Hannah Bryant, 17, of Columbia and M'Lea Scott, 14, of Memphis today were named Tennessee'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. Hannah was nominated by Zion Christian Academy in Columbia, and M'Lea was nominated by Craigmont Middle School in Memphis. 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).
Hannah, a junior at Zion Christian Academy, has given brand-new purses stuffed with personal items to hundreds of girls in need in her community over the past five years. “Hannah’s Purse Drive” was born one day when she was cleaning out her closet. “I had so many brand-new purses that I had barely used,” Hannah said. “I did not just want to give them to Goodwill. I wished I had a way to give (a purse) to some girl who would love and cherish it.” Then, she figured out a way to make it happen.
Hannah conducts several fundraisers throughout the year to fund the expenses of her “ministry.” The biggest so far has been a “ragball” tournament that attracted 120 participants and raised $4,200. With her proceeds, she shops all year long for purses plus a wide variety of items to put in them including clothing accessories, jewelry, cosmetics, toiletries, stuffed animals and Bibles. Over the years, she has established relationships with area department stores that notify her in advance of big sales so that she can have first pick of purses and the items that she selects to fill them. Hannah also collaborates with numerous community organizations to identify girls to receive her purses, and then recruits dozens of volunteers to work at a holiday event giving out the stuffed purses, which are each worth $150-$200. “Every year at the event, my heart is touched by how happy these girls are,” said Hannah. “I never knew that a purse could do so much.”
M'Lea, an eighth-grader at Craigmont Middle School, started her “Pennies for the Homeless” campaign to help support a Memphis mission that feeds the hungry. M’Lea was moved to get involved one Sunday morning when she and her grandmother were getting out of the car to go to church. A young man approached them, said he was homeless, and asked for a dollar to get something to eat. “My grandmother had only the check she had written for church and I did not have a dollar,” said M’Lea. “This disturbed me so that I could not concentrate on the message being preached because my focus was still on the young man in need of a meal.” On the way home, she and her grandmother discussed the plight of the homeless and M’Lea learned that many are children or veterans. “This should put sorrow and pain in the hearts of many,” she said.
Believing that even in tough economic times people would be willing to donate pennies to a good cause, M’Lea launched her penny drive. To promote her campaign, she spoke to her church congregation, family, friends, and local school administrators asking for pledges and donations. The local media also helped spread the word. After a year of collecting donations, M’Lea and her father entered their bank with a big box of pennies and cash totaling $1,000, which she donated entirely to the Memphis Union Mission. M’Lea brought her check to the mission on Thanksgiving eve and got to meet some of the people the funds would help. The director told her the donation would provide a filling and healthy meal for 600 hungry people. “I learned the greatest act of love and kindness does not require a lot of money, but action and motion,” she said.
As State Honorees, Hannah and M'Lea 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 six other Tennessee students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are Tennessee's Distinguished Finalists for 2013:
Jurnee Carr, 18, of Johnson City, Tenn., a senior at University School, has raised more than $30,000 by selling animal-themed jewelry to benefit the local animal shelter through a project she began in 2007 called, “Jurnee’s Journey: Helping All God’s Creations.” In addition to the funds she raised, Jurnee was invited to sit on the youth advisory board for the Humane Society of the United States.
Tayllor Cochrane, 17, of Murfreesboro, Tenn., a senior at Siegel High School, helped to raise $47,000 in a two-year period in order to help feed an entire village in Haiti for nearly two years through the nonprofit organization she founded called “Sustaining A Village Everyday (S.A.V.E.).” Tayllor, who recruited five of her closest friends to help in this mission, conducted letter campaigns, a 24-hour “famine,” a 5K and other events to raise money, and then traveled to Haiti to see firsthand how the donations are making a difference.
Jessica Mitchum, 16, of Lenoir City, Tenn., a junior at Concord Christian School, is a dedicated Girl Scout who is very active in her troop’s project, “Water Angels,” which collects and distributes bottled water to the homeless and hungry. Jessica also volunteers at her church’s Sunday school by teaching lessons and coordinating service projects, such as distributing 843 backpacks filled with school supplies through the church’s Shining Star Club.
Elizabeth Morris, 13, of Humboldt, Tenn., an eighth-grader at Jackson Christian School, has been a very involved volunteer over the past two years, most notably participating in a medical mission trip to Honduras where she volunteered in both the school and the clinic. Elizabeth also co-founded “Blind But Now I See,” a nonprofit campaign for which she has helped to collect more than 250 pairs of eyeglasses to donate to those in need around the world.
Hunter Morrow-Elder, 16, of Tullahoma, Tenn., a junior at Coffee County Central High School, collected more than 10,000 pairs of shoes for the charitable organization Soles4Souls by implementing a shoe drive as a competition between two local high schools. Hunter, who gathered a group of his peers to help count the collections and coordinate the drive, also spoke to area schools and organizations, and created a video to help spread awareness about the project and to encourage participation.
Alexandra Sexton, 17, of Knoxville, Tenn., a senior at Farragut High School, is an active volunteer at both her church, where she is a youth camp leader and member of a service club, and at her school, where she tutors and mentors young students through her roles in student government and the National Honor Society. Alexandra also stepped up this year to take over an event that her brother founded called “Hoops for Hope,” for which she coordinated a fun-filled day of basketball for children with Down syndrome and helped to raise money for the Down Syndrome Awareness Group.
“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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