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

Madison and Manchester students earn $1,000 awards, engraved
medallions and trip to nation’s capital

Honors also bestowed on youth volunteers in Southington, Danbury,
Guilford and Westport

HARTFORD, Conn.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Alexandra Minutillo, 15, of Madison and Emily Christensen, 13, of
Manchester today were named Connecticut’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. Alexandra
was nominated by Daniel Hand High School in Madison, and Emily was
nominated by Illing Middle School in Manchester. 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 (NASSP).

Alexandra, a sophomore at Daniel Hand High School, formed a nonprofit
organization and school club that have raised more than $10,000 to buy
gifts for teenage patients at Smilow Cancer Hospital. Watching her
grandparents struggle with cancer, Alexandra saw first-hand how draining
the experience can be. When she started high school, she decided she
wanted to do something for young people undergoing cancer treatment.
Through conversations with cancer specialists at Yale-New Haven
Children’s Hospital, she learned that most donations for young cancer
patients are intended for pre-school and grade-school youngsters. So she
decided to focus on “the often-invisible teen population” and “provide
age-specific items for these patients as they struggle with treatment
and hospitalization,” said Alexandra.

After forming a nonprofit called “Smiles for Smilow,” Alexandra started
a club at her high school that now has more than 40 members. Then she
got to work planning fundraisers, publicizing them through social media
and a website she created. Thus far, the club has had bake sales, sold
novelty items, and solicited donations at shopping areas, local football
games and parades. Alexandra also speaks often to civic groups about
donating to her cause. Among the items she has purchased with her
proceeds are a media cabinet for the cancer center’s teen recreation
area, a notebook computer and gift cards. “We have been able to
accomplish something that changes people’s lives,” said Alexandra.

Emily, an eighth-grader at Illing Middle School, has raised more than
$85,000 to benefit young cancer patients and their families by selling
recycled crayons formed into interesting shapes and sizes. When Emily
was 6 years old, she lost her 4-year-old friend TJ to cancer.
Coincidentally, a few weeks later, her church challenged its members to
do something to help someone in need. The very next day, the crossing
guard at Emily’s school handed her a bag of old crayons her children had
outgrown. That sparked a memory of a craft project in preschool in which
old crayons had been melted and poured into molds. “I had an idea of
making crayons into different shapes and putting them into a cute little
package to raise money,” Emily said. “TJ was my best friend and I had to
help him live on somehow.”

With the help of her family, Emily began peeling crayons, melting them,
and then placing them in different-shaped molds. Her initial goal was to
raise $200 for a local hospital to help the families of young cancer
patients pay for things insurance does not cover, such as hospital
parking and meals, as well as to buy small gifts for the ill youngsters.
Now, seven years later, “Crayons for Cancer” is a nonprofit organization
that provides funds to assist families in several states. Although Emily
still spends time everyday making her wax creations, she has a cadre of
volunteers from schools, clubs, churches and service organizations
crafting and packaging her crayons, which she then sells through her
website and at local events. She also has partnered with several
businesses and frequently speaks in front of large groups to get the
word out. Emily estimates that her group has helped at least 4,000
families over the years.

As State Honorees, Alexandra and Emily 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 four other Connecticut students as
Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service
activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.

These are Connecticut’s Distinguished Finalists for 2016:

Meghana Kandarpa, 14, of Southington, Conn., a freshman at CREC
Academy of Aerospace and Engineering Middle & High School, joined with
five of her friends to create the “Power of Peace (POP),” a project that
has raised $34,300 since its inception in 2013 to support orphaned
children and struggling seniors living in a shelter in India. Meghana
and her fellow POP members have hosted talent shows, dinners and other
events to raise the funds, which also benefit local organizations
including the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center and FoodShare.

Wesley Neves, 17, of Danbury, Conn., a senior at Danbury High
School, is an active member of his youth group, which has performed a
good amount of service for area homeless shelters, churches, hospitals
and schools. On his numerous service trips, Wesley distributes gifts to
children and plays with them, and visits with patients in the hospital
to keep them company.

Danielle Ott, 16, of Guilford, Conn., a junior at Guilford High
School, co-chaired a school coalition that featured a substance abuse
awareness program called the THP Purple Initiative, for which Danielle
and her team worked with local business and civic organizations to paint
the town purple. Danielle, whose work with the coalition drew from her
desire to prove to other kids that most teens do not abuse alcohol or
drugs, helped organize a culminating event for 800 students that
featured a presentation by former NBA player and THP Purple Initiative
founder Chris Herren.

Daniel Ruskin, 17, of Westport, Conn., a senior at the Academy of
Information Technology and Engineering, has been volunteering with the
Westport Library for the past three years, helping to teach members of
the community how to use the library’s 3D printer. During that time,
Daniel served as the only student representative on a grant advisory
board and helped lead the implementation of an expanded 3D printer

“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