MADISON, Wis., Feb. 5, 2019 /PRNewswire/ — Caragan Olles, 16, of De Pere and Eloise Massee, 13, of Green Bay today were named Wisconsin’s top two youth volunteers of 2019 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism. As State Honorees, Caragan and Eloise 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 2019.
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, now in its 24th year, is conducted by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).
These are Wisconsin’s top youth volunteers of 2019:
High School State Honoree: Caragan Olles
Nominated by Notre Dame Academy
Caragan, a junior at Notre Dame Academy, co-founded a nonprofit organization in 2013 that has raised more than $145,000 to provide special tutoring for students with dyslexia, create dyslexia resource centers in three public library systems, and educate teachers and parents about this reading disability. In elementary school, "I came home many days crying because I felt I wasn’t as smart as my classmates," she said. When she was finally diagnosed with dyslexia in third grade, she and her family were shocked by the lack of information about the disorder, and how uninformed her teachers were. Luckily, Caragan was able to get phonics-based tutoring for several years that enabled her to succeed in school. But she worried about all the kids whose families couldn’t afford that expense. So Caragan and her older brother started "Bright Young Dyslexics" to help students with dyslexia get the extra help they need.
Caragan began to raise money by selling handmade bracelets, chocolates, baked goods and passes to a "dress down day" at school, as well as by hosting fundraising dinners at local restaurants. She also developed a website with information about dyslexia, and formed a youth advisory board of middle and high school volunteers – now totaling 36 – who help her fundraise and plan events. In addition to paying for tutoring and library resources, Caragan’s nonprofit conducts in-school programs to educate teachers about learning disabilities, and simulation events to show what it’s like to have dyslexia. Bright Young Dyslexics expanded its reach from Northeast Wisconsin to the entire state several years ago, and is now offering a "dyslexia awareness kit" to students across the country who want to educate their own communities about dyslexia.
Middle Level State Honoree: Eloise Massee
Nominated by Bay View Middle School
Eloise, an eighth-grader at Bay View Middle School, is co-chair of a committee at her school that raises funds and awareness to promote life-saving organ donations, and conducts other community service projects, as well. Over the past several years, Eloise has been a volunteer at a public library’s summer reading program, a science and engineering camp, and holiday dance clinics for students with special needs. So when she arrived at her current school, she wanted to get involved in a meaningful service activity. "Throughout my entire school life, I have always had a desire to become a leader and help others," she said.
Eloise decided to join her school’s Northeast Wisconsin Donate Life and Community Service Committee and work on its biggest event, an annual walk to raise money for Donate Life Wisconsin. As a committee member, she helped recruit volunteers, coordinate with a national organ donation organization, advertise the event, register new organ donors and assist with the logistics. The walk raised more than $18,000 in 2018. This year, as co-chair of the committee, Eloise has set a fundraising goal of $20,000. "Right now there are 120,000 people throughout the United States awaiting an organ transplant," said Eloise. "The annual walk helps ensure these wonderful people are given the gift of life." In addition to the walk, Eloise’s committee has hosted a "Heavenly Hats Parade" to buy hats for cancer patients, and made plans to launch an annual toy and book drive.
The program judges also recognized six other Wisconsin students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are Wisconsin’s Distinguished Finalists for 2019:
Selena Buckli, 17, of Chippewa Falls, Wis., a senior at Liberty Christian School, volunteers her time by working with children with special needs to participate in show choir and several sports, including track and field, bowling and basketball. Selena, whose work is motivated by her siblings with special needs, has developed a strong friendship with one participant in particular, a boy with severe autism; together, they run races and perform show choir.
Avantika D’Cruz-Wigren, 17, of Ashland, Wis., a senior at Ashland High School, volunteers with the Superior Rivers Watershed Association (SRWA), helping monitor and protect the health of streams and rivers surrounding Lake Superior. Hoping to study aquatic ecology in college, Avantika collects water samples, identifies aquatic invertebrates, completes data entry and helps the SRWA prepare for community training sessions and other events.
Neil Dogra, 16, of Mequon, Wis., a sophomore at University School of Milwaukee, produced a film, "Crescent of Hope," inspired by his volunteer experience working with refugees at the Crescent Learning Center. A grandchild of refugees himself, Neil regularly spends time with children at the center, helping them with homework, playing sports and teaching them how to play guitar; he also volunteers with a community and health center that provides healthcare to uninsured and underinsured refugees.
Alivia Farber, 18, of Waukesha, Wis., nominated by the YMCA of Metropolitan Milwaukee and a senior at Waukesha West High School, is a swim instructor for the Special Olympics, working with athletes with special needs to establish and improve their swimming skills. Inspired by her uncle, a Navy vet who qualified for the state bowling competition with the Special Olympics, Alivia adapts her teaching techniques to match the abilities of each swimmer she works with.
Joseph Schlies, 17, of Denmark, Wis., a senior at Denmark High School, created an after-school agricultural education program for elementary students in his community, teaching nearly 400 participants twice-monthly interactive lessons. An active member of Future Farmers of America, Joseph also recruited others to participate in teaching the program and hopes to spread awareness about the importance of agriculture.
Theresa Yatchak, 16, of Milwaukee, Wis., a member of Girl Scouts of Wisconsin Southeast and a junior at Divine Savior Holy Angels High School, is the founder of the "’Bee’ Aware Interest Group" at the Urban Ecology Center, which helps fight the declining bee population by spreading awareness, participating in local events and implementing two functioning hives in the Milwaukee area. Theresa was inspired to start the group after learning about her neighbor’s backyard hives.
"These young volunteers learned and demonstrated that they can make meaningful contributions to individuals and communities through their service," said Prudential CEO Charles Lowrey. "It’s an honor to recognize their great work, and we hope that shining a spotlight on their service inspires others to consider how they might make a difference."
"Each of these honorees is proof that students have the energy, creativity and unique perspectives to create positive change," said JoAnn Bartoletti, executive director of NASSP. "We commend each of the 2019 honorees for their outstanding volunteer service, and for the invaluable example they’ve set for their peers."
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 affiliates of Points of Light’s HandsOn Network, were eligible to select a student or member for a local Prudential Spirit of Community Award. These 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 2019. 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 125,000 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, India, China and Brazil. 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.
The National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) is the leading organization of and voice for principals and other school leaders across the United States. NASSP seeks to transform education through school leadership, recognizing that the fulfillment of each student’s potential relies on great leaders in every school committed to the success of each student. Reflecting its long-standing commitment to student leadership development, NASSP administers the National Honor Society, National Junior Honor Society, National Elementary Honor Society, and National Student Council. Learn more at 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 www.news.prudential.com.
For Spirit of Community Awards program logo and medallion graphics, please visit https://spirit.prudential.com/resources/media
SOURCE Prudential Financial, Inc.