Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Prudential Spirit of Community Awards

I was recently contacted about the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards and was asked to help promote some amazing student volunteers. I was honored to read about these young individuals and would love to share their stories with you.

The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards reward young middle and high school students for their outstanding volunteer service to their communities through art. I wanted to share with you two remarkable young students who were named among their states’ top youth volunteers of 2013 for using art to help others.

Virginia Newsome, 17, of Lexington, Ky., a senior at Lafayette High School, created a nonprofit organization in 2011 that has donated $50,000 worth of visual and performing arts supplies to schools that cannot afford them. Virginia attends a performing arts high school, where she is an actor and singer. “I have seen firsthand the benefits of making the arts available to all students,” she said. “Studies show students who participate in the arts do better in school, have fewer discipline problems, higher test scores, and are more involved in their schools and communities.” While attending a leadership conference, Virginia was challenged to find a way to help her community. Knowing that arts programs throughout the country were falling under the sword of budget cuts, she decided to create “heARTS Inc.”

The idea behind “heARTS” is that schools and individuals share supplies they don’t need with others who do need them. “It’s the best form of recycling!” Virginia said. To start her project, Virginia got her friends involved. One designed a logo and the other designed a website. Within a few weeks, she and her classmates had collected $500 worth of crayons, markers, glue sticks and other supplies for a local elementary school. News coverage and Virginia’s use of social media and public speaking opportunities soon brought requests from other schools and organizations. In addition to seeking donations of musical instruments, costumes, art supplies, puppets and craft materials, Virginia fundraises to buy new supplies for schools in need. In its first year, “heARTS” has provided more than $50,000 worth of goods and services that have benefited 4,200 children in the U.S., Haiti, Guatemala and Dominica. Virginia also has expanded her program by appointing area directors in all regions of the country and in Mexico.

Kahlil Epps, 17, of Washington, D.C., a junior at St. John's College High School, co-founded “Project SnapShot” to use his skills as a photographer to preserve holiday memories for children and families in need. Working with law enforcement, local community groups and government agencies that sponsor holiday events for children, Kahlil and a friend take individual and group portraits at each event and distribute prints within minutes. They then create a slide show of each event for the sponsor and attendees. “I knew that many children and their families do not have the opportunity to take photographs on special holidays due to financial constraints,” said Kahlil. “We are dedicated to filling that void in the lives of D.C.’s most vulnerable children and families.”

To start the project, Kahlil and his friend researched local agencies and began spreading the word that they would be available to take pictures at special events. After shooting an event and printing out pictures for the children and parents, Kahlil spends hours compiling every single photograph taken and creating a slide show accompanied by just the right music. “The community groups really appreciate the slide shows,” he said. “They often use them to share with funders and local partners to support future activities.” Recently, Kahlil has donated his services at a local police station’s annual Halloween children’s party, a turkey giveaway at Thanksgiving and several Christmas parties. This summer, “Project SnapShot” will be on hand to take team photos of children who participate in D.C.’s recreational summer swim program.

National Volunteer Week is April 21st-27th. To honor these remarkable youth volunteers, we ask you to celebrate by sharing their stories.

The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program is the United States’ largest youth recognition program based exclusively on volunteer community service. Since 1995, more than 345,000 young Americans have participated in the program. Each year, the program’s judges select 102 State Honorees to receive an all-expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C. where, on May 6th, 10 of them will be named National Honorees. You can watch the live webcast of the May 6th event here:

I also encourage you to visit for more information on this year’s event and honorees.

How else can you get involved?  “Like” the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards on Facebook and follow on Twitter to stay up to date on all honorees’ projects. You and your readers can also check out YouTube for interviews with past honorees.

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