Vermont's top two youth volunteers of 2013, Neel Desai, 18 and Michaela
Forgione, 12, both of South Burlington, were honored in the nation's
capital last night for their outstanding volunteer service during the 18th
annual presentation of The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. Neel
and Michaela - along with 100 other top youth volunteers from across the
country - each received $1,000 awards and personal congratulations from
Academy Award-winning actor Kevin Spacey and Olympic gold medalist
Allyson Felix at an award ceremony and gala dinner reception held at the
Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History.
Academy Award-winning actor Kevin Spacey congratulates Neel Desai, 18 (center) and Michaela Forgione, 12 (right), both of South Burlington, on being named Vermont's top two youth volunteers for 2013 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. Neel and Michaela were honored at a ceremony on Sunday, May 5 at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, where they each received a $1,000 award. (Photo: Business Wire)
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program, sponsored by
Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of
Secondary School Principals (NASSP), named Neel and Michaela Vermont's
top high school and middle level youth volunteers in February. In
addition to their cash awards, they each received an engraved silver
medallion and an all-expense-paid trip with a parent to Washington,
D.C., for four days of recognition events.
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. This year for her birthday the guests brought
gift cards and the $900 that was raised directly benefitted the hardest
hit areas on Long Island. 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
get other kids to see how much fun it is to help others."
"We commend these honorees not only for the impact of their service and
their spirit of giving, but also for inspiring others to consider that
they can make a difference, too," said John Strangfeld, chairman and CEO
of Prudential Financial, Inc. "We congratulate this extraordinary group
of youth volunteers."
"These students are fine examples of what is possible when young people
roll up their sleeves and commit themselves to helping others," said
Denise Greene-Wilkinson, president of NASSP. "They have learned early
that their contributions can make a real difference, and there is no
limit to the great things they can achieve."
Youth volunteers were invited to apply for 2013 Prudential Spirit of
Community Awards last fall through schools, Girl Scout councils, county
4-H organizations, American Red Cross chapters, YMCAs and affiliates of
the HandsOn Network. More than 28,000 middle level and high school
students nationwide participated in this year's program.
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program was created in 1995 to
identify and recognize young people for outstanding volunteer service -
and, in so doing, inspire others to volunteer as well. In the past 18
years, the program has honored more than 100,000 young volunteers at the
local, state and national level.
More information about The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards and
this year's honorees can be found at 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 38 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]
Photos/Multimedia Gallery Available: http://www.businesswire.com/multimedia/home/20130506005825/en/
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