Virginia’s Top Youth Volunteers of 2019 Selected by National Program

Virginia’s Top Youth Volunteers of 2019 Selected by National Program

RICHMOND, Va., Feb. 5, 2019 /PRNewswire/ — Justin Hu, 16, of Vienna and Shayla Young, 13, of Springfield today were named Virginia’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, Justin and Shayla 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 Virginia’s top youth volunteers of 2019:

High School State Honoree: Justin Hu

Nominated by Madison High School

Justin, a junior at Madison High School, teaches kung fu to children with disabilities and other challenges, and raises money to address medical and health-related needs in Africa and Asia, through “ABLE Kung Fu,” the nonprofit organization he founded in 2016. When he was 6 years old, Justin became infatuated with the Chinese martial arts known as kung fu, and over the next 10 years, he won three championship titles. “This sport has tapped into the best in me, engaging my discipline, grit and honor,” he said. “I was convinced that the valuable

lessons learned from the sport should not be available to the few, or even only to the physically fit. I understood that kung fu could be a tool for building minds, morale and accessibility.”

He began conducting kung fu classes for kids with disabilities at his church, after-school programs, and summer school, and recruiting other kung fu devotees to help him. It wasn’t long before children in his classes blossomed with confidence as they mastered new skills. “Watching young people begin to believe they can become champions in their own lives makes my heart sing,” said Justin. As the word about his program spread, Justin was invited to teach kung fu to Special Olympics athletes last year. Through his website, he has raised more than $24,000 in donations for his nonprofit, some of which has been used to install an electric water pump at a school in Senegal. Additionally, he has paid for several pediatric surgeries in Taiwan and China, and a group of his volunteers in California carries musical instruments to teach and perform for underserved villages in those countries. Justin estimates that he and his 25 volunteers have had an impact on more than 6,000 children.      

Middle Level State Honoree: Shayla Young

Nominated by Irving Middle School

Shayla, a seventh-grader at Irving Middle School, conducted a workshop last year to help residents of a veterans retirement home learn how to make better use of their cell phones. Shayla began volunteering at the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Washington, D.C., when she was 6 years old, as her father was preparing to retire from the Army. Last year, she noticed how difficult it was for some of the veterans there to use technology. “I recognized the struggles that residents were having when using their cell phones,” Shayla said. “A lot of the residents are in their 90s, with poor vision and poor hearing.” Shayla knew she could help, and came up with the idea of bringing some of her tech-savvy peers to the home to teach the seniors the secrets of getting the most out of their cell phones.

After obtaining permission from officials at the retirement home, Shayla recruited a group of student instructors and created a poster to advertise her workshop. On the day of the event, 11 residents showed up to listen to the young people explain various functions of their cell phones, including how to increase font size, adjust volume and brightness, use password protection, save contacts and link their phones to their email accounts. “The residents were very appreciative of us coming out to help them,” said Shayla. “Now they are able to use their phones more effectively.” She said she is already planning another workshop to educate additional residents, and to show them how to use the alarm function on their cell phone calendars to remind themselves when to take their medications or when they have doctor appointments.          

Distinguished Finalists

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

These are Virginia’s Distinguished Finalists for 2019:

Trevor Agee, 18, of Buckingham, Va., a senior at Buckingham County High School, is an active volunteer firefighter, contributing hundreds of hours at his community’s volunteer-run fire department, responding to emergencies and helping organize chicken barbeque fundraisers. Encouraged by his father, who is also a firefighter, Trevor started his service as the first participant of the department’s junior membership program when he was 15.

Noelle Buice, 18, of Fairfax, Va., a senior at Fairfax High School, is the founder of “Cancer Kickin’ Critters,” a nonprofit made up of more than 100 volunteer knitters and crocheters that has distributed more than 1,000 hand-made stuffed toys and “critter creation kits” to children fighting cancer. Noelle started her project in the seventh grade, when she started knitting toys and hats while traveling to visit her best friend in the hospital where she was being treated for lymphoma.

Kathleen Gruber, 17, of Richmond, Va., a senior at Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School, volunteers for an arts program for kids with and without disabilities, helping to teach dance and singing and becoming fluent in American Sign Language so she could translate for deaf students. Kathleen, who has worked with the organization for the past seven years, got involved after her sister, who has Down syndrome, took dance classes through the program.

Sarah Gu, 16, of McLean, Va., a junior at McLean High School, started “THE WINDOW,” an organization that has provided English language learning opportunities to 400 students in need from Shexian, China. Sarah regularly visits Shexian, her mother’s hometown, to run her program, and started the project after learning that a childhood friend had to drop out of school to work on a family farm.

Jai Kumar, 16, of South Riding, Va., a junior at Freedom High School, is the co-founder of “ForTrinidad,” a charity organization that has sent over 1,000 books, school supplies and Christmas gifts to more than 150 children in Trinidad. First inspired to establish the organization after learning about a teacher’s experience growing up in Trinidad, Jai also created “Read a Book, Donate a Book,” an initiative that encourages local fifth grade students to donate books as part of a reading challenge.

Grace Neiswander, 18, of Richmond, Va., a senior at St. Gertrude High School, volunteers for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, encouraging people to adopt senior dogs by helping run weekend adoption events—an effort that involves tasks ranging from washing crates to walking dogs and talking to potential adopters. Grace became involved with the organization after her experience losing her beloved childhood dog and going on to adopt a senior dog with her family.

“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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