Two Alaska Youth Honored for Volunteerism at National Award Ceremony in Washington, D.C.Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Olympic Snowboarding Champion Seth Wescott Pay Tribute to Eagle River and Soldotna Students as Part of Four-Day Recognition Events
WASHINGTON--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Two Alaska students, Esther Smith, 17, of Eagle River and Vienna Schmitter-Schrier, 14, of Soldotna, were honored in the nation's capital last night for their outstanding volunteer work during the presentation of The 2010 Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. The two young people - along with 100 other top youth volunteers from across the country - received $1,000 awards as well as personal congratulations from former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Olympic snowboarding champion Seth Wescott at the 15th annual award ceremony and gala dinner reception, held at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History.
Esther and Vienna were named the top high school and middle level youth volunteers in Alaska last February. In addition to their cash awards, they received engraved silver medallions and an all-expense-paid trip with their parents to Washington, D.C., for this week's recognition events.
"The Prudential Spirit of Community honorees give us great hope for the future," said Dr. Rice. "Their compassion and commitment are already making a real difference in so many lives, and I have no doubt that their leadership will continue to positively impact the world for many years to come."
Esther, a senior at Chugiak High School in Chugiak, 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 in Kenai, 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."
"Esther and Vienna are wonderful examples of young Americans who care about the world around them and have taken the initiative to improve that world," said John R. Strangfeld, chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial, Inc. "We salute their effort, their achievements, and their spirit of community."
More than 21,000 young people submitted applications for the 2010 awards program last fall through schools, Girl Scout councils, county 4-H organizations, American Red Cross chapters, YMCAs and affiliates of the Points of Light Institute's HandsOn Network. The top middle level and high school applicants in each state were selected in February and flown to Washington this week with their parents for four days of special recognition events.
Conducted in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards were created 15 years ago by Prudential Financial to encourage youth volunteerism and to identify and reward young role models. Since then, the program has honored nearly 100,000 young volunteers at the local, state and national level.
"The young women and men in America's schools are nothing short of amazing, and nowhere is this more evident than amongst this year's award recipients," said NASSP President Steven Pophal. "They possess a keen intellect, servant hearts, capable leadership skills, and are filled with energy and ambition. NASSP and Prudential are honored to recognize them."
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards are supported by the American Association of School Administrators, the National Middle School Association, the National School Boards Association, the Council of the Great City Schools, Girl Scouts of the USA, National 4-H Council, the American Red Cross, YMCA of the USA, the Points of Light Institute, and other national education and service organizations.
More information about The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards and this year's honorees can be found at http://spirit.prudential.com or www.principals.org/spirit.
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 SocietyTM, 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, visit www.news.prudential.com.
Posted: May 3, 2010
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