Helena Zimmerman, 16, of Purchase and Hailey Richman, 10, of Long Island City were named New York's top two youth volunteers of 2018 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism. As State Honorees, Helena and Hailey each will receive $1,000, an engraved silver medallion and an all-expense-paid trip in late April to Washington, D.C., where they will join the top two honorees from each of the other states and the District of Columbia for four days of national recognition events. During the trip, 10 students will be named America's top youth volunteers of 2018.
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, now in its 23rd year, is conducted by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).
High School State Honoree, Helena Zimmerman was nominated by Rye Country Day School in Rye. A junior at Rye Country Day School, Helena, co-founded a nonprofit organization three years ago that is currently giving more than 3,000 teens in 40 states the opportunity to experience meaningful volunteer work by teaching and tutoring kids in underserved communities. "As a child, I was fortunate to have engaged in terrific volunteer experiences with my parents," said Helena. But she later learned that many students are not as lucky.
"My peers are often relieved at having filled their 'dreaded' service requirements," she said. So she surveyed classmates and found that the problem wasn't that they didn't want to help; they just needed help finding rewarding volunteer opportunities. That was when she and a friend decided to start "TeensGive.org."
Their idea was to create a menu of options that allow prospective volunteers to provide academic enrichment to kids in after-school programs in underserved communities across the country. The pair drafted a business plan, built a website at TeensGive.org, and created marketing materials. They then reached out to nonprofits and after-school programs in low-income communities to form partnerships. To finance their endeavor, they won prize money in two competitions for new nonprofits and applied for grants. The teen volunteers in Helena's program provide free in-person tutoring near after-school programs, offer homework help online to struggling students, and in some cases, teach an entrepreneurial baking class that enables young people to learn about business math, marketing, graphic design and social responsibility.
"Prudential is proud to recognize these remarkable young people for using their energy, creativity and compassion to bring meaningful change to their communities," said Prudential Chairman and CEO John Strangfeld. "We hope their stories inspire others to consider how they can do the same."
"These middle level and high school students have not only improved the lives of the people and communities they've served – they also set an important example for their peers," said JoAnn Bartoletti, executive director of NASSP. "These honorees prove that you're never too young to make a difference."
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards represents the United States' largest youth recognition program based solely on volunteer service. 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 Points of Light's HandsOn Network, were eligible to select a student or member for a local Prudential Spirit of Community Award. These Local Honorees were then reviewed by an independent judging panel, which selected State Honorees and Distinguished Finalists based on criteria including personal initiative, effort, impact and personal growth.
While in Washington, D.C., the 102 State Honorees – one middle level and one high school student from each state and the District of Columbia – will tour the capital's landmarks, meet top youth volunteers from other parts of the world, attend a gala awards ceremony at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, and visit their congressional representatives on Capitol Hill. On April 30, 10 of the State Honorees – five middle level and five high school students – will be named America's top youth volunteers of 2018. These National 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.
Since the program began in 1995, more than 120,000 young volunteers have been honored at the local, state and national level. The program also is conducted by Prudential subsidiaries in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Ireland, India, China, Brazil and Poland. In addition to granting its own awards, The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program also distributes President's Volunteer Service Awards to qualifying Local Honorees.