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Alaska's Top Two Youth Volunteers Selected in 15th Annual National Awards Program

Eagle River and Soldotna students earn $1,000 awards, engraved medallions and trip to nation’s capital

Honors also bestowed on youth volunteers in Anchorage and Kenai

JUNEAU, Alaska--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Esther Smith, 17, of Eagle River and Vienna Schmitter-Schrier, 13, of Soldotna today were named Alaska's top two youth volunteers for 2010 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism. The awards program, now in its 15th year, is conducted by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).

“The feeling of helping others is ten times better than waking up on Christmas morning to see a pile of presents”

Esther was nominated by Chugiak High School in Chugiak, and Vienna was nominated by Kenai Middle School in Kenai. As State Honorees, 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 several days of national recognition events. Ten of them will be named America’s top youth volunteers for 2010 at that time.

Esther, a senior at Chugiak High School, has spent the past four summers working in foreign countries to aid impoverished children by teaching English, assisting with feeding programs, taking care of orphans, and helping with development projects. “My strongest desire has always been to help destitute children in the global community,” said Esther.

In 2006, she signed on with Teen Missions International to go to India, where she provided aid to orphans in a tsunami-devastated region along the Bay of Bengal. The following year, Esther traveled to Brazil to work among native tribes along the Amazon. During the past two summers, Esther has volunteered in remote villages in northern Zambia. She taught English to AIDS orphans, played with the children, distributed food, helped build water cisterns, and gave away more than 500 pairs of shoes and socks from a collection drive she had conducted back in Alaska. She also helped make a documentary film about six rural villages to raise awareness of the desperate conditions there. “I held hands that had never known love,” said Esther, who was so touched by her experiences that she plans to study humanitarian law and return to Africa one day as a human rights advocate.

Vienna, an eighth-grader at Kenai Middle School, helped raise more than $5,000 to establish a scholarship fund so that poor children in El Salvador could continue going to school beyond the sixth grade. Vienna was initially angry and resentful when she had to accompany her parents on an eight-month volunteer “vacation” to El Salvador, but as she got to know the kids who eagerly met with her to learn English, she changed her mind and delighted in the friendships she made. After returning home, Vienna kept thinking about how most of the children she had met in El Salvador could not afford the bus fare, school supplies, and uniforms required to go on to seventh grade. “I knew that they dreamed about getting a good education, but that money, not desire or ability, kept their dreams from coming true,” she said.

With help from her family, Vienna devised a plan to keep those dreams alive. She and her sister created a presentation about the children and delivered it at rotary clubs, the chamber of commerce, and a literacy fund-raising event. Then they recruited friends and fellow 4-H members to help them set up booths at grocery stores, parades and community celebrations, where they sold Central American crafts and coffee and collected donations. Vienna says the money raised will enable 20 Salvadoran kids each year to continue their educations. “The feeling of helping others is ten times better than waking up on Christmas morning to see a pile of presents,” she said. “It gives you a happy warm feeling that stays in your heart forever.”

In addition, the program judges recognized two other Alaska students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion:

Kyle Horne, 18, of Anchorage, a senior at Interlochen Arts Academy in Interlochen, Mich., produced a traveling AIDS/HIV awareness theatrical program that has been presented in six villages in Malawi. Kyle wrote the script and directed an acting troupe of AIDS orphans to dramatize the dangers of the HIV virus. His program also provided free HIV testing, condoms, counseling, and medication.

Miranda Rizzo, 18, of Kenai, a senior at Nikiski High School in Nikiski, produced a 30-minute film about the Junior Iditarod dog-sled race to promote dog “mushing” and the humane treatment of animals. Miranda’s movie is being sold on DVD to support several nonprofits, and is slated to air on television in March. Miranda is also a long-time volunteer at a local animal shelter, where she runs the Petfinders program to place stray animals with foster and adoptive families.

“People as caring and committed as these young students are critical to the future of our neighborhoods, our cities and our nation,” said John R. Strangfeld, chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial. “By recognizing these honorees, we hope to encourage other young people – our future leaders – and all Americans to think more about the value and importance of volunteering in their communities.”

“The young people recognized by the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards demonstrate an enormous capacity for giving and reaching out to those in need,” said Gerald N. Tirozzi, executive director of the National Association of Secondary School Principals. “NASSP is proud to honor these student leaders because they are wonderful examples of the high caliber of young people in our nation’s schools today.”

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 HandsOn Network, were eligible to select a student or member for a local Prudential Spirit of Community Award this past November. Nearly 5,000 Local Honorees were then reviewed by an independent judging panel, which selected State Honorees and Distinguished Finalists based on criteria such as personal initiative, creativity, effort, impact and personal growth.

While in Washington, D.C., the 102 State Honorees will tour the capital’s landmarks, attend a gala awards ceremony at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, and visit their congressional representatives on Capitol Hill. In addition, 10 of them – five middle level and five high school students – will be named National Honorees on May 3 by a prestigious national selection committee. These 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.

Serving on the national selection committee will be Strangfeld of Prudential; Steven Pophal, president of NASSP; Michelle Nunn, president and CEO of the Points of Light Institute & Hands On Network; Marguerite Kondracke, president and CEO of the America’s Promise Alliance; Donald T. Floyd Jr., president and CEO of National 4-H Council; Pamela Farr, the American Red Cross’ national chair of volunteers; Elson Nash, associate director for project management at the Corporation for National and Community Service; Michael Cohen, president and CEO of Achieve, Inc.; and two 2009 Prudential Spirit of Community National Honorees: Shardy Camargo of Orlando, Fla., and Colin Leslie of Rye, N.Y.

In addition to granting its own awards, The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program will distribute President’s Volunteer Service Awards to more than 2,800 of its Local Honorees this year on behalf of President Obama. The President’s Volunteer Service Award recognizes Americans of all ages who have volunteered significant amounts of their time to serve their communities and their country.

The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards represent the United States’ largest youth recognition program based solely on volunteer service. Since the program began in 1995, more than 90,000 young volunteers nationwide have been honored at the local, state or national level. Many prominent public figures have assisted in saluting these honorees over the years, including President Jimmy Carter, Barbara Bush, Magic Johnson, John Glenn, Madeleine Albright, Rudy Giuliani, Whoopi Goldberg, Colin Powell, Peyton Manning, Duchess of York Sarah Ferguson and Laura Bush. The program also is conducted by Prudential subsidiaries in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Ireland.

For information on all of this year’s Prudential Spirit of Community State Honorees and Distinguished Finalists, visit spirit.prudential.com.

In existence since 1916, the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) is the preeminent organization of and national voice for middle level and high school principals, assistant principals, and aspiring school leaders from across the United States and more than 45 countries around the world. NASSP’s mission is to promote excellence in school leadership. The National Honor Society ®, National Junior Honor Society ®, National Elementary Honor Society™, and National Association of Student Councils ® are all NASSP programs. For more information about NASSP, located in Reston, Va., visit www.principals.org or call 703-860-0200.

Prudential Financial, Inc. (NYSE: PRU) is a financial services leader with operations in the United States, Asia, Europe, and Latin America. Leveraging its heritage of life insurance and asset management expertise, Prudential is focused on helping approximately 50 million individual and institutional customers grow and protect their wealth. In the United States, the company’s Rock symbol is an icon of strength, stability, expertise and innovation that has stood the test of time. Prudential's businesses offer a variety of products and services, including life insurance, annuities, retirement-related services, mutual funds, investment management, and real estate services. For more information, please visit www.news.prudential.com.

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