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Kenai's Rizzo and Wasilla's Allred Honored for Volunteerism at National Award Ceremony in Washington, D.C.

Academy Award-winning actor Kevin Spacey congratulates Shaylee Rizzo, 18, of Kenai (center) and Samuel Allred, 13, of Wasilla (right) on being named Alaska's top two youth volunteers for 2013 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. Shaylee and Samuel 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.

Academy Award-winning actor Kevin Spacey congratulates Shaylee Rizzo, 18, of Kenai (center) and Samuel Allred, 13, of Wasilla (right) on being named Alaska's top two youth volunteers for 2013 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. Shaylee and Samuel 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

WASHINGTON--()--Alaska's top two youth volunteers of 2013, Shaylee Rizzo, 18, of Kenai and Samuel Allred, 13, of Wasilla, 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. Shaylee and Samuel – 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.

“These students are fine examples of what is possible when young people roll up their sleeves and commit themselves to helping others”

The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program, sponsored by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), named Shaylee and Samuel Alaska'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.

Shaylee, a senior at Nikiski Middle/High School, started a public service campaign called the “Missy the Moose Program” to raise children’s awareness of the dangers of cars hitting moose on Alaska’s highways, a common occurrence in her area during the hazardous winter months. “Every year hundreds of moose are killed by vehicles, sending people to the hospital and costing hundreds of thousands of dollars in property damage,” explained Shaylee. “I believe the solution is empowering children to help adults drive with greater caution.” Her idea was inspired by a photograph of a local motel owner posing with an orphaned moose he had saved after its mother was killed by a car. “I have had too many family members and friends hurt in moose/vehicle collisions,” said Shaylee. “I also can’t stand to see some poor moose broken and bloody, breathing its last.”

To launch her program, Shaylee wrote and illustrated a children’s book that told the story of a collision from a moose calf’s perspective. Wearing a moose costume, she then began visiting elementary school classrooms as Missy the Moose, sharing her book with the kids and offering ideas on how to encourage their parents to watch out for Missy and her friends. With the help of her father, she wrote a theme song, recorded radio announcements urging children to get their parents to slow down, and solicited local businesses to buy more air time for her announcements. Currently, she is trying to gain state approval to post Missy the Moose signs in high moose-traffic areas to remind motorists to drive with care. “The incident that made me realize I was having an impact was when a parent told me they were driving down the road on a cold winter night when they heard their first grader exclaim from the backseat, ‘Mom! Watch out for Missy!’”

Samuel, an eighth-grader at Raven Correspondence School, makes travel-size pillows and distributes them to children’s hospitals across the country to provide comfort to sick kids. Samuel knows firsthand what it’s like to need some comfort. As a toddler, he was diagnosed with a rare kidney disease that resulted in hospitalizations and the need to take medications that altered his appearance. In 2008, a video of Samuel lip-synching went viral on YouTube and garnered millions of views – along with comments that were mostly good, but sometimes judged his appearance. “I realized then that there needs to be more compassion and kindness in the world,” Samuel said. So he decided to start a nonprofit organization with the goal of changing lives through compassion. He recalled that, during one of his hospitalizations, some Girl Scouts gave him a small pillow. “I will never forget how loved I felt on that day!” said Samuel. “The small pillow showed that someone had taken time to care. How I loved that pillow! It brought me comfort.”

In 2009, Samuel, along with friends and family members, made 300 pillows out of bright, cheerful fabric and donated them to a local children’s hospital. But Samuel knew he could do even more if he got the community involved, so he began visiting local schools to talk about kindness and compassion. It wasn’t long before others were helping to craft pillows for Samuel’s “Project Comfort.” Elementary school students stuffed pillows, senior citizens stitched them closed, and middle school students made more than 1,700 pillows. Today, many groups in Alaska are creating pillows. Samuel is shipping the pillows to children’s hospitals throughout the United States, supported by Federal Express (his father is a FedEx contractor). “I am committed to changing lives through compassion,” he said.

“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 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 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/

 

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