Neel Desai, 18, and Michaela Forgione, 12, both of South Burlington,
today were named Vermont'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. Neel was nominated by
South Burlington High School in South Burlington, and Michaela was
nominated by Mater Christi School in Burlington. 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).
Neel, a senior at South Burlington High School, started a nonprofit
organization that provides free classes in basic computer skills to
residents of his community, in topics that run the gamut from how to buy
a computer to using social networks to connect with old friends. After
being chosen as one of 12 students from the U.S. to attend a leadership
conference in central Europe, Neel returned determined to give back to
his community. A passion for technology was the spark that led him, with
a group of like-minded peers, to launch "Technology for Tomorrow" in
August 2011. The organization's mission, said Neel, is "to teach
technology to the citizens of our community in order to expand their
capabilities, broaden their social ties, and liberate them from physical
isolation." Many people at home have expensive computers, "but they are
unaware of the potential of the technology they own," Neel said.
With funding from a grant, Neel and his partners developed a series of
six workshops, which they held at a local library. Topics included the
differences between a PC and Mac and how to evaluate which better suits
the needs of the owner; office applications; how to make a spreadsheet;
the use of email and Facebook; and how to video-chat with family and
friends. "Many parents probably have a computer but they don't know how
to use Skype," said Neel. "We taught them how they can communicate with
their overseas children." A highlight of the workshop, Neel said, was
when U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy joined the group via Skype to share his
thoughts on technology. By September 2012, nearly 100 residents of
Neel's community had attended the workshops, and the program was on
track to serve another 100 by the end of the year. The technology team
also is talking about replicating the workshops with chapters of
"Technology for Tomorrow" in Kansas City, Slovakia and Serbia.
Michaela, a seventh-grader at Mater Christi School, is an avid volunteer
whose regular activities include helping to feed the hungry and visiting
residents of a local nursing home. Michaela's family has always
encouraged her to get involved in activities that will help the
community, and she tries to encourage her friends to look for ways to
help, too. "A few years ago in school we were given an assignment to
write about our volunteer activity in the community," she said. "I
finished and looked around at my friends who had either nothing to write
or very little to write. It made me sad."
Last year for Michaela's birthday, she asked friends to bring
grocery-store gift cards instead of gifts for her, and ended up with
$600 to feed the hungry. When she heard that the son of a friend of her
teacher's was paralyzed in a swimming accident, Michaela, a competitive
Irish dancer, organized a "jigathon" that raised more than $300 for the
family. Michaela also cooks dinner once a month with her mother and
delivers it to a local homeless shelter, and she frequently takes dinner
and treats next door to an elderly neighbor who lives alone. Her
favorite volunteer activity, however, is visiting a nursing home for
retired nuns each week. In addition, Michaela is continually "trying to
getother kids to see how much fun it is to help others."
As State Honorees, Neel and Michaela 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 Vermont students as
Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service
activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are Vermont's Distinguished Finalists for 2013:
Thomas Watson, 16, of Williston, Vt., a freshman at Champlain
Valley Union High School, has trained nearly 400 people, including the
Governor of Vermont, how to conduct Hands Only CPR, and has spoken to
state legislators to help pass a law requiring high schools to teach all
students in this method. Thomas, who was upset when a man went into
cardiac arrest at a sporting event and only one person knew CPR, worked
with the American Heart Association to teach this simpler form of CPR in
an effort to save lives.
Samantha Wulfson, 18, of South Burlington, Vt., a member of the
Greater Burlington YMCA, and a senior at South Burlington High School,
co-founded "Vermont Dream Project, Inc.," in 2009 with her sister to
provide tennis racquets and sneakers for hundreds of children across
America who would not otherwise be able to afford to play tennis.
Samantha, who has played tennis since she was 5 years old, is the
president of the nonprofit organization and is currently working on the
"Sister City" project to build bonds between Vermont communities and
communities around the world.
"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
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.
For information on all of this year's Prudential Spirit of Community
State Honorees and Distinguished Finalists, visit http://spirit.prudential.com
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.
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 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
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