Steven Olsen, 18, of Ephraim and Dallin Bunnell, 14, of Lindon today were named Utah'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. Steven was nominated by the Sanpete County 4-H in Ephraim, and Dallin was nominated by the Utah County 4-H in Provo. 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).
Steven, a senior at Manti High School, has devoted hundreds of volunteer hours to activities that have promoted and strengthened his county 4-H program and the annual county fair. Several years ago, Steven grew concerned that interest in his local 4-H club was waning. He responded by making posters and flyers to promote the program, and helped build a float for parades. “I realized that fun workshops brought new kids in and enticed them to join 4-H,” he said. So Steven began conducting workshops in subjects such as puppetry, robotics, solar exploration, dinosaurs and entomology. So far, he’s led 22 workshops for more than 1,200 people.
Steven also worried that the county fair might be in jeopardy, so he offered his services wherever they were needed. He helped with fundraisers, provided security at the fair and volunteered to clean up. He spent a great deal of time working on a large agricultural exhibit, and taught visitors about farming through hands-on activities. He also created his own science exhibit for the fair, initiated a coloring contest for elementary school students, and built 24 wooden benches to provide more seating. Beyond 4-H and the fair, Steven has led a club for people with special needs, helped teach free writing classes for young people, and recorded more than 150 books onto CDs to help Hispanic kids improve their English skills. “When I see a need in my community, I try to make a difference,” he said.
Dallin, an eighth-grader at Oak Canyon Junior High School, has been working since 2010 to conserve and improve nature areas at Utah Lake State Park. His service projects have included removing invasive vegetation, planting trees, and constructing and maintaining new boardwalks to provide river access for fishermen. As both a 4-Her and a Boy Scout, Dallin knows the importance of giving back to his community. But it was while helping a friend work on an Eagle Scout project at the park that he was exposed to the volunteer opportunities it presented. “I liked that I was able to help him and the state park,” he said. Darrin decided he wanted to organize a service project there.
After speaking with the park manager, he decided to start by removing invasive reeds that were clogging trails. He then learned from the park manager that local fishermen were creating unwanted trails through the wetlands to get to the riverbank. Dallin decided he would change that by building a boardwalk and making trash cans to minimize litter. To accomplish the project, he sought donations of equipment and supplies, and then recruited 57 volunteers from 4-H, his scout troop, and a neighborhood church. By the end of the project, the group had built two new boardwalks, cleaned and refinished existing boardwalks, and improved the nature trail. Later, Dallin removed more non-native plant species and placed 10 new fire pits in a campground area. After a fire burned through the nature area last year, Dallin worked to repair damaged boardwalks and planted 100 new trees. “I have become aware of the beauty of our wild places and want to keep them that way,” he said.
As State Honorees, Steven and Dallin 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 four other Utah students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are Utah's Distinguished Finalists for 2013:
Aubree Matheson, 17, of Clearfield, Utah, a senior at Clearfield High School, created the “Helping Encourage and Recognize Teens (H.E.A.R.T.) Initiative” at her school, which involves teachers sending handwritten notes of encouragement to each of the 1,700 student in the student body. Aubree, who received a wonderful letter from a teacher after she organized a memorial for a student who had committed suicide, realized that everyone can benefit from sincere words of appreciation and kindness.
Kylee Okerlund, 17, of Highland, Utah, a senior at Lone Peak High School, has been an active member of her school’s service project, Gold Rush, for the past four years, helping to raise $60,000 for a variety of causes including the Make-A-Wish Foundation and a local child struggling with leukemia. Kylee is now in charge of advertising for this year’s project, which will benefit Neighborhood House, an organization that educates children from low-income families.
William Orton, 17, of Salt Lake City, Utah, a senior at West High School, founded and runs “Camp Einstein,” an academic camp that serves 50 students in kindergarten through sixth grade on the Navajo reservation in Montezuma Creek. William, who started the camp in 2011 and raised more than $5,000 to help fund supplies, moves onto the reservation and spends his entire summer coordinating a group of ten high school volunteers to teach hands-on science lessons, experiments, math lessons and social studies activities.
Whitney Snow, 17, of St. George, Utah, a senior at Pine View High School, created “The Closet” using an empty classroom at her school to house donated clothing that is in turn donated to students who are most in need. Whitney, who created “The Closet” in 2010 with the help of her school’s Future Business Leaders of America service committee, runs clothing drives throughout the year and coordinates visits with the utmost privacy so that no student accepting donated clothing feels inferior.
“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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