Marina Palumbo, 17, of East Greenwich and Cody Clarkin, 14, of Charlestown today were named Rhode Island's top two youth volunteers of 2013 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism. Marina was nominated by East Greenwich High School in East Greenwich, and Cody was nominated by Chariho Middle School in Wood River Junction. The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, now in its 18th year, is conducted by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).
Marina, a senior at East Greenwich High School, makes and sells handmade necklaces to support a school in Haiti for poor children and started a club at her school to raise more money, gather supplies and increase awareness about the plight of these children. When Marina was a freshman, she saw newsman Anderson Cooper interview a man on TV about the hard life of Haitian “restaveks” – children whose families send them to live with host families in Port-au-Prince because they cannot afford to feed them. “These families often malnourish, overwork, and abuse the restaveks,” said Marina. “There are 300,000 children living like slaves in Haiti.” Marina learned that school is the only hope for these children, who are kicked out of their host homes when they are 18 and are often unprepared for the workforce. But due to lack of funds, there are now only 16 restavek schools in Haiti, less than one-third of what there used to be. This inspired Marina to start a charity called “Rays for Restaveks.”
She contacted Cross International Alliance, a worldwide relief and development organization, and learned that it would take $7,150 to support a school for one year. Marina decided she would raise the money by making necklaces and calculated that she would have to sell 1,200 to reach her goal. She designed a necklace using the simplest, least expensive materials, and then sold her necklaces during lunch at school and at craft fairs all over New England. She also created a Web page at FirstGiving.org and produced a brochure to provide information about the restavek children. After she met her goal, Marina formed a club at school that has helped her sell more necklaces and conduct a drive that collected 250 personal hygiene items for restaveks. The club, which has become one of her school’s largest student clubs with 35 members, is not only providing financial aid to restaveks, said Marina, but is “educating our school community about the suffering and the needs of these overlooked children.”
Cody, an eighth-grader at Chariho Middle School, spearheaded a project to restore a flagpole and the area around it in his town’s Ninigret Park. The flagpole was erected 30 years ago to honor fighter pilots and crew members who trained in Charlestown when it was a naval air training center. “In 2009, the pole was peeling and the flag tattered,” said Cody. Moreover, noxious vines were strangling nearby cedar trees, and beneath the flag there was trash, burnt charcoal, and a portable toilet. “I got sick of walking by this eyesore, and finally decided to do something about it,” he said.
Cody knew what a determined volunteer could accomplish. For years he had helped clean trails, raise money and educate visitors at a wildlife refuge for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. He also had single-handedly transformed the entrance to his neighborhood from a trash-filled, weed-choked triangle into a beautiful garden. To start his flagpole project, he wrote letters to the editor of the local paper to enlist the help of the community. Then, with the help of family, friends and community members, Cody spent hours removing invasive vegetation around the flagpole, revitalizing the soil, and planting flowers. He painted the pole from a bucket truck provided by the local fire department, and raised a new flag at a Flag Day ceremony that he hosted. But, Cody says, he is not finished. He already has lined up 30 sponsors for a memory garden at the site to honor veterans.
As State Honorees, Marina and Cody 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 2013.
The program judges also recognized two other Rhode Island students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are Rhode Island's Distinguished Finalists for 2013:
Nimindu Ambalangodage, 18, of Smithfield, R.I., a senior at La Salle Academy, has secured sponsorships and held fundraisers to raise more than $11,000 to benefit the building of a youth hostel in Sri Lanka that will provide a home for orphaned children after they turn 18. Inspired by his trip to Sri Lanka and visit with the children of the orphanage, all who lost both parents in the civil war, Nimindu and his group of volunteers will also help to rebuild the Hindu temple at the orphanage that was destroyed during the war.
Omar Zaki, 17, of Kingston, R.I., a junior at South Kingstown High School, has raised $5,000 through the organization he founded in 2011, “Global Health,” and has since provided 1,000 care packages to families suffering from poverty in countries such as Haiti and Egypt. In addition, Omar and his group of volunteers have organized clothing drives to benefit the local Veteran’s Affairs hospital, musical concerts at area nursing homes, and have teamed up with another organization to provide donations to those who suffered natural disasters in Japan and Haiti.
“Prudential is proud to honor these students for making meaningful contributions to their communities,” said Prudential Chairman and CEO John Strangfeld. “We hope that shining a spotlight on their initiative, creativity and compassion inspires others to consider how they, too, can make a difference.”
“Through their volunteer service, each of these young people has made his or her mark on at least one person, school or community,” said JoAnn Bartoletti, executive director of NASSP. “When you consider the collective impact of each of these individual acts, it’s clear that young people can be a major force for good.”
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 HandsOn Network affiliates, were eligible to select a student or member for a local Prudential Spirit of Community Award. Nearly 5,000 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 2013. 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 100,000 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 and India. 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 on behalf of President Barack Obama.
NASSP (National Association of Secondary School Principals) is the leading organization of and national voice for middle level and high school principals, assistant principals, and all school leaders from across the United States and more than 36 countries around the world. The association provides research-based professional development and resources, networking, and advocacy to build the capacity of middle level and high school leaders to continually improve student performance. Reflecting its longstanding commitment to student leadership development as well, NASSP administers the National Honor Society™, National Junior Honor Society®, National Elementary Honor Society®, and National Association of Student Councils®. For more information about NASSP, located in Reston, VA, visit www.nassp.org.
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 http://www.news.prudential.com/.
Editors: For full-color pictures of the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program logo and medallions, click here: http://bit.ly/Xi4oFW
Harold Banks, 973-802-8974 or 973-216-4833
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