WASHINGTON, D.C. – Amal Bhatnagar, 18, of Duluth, Ga. and Kelsey Norris, 13, of Bonaire, Ga. were named two of America's top 10 youth volunteers of 2017 today by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards during the program's 22nd annual national award ceremony at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium.
Selected from a field of more than 31,000 youth volunteers from across the country, Amal and Kelsey have earned the title of National Honoree, along with personal awards of $5,000, engraved gold medallions, crystal trophies for their schools, and $5,000 grants from The Prudential Foundation for nonprofit charitable organizations of their choice.
Amal and Kelsey were named Georgia's top youth volunteers in February and were officially recognized last night at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History along with the top two youth volunteers in each other state and the District of Columbia. At that event, each of the 102 State Honorees for 2017 received $1,000 awards as well as personal congratulations from Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps. The honorees each also received engraved silver medallions and all-expense-paid trips with a parent to Washington, D.C., for this week's recognition events.
Kelsey, a sixth-grader at Bonaire Middle School, overcame a challenging start in life to provide more than 1,000 volunteer hours and raise more than $20,000 for a wide variety of causes aiding children and others in difficult situations. Kelsey was less than a year old when she was found in a Russian orphanage, and was later diagnosed with autism. But by the time she was 6, she was visiting schools and early childhood centers to read to kids and share her story with them. Several years later, her volunteering really took off when she began participating in pageants with the platform "special needs means special abilities."
Since then, Kelsey has won more than 50 pageant titles and devoted over 1,000 hours to community service activities. She has collected more than 1,500 cans and boxes of food to feed students in need on weekends. In addition, she gathered more than 4,500 pounds of dog food for a Humane Society facility. She is currently serving as the local coordinator of a program that provides bags of hygiene and other personal items to displaced children. She also is a "special needs ambassador" and advocate for a group working to expand healthcare access in several rural counties. In addition, Kelsey has raised more than $20,000 for organizations such as the Children's Miracle Network, Shriners Children's Hospitals and St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards is a national youth recognition program sponsored by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).
"These honorees have done exemplary work to contribute to the health and vitality of their communities, and we look forward to seeing the great things they achieve in the future," said John Strangfeld, chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial, Inc. "Congratulations to each of these extraordinary young volunteers."
"It's a privilege to celebrate these students not only for outstanding volunteer service, but for the example they've set for their peers," said Jayne Ellspermann, president of NASSP. "These honorees prove that one person truly can make a difference."
In addition to Amal and Kelsey, these are the other 2017 National Honorees:
Riley Callen, 14, of Pawlet, Vt., an eighth-grader at Dorset Elementary School, founded an annual "hike-a-thon" in the hills of Vermont that has raised more than $250,000 to help find a cure for brain tumors, like the ones that have affected her since she was 8 years old.
Ariana DeMattei, 16, of Center Moriches, N.Y., a junior at Westhampton Beach High School, has raised over $100,000 to provide more than 1,000 new backpacks filled with school supplies for local elementary students through an organization she founded in 2012 called "Backpacks for Fellow Students."
Sarah (Katie) Eder, 17, of Shorewood, Wis., a junior at Shorewood High School, developed a creative writing workshop for children in need that is now being taught by 120 teens in seven states and five other countries.
Bradley Ferguson, 16, of Northfield, N.J., a sophomore at Mainland Regional High School, started a service-learning club that over the past three years has supported veterans and people in need by refurbishing an American Legion post, collecting food for a community food bank, making lunches for homeless people, and growing fresh produce at several community gardens.
Harmonie Frederick, 11, of Columbia, S.C., a fifth-grader at Polo Road Elementary School, sold lemonade to raise money and awareness to fight cancer, conducted a coat drive to keep those less fortunate warm in the winter, and volunteers at a local nursing home.
Lorelei McIntyre-Brewer, 11, of Duncannon, Pa., a sixth-grader at The Cove School, built a volunteer network that has provided more than 12,000 special pillows for children around the world undergoing heart surgery.
Kenan Pala, 13, of San Diego, Calif., a seventh-grader at Francis Parker Middle School, launched an initiative to benefit homeless people by raising money for local shelters, coordinating meals each quarter at shelter kitchens, and organizing a record-setting cereal donation event.
Meghana Reddy, 18, of La Mesa, Calif., a senior at Francis Parker School in San Diego, uses 3D printing technology to produce artificial hands for children and adults in several countries who cannot afford commercial prostheses.
The distinguished selection committee that chose the National Honorees was chaired by Strangfeld and included Ellspermann of NASSP; Andrea Bastiani Archibald, chief girl expert for Girl Scouts of the USA; Kristofer Bolz with the national headquarters volunteer services team at the American Red Cross; Tracy Hoover, president of Points of Light; Peggy McLeod, deputy vice president of education and workforce development at the National Council of La Raza; Frederick J. Riley, national director of urban and youth development at YMCA of the USA; Linda Shiller, at-large member on the National PTA Board of Directors; Rhonda Taylor, acting deputy director of strategic communications and director of partnerships and program engagement for the Corporation for National and Community Service; Dru Tomlin, director of middle level services for the Association for Middle Level Education; and two 2016 National Honorees: Connor Archer, a freshman at Husson University in Bangor, Maine, and Alisha Zhao, a senior at Lincoln High School in Portland, Ore.
Youth volunteers in grades 5-12 were invited to apply for 2017 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.
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, too. In the past 22 years, the program has honored more than 120,000 young volunteers at the local, state and national level.
The National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) is the leading organization of and voice for middle level and high school principals, assistant principals, and school leaders from across the United States. The association connects and engages school leaders through advocacy, research, education, and student programs. NASSP advocates on behalf of all school leaders to ensure the success of each student and strengthens school leadership practices through the design and delivery of high quality professional learning experiences. 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 Association of Student Councils. For more information about NASSP, located in Reston, VA, visit www.nassp.org.
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