Key West and North Palm Beach students earn $1,000 awards, engraved
medallions and trip to nation’s capital
Honors also bestowed on youth volunteers in Miami, Coral Gables,
Ocoee, Davie, Winter Park and Parkland
TALLAHASSEE, Fla.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Sydney Hamilton, 17, of Key West and Kayla Abramowitz, 13, of North Palm
Beach today were named Florida’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. Sydney was nominated
by Key West High School in Key West, and Kayla was nominated by Watson
B. Duncan Middle School in Palm Beach Gardens. 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).
Sydney, a senior at Key West High School, started “Sydney’s Hope
Project” two years ago to provide games, supervise craft projects and
organize special events to brighten the lives of children undergoing
treatment for cancer at the Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami.
Sydney was expected to live only a month or two when she was diagnosed
with rare liver cancer before age 2, but after much treatment, was
declared cancer-free. “As a 15-year cancer survivor, I have lived and
endured the challenges that a child with cancer must overcome to
survive,” Sydney said. She was reminded of those challenges two years
ago when a young family friend was diagnosed with the same cancer that
she had overcome. At that point, Sydney knew she wanted to do something
to help young cancer patients.
There is no pediatric oncology unit in the Florida Keys, where Sydney
lives, so she decided she would make the eight-hour round trip to Miami
to provide fun activities for young cancer patients there. As founder
and chairperson of Sydney’s Hope Project, she fundraises through social
media, plans a variety of fun activities for the kids, coordinates with
hospital staff to schedule a visit about every six weeks, and recruits
and trains volunteers to help. In addition, Sydney won a $20,000 grant
to implement the “Bravery Beads” program at the hospital, which awards
children a special bead for every procedure or event they endure during
their treatment. Sydney said her mission is not only to ease the burden
borne by pediatric oncology patients, but also to show young people “how
each and every one of us has the ability to improve a day in the life of
a child with cancer.”
Kayla, an eighth-grader at Watson B. Duncan Middle School, has collected
nearly 10,000 DVDs, books and other items for 81 hospitals and Ronald
McDonald Houses in all 50 states through her nonprofit organization,
“Kayla Cares 4 Kids.” Kayla, who has juvenile arthritis and Crohn’s
disease, knows firsthand how boring hospital stays can be, especially
for kids who are hospitalized for long periods. After a two-week stay at
a hospital that had a limited DVD selection, Kayla returned home and
noticed some old DVDs her family didn’t watch anymore. She asked if she
could donate them. “The hospital was so happy to receive just two DVDs
from me,” she said. “That’s when I realized I could do much more.”
Kayla set a goal of collecting 100 DVDs for the hospital and went to
work. She made a flier and began knocking on doors in her neighborhood.
Then she got her Girl Scout troop involved and asked her principal for
permission to have a schoolwide collection drive, with a pizza party for
the class collecting the most. After the local paper published a story
on her project and her parents created a Facebook page for her, the
family living room was soon piled high with hundreds of DVDs, books,
video games, game consoles and electronic items. She began speaking in
front of schools and business groups to promote her organization and was
chosen by the Chamber of Commerce as the Young Entrepreneur of the Year.
Her new goal is to donate items to every children’s hospital and Ronald
McDonald house in the U.S. “I’ve learned that no matter how small
something starts out, with enough passion and effort, you can make it
bigger than anyone ever dreamed,” Kayla said.
As State Honorees, Sydney and Kayla 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.
The program judges also recognized eight other Florida students as
Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service
activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are Florida’s Distinguished Finalists for 2016:
Daniela Bond, 17, of Miami, Fla., a senior at School for Advanced
Studies, co-founded “The Girl Print,” a nonprofit organization dedicated
to inspiring girls to become leaders in their communities, and has
raised $4,000 hosting vendor fairs and other events since October 2014
to benefit the United Nations campaign Girl Up and the Lotus House
women’s shelter in Miami. Daniela, who along with her three co-founders
is passionate about women’s rights and equal access to education, is
currently planning events and managing the organization’s social media
presence as the president of the organization.
Aurora Cosio, 15, of Coral Gables, Fla., a freshman at Carrollton
School of the Sacred Heart, was invited in 2014 to help implement
CODeLLA, a girls-only coding, STEM and tech entrepreneurship project for
Hispanic girls under the poverty level, and has since helped to create a
promotional video that resulted in a $50,000 grant to fund the program.
Aurora, who serves as a teaching assistant and mentor, helped create
partnerships with tech companies and apply for $33,000 in additional
grants, and works with the students to develop websites and apps via
weekly in-person sessions and a live, online tech and coding
Jacob Crabtree, 17, of Ocoee, Fla., a senior at Ocoee High
School, helped his family found the “Jimmy Crabtree Cancer Fund” in 2011
in his father’s memory, and has since helped to raise $100,000 to
support 18 families struggling with the effects of a cancer diagnosis.
Jacob, who is a member of the organization’s board of directors, has
helped the organization put together a slate of annual fundraising
events including a poker tournament, golf tournament and bowling
Ruben Martinez, 16, of Miami, Fla., a senior at John A. Ferguson
Senior High School, founded his school’s Key Club in 2013 and since then
has served the club as secretary, webmaster and event coordinator, while
also serving in leadership roles at the district level as the Florida
District Lieutenant Governor for Division 26A and Florida District
Service Chair. In addition, Ruben founded “The LEAD Project (Let’s End
All Discrimination)” in an effort to educate youth about prejudice,
sexual abuse and bullying.
Benjamin Morales, 16, of Davie, Fla., a junior at West Broward
High School, raised $20,000 in 2014 with a Schoolstarter campaign to
build a primary school in his sister’s native country of Guatemala,
which opened in July 2015. Benjamin, who helped to build the “Benjamin
Morales School,” also raised $1,500 with the “Share A Book Project” to
help fund school supplies and backpacks for the 56 students enrolled in
the school, and is currently raising funds to build another school and
an agricultural center.
Baxter Murrell, 17, of Winter Park, Fla., a senior at Winter Park
High School, founded “Baxter’s Bags” in 2013, raising $18,250 in funds
and in-kind donations to provide backpacks stuffed with basic essentials
for 400 men, women and children who are homeless. Baxter, who spent 24
hours on the streets speaking with people to determine the true needs of
those who are homeless, coordinated publicity, corporate donations and
partnerships, and recruited 100 volunteers to help stuff and distribute
Elias Rosenfeld, 18, of Miami, Fla., a senior at Dr. Michael M.
Krop Senior High School, founded “United Student Immigrants” in 2012, an
organization for which he has raised $18,000 to support its mission to
assist undocumented students in applying for scholarships and colleges.
Elias, who was identified as undocumented at 11 years old after his
mother died, has helped more than 100 students, and partnered with
numerous like-minded organizations to lobby legislators to support the
DREAM Act, which would grant certain rights to undocumented immigrants.
Amanda Weinstein, 17, of Parkland, Fla., a senior at North
Broward Preparatory School, founded the “Family Central Teen Advisory
Board” in 2013 and has encouraged 50 teens to share in her mission to
help the parent organization Family Central, a nonprofit that helps
children and families in need. Amanda, who had been volunteering with
Family Central for 10 years, organizes toy, food, clothing and school
supply drives, and has also created a tutoring and mentoring program.
“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.
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 www.nassp.org.
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 www.news.prudential.com.
Editors: For full-color pictures of the Spirit of Community Awards
program logo and medallions, click here: http://bit.ly/Xi4oFW
Harold Banks, (973) 802-8974 or (973) 216-4833