BATON ROUGE, La., Feb. 5, 2019 /PRNewswire/ — Kate Walker, 15, of Ruston and Nikki Leali, 13, of New Orleans today were named Louisiana’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, Kate and Nikki 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 Louisiana’s top youth volunteers of 2019:
High School State Honoree: Kate Walker
Nominated by Cedar Creek School
Kate, a sophomore at Cedar Creek School, has raised more than $70,000 to find a cure for a rare neuro-muscular disease that makes it difficult for her to walk, and employs different kinds of media to spread awareness and educate the public about disabilities in general. In 2016, Kate was diagnosed with Friedreich’s ataxia (FA), an inherited degenerative condition that has no cure or treatments. “After months of wrapping my brain around the fact that I was going to be disabled, I knew I did not want to sit on the sidelines for the course of this disease,” she said. “I wanted to help find a cure.” She also wanted to teach people the importance of treating people with disabilities the same as everyone else.
While attempting to learn as much as possible about her disease, Kate discovered a national organization dedicated to FA research. Soon after, she formed a team to participate in the organization’s annual cycling fundraising event by arranging T-shirt and bake sales, art parties, restaurant nights and donations. She also hosted a local screening of a documentary film about FA, built a website, launched a social media campaign, helped convene web-based meetings for teens with FA, and started a YouTube channel featuring weekly videos about the challenges facing people with disabilities. “My goal is not only to raise awareness about FA, but to help knock down the border between those who are disabled and those who are able-bodied,” said Kate.
Middle Level State Honoree: Nikki Leali
Nominated by Ursuline Academy
Nikki, a seventh-grader at Ursuline Academy, organized a reading club that brings middle level students together with younger children once a month to read and work on craft projects, after conducting an annual book donation and swap drive for several years that redistributed more than 55,000 books in her community. When she was 6, Nikki won a small city grant to host a neighborhood book exchange in conjunction with the national Little Free Library initiative. Each year, she continued to collect and give away books to encourage reading and literacy, and eventually became a volunteer at the New Orleans Public Library, too. While volunteering one Saturday in 2017, Nikki came up with the idea of starting a reading club to “provide opportunities for younger children to feel confident reading in a safe and fun environment,” she explained, “and to encourage middle school students to serve their community.”
Nikki recruited fellow middle schoolers to join her club, and invited kids from ages 2 to 9 to come to monthly gatherings through social media. At first, she held meetings of her “Crescent City Reading Buddies” club at places like pet stores and coffee shops, but then found a regular home at a library branch. Each meeting features a different theme and a hands-on craft project, in addition to reading time. Attendance was meager at first, but now that Nikki has created a website and provides incentives from corporate sponsors, between 15 and 30 children are regularly attending club meetings. She hopes to eventually hold club meetings at additional library branches around the city.
The program judges also recognized four other Louisiana students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are Louisiana’s Distinguished Finalists for 2019:
Hailey Enamorado, 15, of Denham Springs, La., a sophomore at Denham Springs High School, created “Hailey’s Heroes,” an initiative that has raised funds and provided volunteer support for veterans and active-duty military members, in addition to supporting causes including pediatric cancer awareness and remediation after flooding in her hometown. Inspired by the story of a relative who went missing in action in World War II, Hailey made it her mission to help her peers discover what it means to be a hero.
Julianna Gouthiere, 12, of Shreveport, La., a sixth-grader at Youree Drive Middle School, has collected and donated more than 15,000 stuffed animals for children in difficult situations through her nonprofit, “Bear Share.” Inspired by the story of a fireman giving her mother a bear at the scene of an accident when she was a child, Julianna has worked with local businesses to deliver plush friends to hospitals, nonprofits, police and firefighters in the U.S. and internationally.
Myracle Lewis, 17, of Baton Rouge, La., a senior at Baton Rouge Magnet High School, is an active volunteer with the organizations Women of Color and 100% Virtuous Women, helping the homeless in downtown Baton Rouge and beyond. She helps secure food, clothing and other necessities – donated by local businesses, and from volunteers’ own wallets and wardrobes – and visits recipients to share the donations, prayers and encouragement.
Grace Sun, 17, of Shreveport, La., a junior at Caddo Parish Magnet High School, founded and runs “Spread the Success,” rallying more than 80 peers to help tutor 40 elementary and middle school students at the VOA LightHouse after-school program, and also serve dinner and read books one-on-one with children at the Providence House homeless shelter. Through their efforts, Grace and her fellow students serve as role models, helping the children develop confidence and other vital life skills.
“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.
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 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.
For Spirit of Community Awards program logo and medallion graphics, please visit https://spirit.prudential.com/resources/media
SOURCE Prudential Financial, Inc.