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

Sioux Falls and Whitewood students earn $1,000 awards, engraved
medallions and trip to nation’s capital

Honors also bestowed on youth volunteers in Pierre and Rapid City

PIERRE, S.D.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Shelby Specht, 15, of Sioux Falls and Danika Gordon, 13, of Whitewood
today were named South Dakota’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. Shelby was nominated
by Harrisburg High School in Harrisburg, and Danika was nominated by
Sturgis Williams Middle School in Sturgis. 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).

Shelby, a freshman at Harrisburg High School, has raised $2,000 over the
past several years to benefit sick kids in her community by creating and
selling candy “bouquets” and cookies. Years ago, Shelby’s brother
suffered a crisis following surgery, but was saved by equipment that had
been donated by Children’s Miracle Network (CMN). “I thought, if they
gave to my family, I should give back,” she said. She began pondering
how she could raise money for CMN, and after weeks of research, decided
on a project she calls “Kandy for Kids.”

Shelby assembles candy bars and other candy favorites into “bouquets”
decorated with tissue paper and colorful streamers. She sells these
bouquets and cookies at numerous venues and donates the proceeds to CMN
to aid children at Sanford Children’s Hospital and their families.
Shelby also volunteers at CMN radiothons every year, speaks to groups of
teens and elementary students about volunteering, and recently launched
a Facebook page offering volunteering ideas to young people across South
Dakota. “Knowing that the work I am doing is making lives better is why
I am so passionate about what I do,” said Shelby.

Danika, an eighth-grader at Sturgis Williams Middle School, promotes
kindness and volunteerism among her peers through an online book she
authored and through programs she conducts at a wide variety of venues.
For years, Danika has participated monthly in service projects such as
collecting food, books and coats for those in need; picking up litter in
a park; and writing thank-you letters to soldiers stationed overseas.
But it was the experience of being bullied that prompted her to create
her own service project to persuade young people that “they have ‘super
powers’ to spread kindness in the world by being caring, respectful, and
volunteering to help others in need,” she said.

In 2013 and 2014, Danika coordinated a “Character Carnival” at a summer
kids program, recruiting 10 4-H members to help her teach 70 elementary
students about good character. During the school year, she led monthly
lessons on character, kindness and service at an after-school program.
Then, she packaged her message in a book titled “What Makes You a Super
Hero?” and made it available online. She also has collaborated with
schools, libraries, after-school programs and youth groups in seven
communities to share her book and promote compassion and service. In
addition, Danika has trained 18 other students to conduct similar
programs in their schools and classrooms.

As State Honorees, Shelby and Danika 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 two other South Dakota students as
Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service
activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.

These are South Dakota’s Distinguished Finalists for 2016:

Austin Lentsch, 18, of Pierre, S.D., a senior at T. F. Riggs High
School, spearheaded a project to renovate the basement meeting hall of
his church, St. Peter’s and Paul Catholic Church. Austin gathered a
group of volunteers and supervised the building of rolling chair racks
to store folding chairs, cleaning and painting the entire room, all of
which was done in one weekend.

Victoria O’Connell, 17, of Rapid City, S.D., a member of Girl
Scouts – Dakota Horizons and a senior at Stevens High School, created a
program for which she makes and distributes caps to people with cancer.
Victoria, who has made a “Cap Kit” to guide other youth who want to
initiate the program in their areas, has recruited many local groups to
help make hats, which are now also being distributed to disaster victims
through the American Red Cross.

“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