JUNEAU, Alaska, Feb. 5, 2019 /PRNewswire/ — Carlee Rizzo, 17, of Kenai and Ashley Perry, 14, of Anchorage today were named Alaska’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, Carlee and Ashley 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 Alaska’s top youth volunteers of 2019:
High School State Honoree: Carlee Rizzo
Nominated by Nikiski Middle/High School
Carlee, a senior at Nikiski Middle/High School, created an organization that has raised more than $16,000 so that 300 teachers in her large and remote school district can help students whose families are suffering through hard times. As the daughter of two teachers, Carlee grew up watching her parents struggle to help students in need stay on track in school, often dipping into their own pockets to provide school supplies or decent clothing. By the time she was a freshman, she had witnessed a friend living in a car with her mother, families facing the frigid Alaska winter without heat in their houses, and kids going hungry on weekends. “There are always students that need help,” said Carlee. “I realized that someone had to do something, and that someone was me. I could not be one of those people who stand by and watch others suffer.”
Carlee formed a board of teachers to consider requests from colleagues with students who need a helping hand. Then she went to work raising money for her Nikiski Children’s Fund. She sold donated baked goods at dozens of play productions, sponsored concerts, started an annual fall festival at her school, and organized a yearly charity softball game between her hometown fire department and local law enforcement. Her efforts have provided winter coats and shoes for grade-school children, weekend food for kids on school lunch programs, driving lessons for teens, temporary housing for homeless youth, and transportation for kids who otherwise would have to walk miles to school on dark Alaskan highways. She has also covered electric bills to keep the power on in students’ homes.
Middle Level State Honoree: Ashley Perry
Nominated by Mears Middle School
Ashley, an eighth-grader at Mears Middle School, started a program that enables struggling young readers to build their skills and confidence by reading out loud to animals in shelters. She also places “blessing boxes” filled with nonperishable food, hygiene products and apparel items at Anchorage schools for students in need, arranges for celebrities to visit hospitalized children, and raises awareness of Turner syndrome. Ashley was born with this rare genetic disorder, which makes her prone to infections and has required 20 surgeries so far. In 2014, she was named Alaska’s Children’s Miracle Network Champion. “With that role, I quickly learned that I was put on this earth for a reason and I can make a difference despite my health issues,” said Ashley.
After hearing about a program in another state that paired young readers with animals awaiting adoption, Ashley decided Alaska needed something similar. “When I was younger, I hated to read out loud and I was afraid of making a mistake,” said Ashley. “If I could have read to an animal, I think I would have been more excited to read.” After selling her idea to local animal shelters, Ashley sent flyers to local schools and libraries to recruit young readers. Nine shelters in Alaska and 15 outside the state are now participating in her reading program. To launch her “blessing boxes,” Ashley made a presentation to all of the principals in her school district, then asked homebuilders to help construct the boxes and urged friends and community members to donate supplies. Forty-five schools in the Anchorage area have now agreed to host one of Ashley’s boxes.
The program judges also recognized two other Alaska students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are Alaska’s Distinguished Finalists for 2019:
Natalie Fraser, 17, of Anchorage, Alaska, a junior at West High School, teaches middle school students and her peers about anatomy and reproduction, abstinence and birth control, STDs, healthy relationships and consent as a peer educator with the Planned Parenthood Teen Council. Natalie, who also teaches workshops to LGBTQ+ students, has personally reached about 100 students through the lessons she’s taught with the teen council; she also flew to the state capital to speak with legislators about the importance of sex education.
Kaitlyn Gilmour, 18, of Anchorage, Alaska, a senior at Denali PEAK Correspondence/Homeschool, co-founded a project with her mother called “Comfort Covers” to send more than 200 handmade, personalized blankets to deployed soldiers, veterans and their families; the initiative also involved collecting more than 1,000 pounds of care packages that were sent via a military plane and delivered by helicopters to bases in Afghanistan. Over several years, the effort evolved to send blankets and care packages to children in hospitals, homeless people, and others in need of moral support.
“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.