019 /PRNewswire/ — Jessica Bradley, 17, of Hoover and Breanna Bennett, 11, of Montgomery today were named Alabama’s top two youth volunteers of 2019 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism. As State Honorees, Jessica and Breanna each will receive $1,000, an engraved silver medallion and an all-expense-paid trip in early May to Washington, D.C., where they will join the top two honorees from each of the other states and the District of Columbia for four days of national recognition events. During the trip, 10 students will be named America’s top youth volunteers of 2019. 

The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, now in its 24th year, is conducted by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).

These are Alabama’s top youth volunteers of 2019:

High School State Honoree: Jessica Bradley

Nominated by Hoover High School

Jessica, a senior at Hoover High School, empowers young women interested in science, technology, engineering and math by holding monthly meetings that bring them together to learn about STEM subjects and work on technology-related projects. As a young Latina, Jessica said people have often underestimated her abilities. Once, for example, after a marketing teacher announced that Jessica was starting her own business, a boy mumbled, “girls can’t work as hard as boys – much less a Mexican.” Luckily, Jessica, who is Colombian, had a strong role model in her mother, who had started her own business. Wanting to follow in her mom’s footsteps, Jessica decided to focus on computer science and business, where women are often underrepresented and paid lower salaries, she said.

So about two years ago, she decided to form a service organization that could give girls the skills and confidence to overcome gender barriers and succeed in STEM fields. With help from her computer science teacher, Jessica asked every elementary and middle school principal in her school district to distribute information about her initiative and invite their female students to a series of monthly workshops. For each meeting, Jessica prepares a short STEM lecture and organizes a technology-related activity, such as 3D jewelry printing, a fun binary calculator, MicroBit programming, and tearing apart an old computer. Only three girls showed up for the first meeting, but attendance has since grown to more than 30. Jessica also has organized STEM days at elementary and middle schools. “No time is more well spent than by teaching girls to be proud of themselves,” Jessica said.  

Middle Level State Honoree: Breanna Bennett

Nominated by Montgomery County 4-H

Breanna, a sixth-grader at St. James School, produced a 15-minute educational film with her twin sister about the struggles of the civil rights movement that premiered at the Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery. The girls decided they wanted to become filmmakers and teach children about black history after their family moved from Dubai to Miami and joined a church attended by leaders in the African American community there. But the project didn’t get far because they soon moved again, this time to Alabama, where they joined the church where the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. served as pastor at the peak of the civil rights movement. That was when Breanna and her sister decided to produce a film called “Architects of Change” to educate children about the heroes who strived to bring equal rights to all Americans.         

Working with her sister, Breanna began the yearlong project by interviewing church elders about their experiences in the civil rights movement. Next, they started researching those turbulent times, visited landmarks in Alabama, and enrolled in the Rosa Parks Museum Summer Camp to learn more. They borrowed professional video equipment from the Rosa Parks Museum and began filming interviews and gathering historical footage. Then they selected background music, and received editing assistance from the Baltimore School of Arts. The film premiered last December at the museum and was scheduled for additional viewings in Montgomery. “Our ultimate goal is to distribute the film to public and private schools throughout the country to educate children about this valuable part of world history!” said Breanna. 

Distinguished Finalists

The program judges also recognized four other Alabama students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.

These are Alabama’s Distinguished Finalists for 2019:

Duha Aishah, 18, of Hoover, Ala., a senior at Islamic Academy of Alabama, founded a program that sponsors six orphaned children around the world, providing clothing, meals, education and vaccinations, as well as an allowance for toys; she has enlisted more than 200 of her fellow students to help with the project. She also co-founded her school’s humanitarian club, which mobilizes students to clean the school and neighborhood, fundraise, visit nursing homes and feed homeless people.

Maya Harlow, 18, of Ozark, Ala., a senior at Carroll High School, fosters, trains and socializes future assistance dogs for the nonprofit Canine Companions for Independence. Conscious of the needs of people with disabilities and other challenges — especially invisible ones, such as her brother’s Type 1 diabetes—she wanted to help provide eyes, ears, mobility, independence and peace of mind to people who need them; the first dog she trained now works with hundreds of victims of sexual and domestic abuse in South Carolina.

Kayla Jolly, 18, of Tallassee, Ala., a senior at Tallassee High School, helps provide soldiers and their families with logistical and emotional support through the Alabama National Guard Youth Program and the Alabama National Guard Advisory Board. At weekend Yellow Ribbon reintegration events, she uses her experience from her father’s deployment to help her peers understand the practical and emotional effects of a parent’s active military service.

Katelyn McInerney, 18, of Birmingham, Ala., a senior at Mountain Brook High School, founded “Special Siblings,” a monthly support group for young people who, like her, have a sibling with special needs. She plans and lead meetings, coordinates with mental health professionals, does advertising and publicity, maintains a website and hosts fundraisers, promoting understanding and acceptance of both siblings with special needs and the students whose own needs can go overlooked.

“These young volunteers learned and demonstrated that they can make meaningful contributions to individuals and communities through their service,” said Prudential CEO Charles Lowrey. “It’s an honor to recognize their great work, and we hope that shining a spotlight on their service inspires others to consider how they might make a difference.”

“Each of these honorees is proof that students have the energy, creativity and unique perspectives to create positive change,” said JoAnn Bartoletti, executive director of NASSP. “We commend each of the 2019 honorees for their outstanding volunteer service, and for the invaluable example they’ve set for their peers.” 

About The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards

The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards represents the United States’ largest youth recognition program based solely on volunteer service. All public and private middle level and high schools in the country, as well as all Girl Scout councils, county 4-H organizations, American Red Cross chapters, YMCAs and affiliates of Points of Light’s HandsOn Network, were eligible to select a student or member for a local Prudential Spirit of Community Award. These Local Honorees were then reviewed by an independent judging panel, which selected State Honorees and Distinguished Finalists based on criteria including personal initiative, effort, impact and personal growth. 

While in Washington, D.C., the 102 State Honorees – one middle level and one high school student from each state and the District of Columbia – will tour the capital’s landmarks, meet top youth volunteers from other parts of the world, attend a gala awards ceremony at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, and visit their congressional representatives on Capitol Hill. On May 6, 10 of the State Honorees – five middle level and five high school students – will be named America’s top youth volunteers of 2019. These National Honorees will receive additional $5,000 awards, gold medallions, crystal trophies and $5,000 grants from The Prudential Foundation for nonprofit charitable organizations of their choice.  

Since the program began in 1995, more than 125,000 young volunteers have been honored at the local, state and national level. The program also is conducted by Prudential subsidiaries in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Ireland, India, China and Brazil. In addition to granting its own awards, The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program also distributes President’s Volunteer Service Awards to qualifying Local Honorees.

For information on all of this year’s Prudential Spirit of Community State Honorees and Distinguished Finalists, visit or


The National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) is the leading organization of and voice for principals and other school leaders across the United States. NASSP seeks to transform education through school leadership, recognizing that the fulfillment of each student’s potential relies on great leaders in every school committed to the success of each student. 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 Student Council. Learn more at

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

For Spirit of Community Awards program logo and medallion graphics, please visit

SOURCE Prudential Financial, Inc.

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