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Two Alaska Youth Honored for Volunteerism at National Award Ceremony in Washington, D.C.

WASHINGTON--()--Alaska’s top two youth volunteers of the year, Teressa Baldwin, 18, of Sitka and Keefer Brown, 14, of Wasilla, were honored in the nation’s capital last night for their outstanding volunteer service during the presentation of The 2012 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 New York Giants quarterback and Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning at the 17th annual award ceremony and gala dinner reception, held at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.

“I spend a lot of time during the summer at my grandparents’ cabin in Seldovia and like to walk the beach and collect shells and other items washed up during high tide”

Teressa and Keefer were named the top high school and middle level youth volunteers in Alaska in 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.

Teressa, a senior at Mt. Edgecumbe High School, started a nonprofit organization that encourages Alaskan high school student councils and community leaders to implement free suicide prevention programs in their schools. Originally from a village in Alaska’s Arctic region, Teressa has lost several family members and friends to suicide. “A suicide there would affect the whole community, but never was a surprise,” she said. When she moved to Sitka, “I thought I would get away from the enclosed feeling of being face to face with this subject. But I was wrong. This issue affects all corners of Alaska.”

Teressa soon realized that she was not the type of person who could just stand by and watch it happen, so she began sharing the story of how suicide affected her life. Last year, she was appointed by the governor to a statewide suicide prevention council, and then decided to create a program called “Hope4Alaska” that schools can use to educate their students about the warning signs of suicide, and how to help a peer at risk. This program can be implemented through assemblies, retreats or training sessions, and usually includes a community event and a presentation by Teressa. She is currently working with 18 schools and estimates that more than 4,000 Alaskans have benefited from her program so far.

Keefer, a seventh-grader at Teeland Middle School, raised more than $3,500 to help rehabilitate sick and injured seals at the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward by decorating and selling candles and other items with shells and seaweed that he collected on the beach. During a school field trip in 2009, Keefer learned that he could “adopt” an animal at the SeaLife Center for $50. “I chose a harbor seal because I like their playful attitude, soulful eyes and intelligent nature,” he explained.

After discussing the idea with his parents, Keefer raised the $50 by selling candles decorated with items he collected on the beach. “I spend a lot of time during the summer at my grandparents’ cabin in Seldovia and like to walk the beach and collect shells and other items washed up during high tide,” he said. He spoke with many tourists and local residents about his candles and his fundraising goal, and ended up raising $1,300 that first summer. The next summer he sold decorated picture frames, mirrors and wreaths, in addition to candles, earning another $2,300 for the SeaLife Center. To show its appreciation, the center honored Keefer at a gala in Anchorage, and allowed him to name a baby seal and attend the release of two harbor seals into the wild. “It was a great day,” said Keefer, adding that he is now inspired to do even more to “help the declining population of harbor seals.”

“Through their extraordinary acts of volunteerism, these students are powerful examples of the way one young person can make a big impact,” said John R. Strangfeld, chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial, Inc. “We are proud to honor them for their achievements, and hope their stories inspire others to consider how they, too, can make a difference.”

More than 26,000 young people participated in the 2012 awards program last fall through schools, Girl Scout councils, county 4-H organizations, American Red Cross chapters, YMCAs and affiliates of the 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 17 years ago by Prudential Financial to encourage youth volunteerism and to identify and reward young role models. Since then, the program has honored more than 100,000 young volunteers at the local, state and national level.

“These young people have demonstrated remarkable leadership, selflessness and compassion, and they set a fine example for thousands of other students across the U.S. who want to make a difference,” said Ken Griffith, president of NASSP. “The actions of these young volunteers exemplify the best of what America’s youth have to offer.”

More information about The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards and this year’s honorees can be found at http://spirit.prudential.com or www.nassp.org/spirit.

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 45 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/

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