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

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

Honors also bestowed on youth volunteers in Bettendorf, Sibley,
Manchester and Cedar Rapids

DES MOINES, Iowa–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Allison Ockenfels, 18, of Wellman and Clare Szalkowski, 10, of Dubuque
today were named Iowa’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. Allison was nominated
by Ockenfels Homeschool in Wellman, and Clare was nominated by Girl
Scouts of Eastern Iowa and Western Illinois in Bettendorf. 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).

Allison, a senior at Ockenfels Homeschool, has raised more than $50,000
since late 2010 to build kitchens at three schools in the African nation
of Malawi and to provide daily meals for students living in poverty
there. Allison was attending a conference when she learned about Mary’s
Meals, a charitable organization that feeds children at schools in the
developing world. “Hunger and starvation are often a reality for many
children in third-world countries,” Allison said. “Parents are motivated
to send their children to school because they know they will receive a
nutritious meal every day. For many children, it is the only meal they
receive.” Allison learned that the organization is feeding over one
million children worldwide every day, and that it takes less than $20 to
provide a child with a daily meal for one year.

Allison began by visiting local church parishes and asking their
congregations for donations. Then she knocked on the doors of local
businesses and spoke about her cause at a school and at meetings of
civic clubs. Allison also started a blog and a fundraising page on the
Mary’s Meals website. She now receives donations from all over the
country, and has raised enough money to help feed more than 5,000
children in Malawi. Allison has visited two of the schools that
benefited from her efforts. “It was amazing to meet the children,” she
said. “They swarmed toward us and greeted us with smiles and laughing.”

Clare, a fifth-grader at Hoover Elementary School, started “Clare Cares”
over two years ago to “build friendships and make our community a better
place” by organizing projects that benefit bullied children, homeless
and hungry people, and others in need of assistance. Clare was inspired
to start her project after her older sister had an epileptic seizure at
school. “This ‘friend’ made fun of her,” said Clare. “Then she recruited
others to make fun of her. That’s when I knew I needed to do something
about bullying because, unfortunately, bullying has touched nearly
everyone’s life, and that makes me sad.”

Her initial goal was to provide a “buddy bench” on her school’s
playground to promote friendship and discourage the isolation that
bullied children often feel. Today, every elementary school in her
region has a Clare Cares Buddy Bench on its playground – more than 30
benches in all. Clare also formed “kid committees” and scheduled “buddy
events” to work on projects supporting the missions of local nonprofits.
She and her fellow volunteers have made blankets for children
experiencing trauma, created greeting cards for nursing home residents,
and filled a Santa’s sleigh for Toys for Tots. They also have provided
22 complete birthday packages to celebrate the birthdays of children in
a homeless shelter, filled the shelves of a local food bank with more
than a ton of food, and provided bag lunches every Monday for homeless

As State Honorees, Allison and Clare 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 Iowa students as
Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service
activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.

These are Iowa’s Distinguished Finalists for 2016:

Blake Anderson, 12, of Bettendorf, Iowa, a sixth-grader at
Riverdale Heights Elementary, raised $3,300 to support Alex’s Lemonade
Stands with a penny drive and an awareness assembly at his school that
taught his fellow classmates about cancer and how they can help in the
fight. Blake, who lost his older sister to cancer many years earlier,
had his long hair cut at the assembly and donated it to make wigs for
children with cancer.

Jill Berkland, 17, of Sibley, Iowa, a junior at Sibley-Ocheyedan
High School, is a lead grant writer for her 4-H club who has helped to
secure more than $21,000 in funds over the past six years to support
renovations to the former hog silo Hawkeye Point, turning it into a
museum and convention center. Jill also helped with the physical labor
to renovate farm equipment, construct a picnic area and install signage.

Macy Gudenkauf, 18, of Manchester, Iowa, a member of the Hazel
Green Hawks 4-H and a senior at West Delaware High School, has raised
$16,400 over the past four years with her “Brighten a Kid’s Day” 5K/20
mile bike ride that benefits the Child Life Program at the University of
Iowa Children’s Hospital. Macy, whose brother had cancer as a baby,
works with her cousin to seek sponsorships, design T-shirts, and recruit
and organize volunteers and participants for the event each year.

Emily Montelius, 17, of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, a senior at Thomas
Jefferson High School, founded “J’s Closet” at her school in 2014, a
program that provides clothing, shoes and hygiene products at no charge
to students in need. Emily, who supervises volunteers who help maintain
the closet, also launched a school supply and backpack drive in 2015,
collecting $1,550 and distributing 150 backpacks filled with supplies
through J’s Closet.

“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