California’s Top Two Youth Volunteers Selected in 21st Annual National Awards Program

Encino and Mission Viejo students earn $1,000 awards, engraved
medallions and trip to nation’s capital

Honors also bestowed on youth volunteers in Walnut Creek, San Diego,
Laguna Hills, Portola Valley, Beverly Hills, Carlsbad, Rancho Santa
Margarita and Emerald Hills

SACRAMENTO, Calif.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Emmi Eisner, 16, of Encino and Alyssa Simmons, 13, of Mission Viejo
today were named California’s top two youth volunteers of 2016 by The
Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program honoring
young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism. Emmi was nominated by
Sierra Canyon School in Chatsworth, and Alyssa was nominated by Los
Alisos Intermediate in Mission Viejo. The Prudential Spirit of Community
Awards, now in its 21st year, is conducted by Prudential Financial in
partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals

Emmi, a junior at Sierra Canyon School, founded a nonprofit organization
called “Play It Forward” that has supplied sports equipment to 19
schools that lacked adequate gear for their physical education programs,
benefiting thousands of students in the Los Angeles area. On a field
trip with her seventh-grade class, Emmi visited a nearby elementary
school and was shocked to see that the students there had no balls or
other equipment to play with during recess. “I couldn’t believe not all
students grow up with access to basic PE equipment, something I took for
granted,” said Emmi, an accomplished soccer player.

Soon after, she began collecting donations of new and gently used balls,
jump ropes, hula hoops and other athletic equipment for schools in
low-income areas, partly by holding a walk-relay at her school that
accepted sporting goods in lieu of a registration fee. Emmi supplied one
elementary school that first year. She then started organizing
fundraising events to buy equipment for more schools. So far, Emmi has
collected $80,000 in donations, recruited 50 student volunteers to help,
and given kids at 19 underserved schools the equipment they need to
enjoy the full benefits of a physical education program. “The impact of
a quality PE program at a young age is far-reaching,” noted Emmi.
“Sports build character, teach teamwork, and demonstrate the importance
of being responsible to others.”

Alyssa, an eighth-grader at Los Alisos Intermediate, has been a
spokesperson, mentor and advocate for kids like herself who have sickle
cell anemia since she was 5 years old. After her mother started the
Sickle Cell Foundation of Orange County, Alyssa became a “spokesperson
for tots” and began encouraging children with sickle cell anemia to
share their feelings about the daily challenges of their chronic
disease. “I acted as the voice for that age group,” she said. “It felt
good because some kids didn’t have an advocate like I did, and I wanted
them to get the same chances I got.”

Several years later, Alyssa led friends and classmates on visits to
children in hospitals, bringing them gifts and tutoring them so they
wouldn’t fall behind on their schoolwork. Then she created a program
that encourages young sickle cell patients to chronicle their feelings
and activities in a daily journal. Alyssa also has represented people
with sickle cell anemia in the news media, helped raise thousands of
dollars for sickle cell causes, mentored individual patients, and wrote
a book about sick kids. Her plan, said Alyssa, is to “continue inspiring
others to look beyond their challenges and reach toward their goals.”

As State Honorees, Emmi and Alyssa each will receive $1,000, an engraved
silver medallion and an all-expense-paid trip in early May 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 2016.

Distinguished Finalists

The program judges also recognized 10 other California students as
Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service
activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.

These are California’s Distinguished Finalists for 2016:

Corinne Hindes, 16, of Walnut Creek, Calif., a junior at Horizons
Alternative School, founded “Warm Winters,” an organization that has
distributed 10,000 coats, hats and gloves from the lost and found at ski
resorts to 7,000 people who are homeless or in great need. Corinne
partnered with her best friend, and in 2013 the two received an
endorsement from the National Ski Areas Association that helped launch
the organization at 17 ski resorts in America and two in Australia, with
300 active teen volunteers helping to collect, sort and distribute
coats, socks and personal care products.

Jessica Carscadden, 13, of San Diego, Calif., a seventh-grader at
Oak Valley Middle School, founded the “We Care Bear Project” in 2012,
and has since helped to collect and donate more than 25,000 stuffed
animals to first responders, who give them to scared children to help
comfort them. Jessica, who lived in an orphanage and had serious medical
issues as a young child, began the project by donating her own unused
stuffed animals to help children who were going through traumatic and
painful times.

Elena Crespo, 17, of San Diego, Calif., a member of the Girl
Scouts of San Diego and a senior at Del Norte High School, founded “Let
Children Learn,” an organization through which she has raised $175,000
to help provide a library in Nicaragua, a hearing aid lab in Bolivia,
internet access in a Honduran school and wheelchairs for a school in
Mexico. To help raise the funds, Elena educated students in San Diego
about the educational disparity between the youth in America and in
third world countries, leading more than 800 local kids to participate
in her project.

Sydney Fredette, 16, of Laguna Hills, Calif., a junior at Santa
Margarita Catholic High School, created “Be the Change,” a project that
today has provided more than 1,600 children in need with $65,000 worth
of custom stuffed bears, blankets, pajamas, books and more. Sydney, who
began her project to honor the memory of her best friend who died of
cancer, hosts an annual winter carnival and donation parties to support
the program.

Nicholas Jaeger, 17, of Portola Valley, Calif., a senior at
Woodside Priory School, founded the “Another Door Opens Fund,” through
which he has raised $85,000 to help raise awareness about domestic
violence. Nicholas, who first became aware of domestic violence when he
volunteered at a local shelter for abused women and their children, also
speaks to the media and conducts awareness events to support the
shelter’s objective to help all those who seek refuge from abuse.

Ji Yu (Judy) Kim, 17, of Beverly Hills, Calif., a senior at
Beverly Hills High School, founded “HeartShare Club,” a nonprofit
organization that, by creating and selling original art, has raised
$10,000 and run more than 200 community art projects at centers for
senior citizens and people with disabilities. Judy, who attributes her
desire to help those in need to her family’s escape from an abusive
father, started the project to recreate services that were lost after
the closure of a center for people with disabilities where she’d been

Anthony O’Leary, 14, of San Diego, Calif., a freshman at Horizon
Christian Academy Junior High, has become a passionate supporter of
children in foster care, helping to raise awareness and funds to benefit
the Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Program and the Polinsky
Children’s Home. Anthony, who spent several years in foster care,
collected games, sports equipment and backpacks with his “Foster Fun”
campaign, and spoke at a fundraising event for the CASA program that
raised significant amounts of money that will be used to train and
provide more advocates for foster children.

Alexander Rejto, 17, of Carlsbad, Calif., a senior at Canyon
Crest Academy, founded “Champions Baseball,” a league that enables
children with special needs to play baseball by matching them with
trained, volunteer teen buddies. Alex, an avid baseball player who
partnered with the La Costa Youth Organization to give all kids the
chance to enjoy baseball, wrote and received $25,000 in grants, secured
donated equipment, recruited adult coaches, and trained the teen
volunteers to work with children with special needs.

Shalin Shah, 16, of Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., a junior at
Tesoro High School, built an iPhone application called “Voice” that
takes photos of documents and then reads them to the user, and has
provided the app for free to 15,000 people who are blind or visually
impaired. Shalin, who conducted research with the blind, has added 40
languages to the app and is now working with the blind assistance
organization Project Starfish to take the app worldwide.

Ryan Traynor, 16, of Emerald Hills, Calif., a junior at St.
Francis High School, is a passionate literacy advocate who has conducted
literacy awareness projects over the years, including most recently the
“Youth for Literacy” program that has hosted numerous literacy
campaigns, book drives and STEM classes. In addition, Ryan has raised
$55,000 in grants and donations to support the project, created literacy
websites, and conducted numerous speaking engagements to raise awareness
about the importance of literacy.

“Prudential commends each of these young volunteers for using their
creativity and compassion to bring positive change to their
communities,” said Prudential Chairman and CEO John Strangfeld. “We hope
their stories inspire others to consider how they can make a difference,

“We are pleased to honor these students not only for their exemplary
acts of service, but for the powerful example they’ve set for their
peers,” said JoAnn Bartoletti, executive director of NASSP.
“Congratulations to each of the 2016 honorees.”

About The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards

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 HandsOn Network affiliates, 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

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 May 2, 10 of the State Honorees –
five middle level and five high school students – will be named
America’s top youth volunteers of 2016. 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 115,000 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 and Brazil. 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 on behalf of President Barack Obama.

For information on all of this year’s Prudential Spirit of Community
State Honorees and Distinguished Finalists, visit


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 and 35 countries around the world. 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

About Prudential Financial

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

Editors: For full-color pictures of the Spirit of Community Awards
program logo and medallions, click here:


Prudential Financial
Harold Banks, (973) 802-8974 or (973) 216-4833