Dallas and Woodway students earn $1,000 awards, engraved medallions
and trip to nation’s capital
Honors also bestowed on youth volunteers in Humble, Somerset, Manvel,
Tyler, El Paso, Cypress, Sugar Land, Texarkana and Austin
AUSTIN, Texas–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Ariana Luterman, 16, of Dallas and Courtney Janecka, 12, of Woodway
today were named Texas’ top two youth volunteers of 2016 by The
Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program honoring
young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism. Ariana was nominated
by Greenhill School in Addison, and Courtney was nominated by Midway
River Valley Intermediate in McGregor. 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).
Ariana, a sophomore at Greenhill School, has combined her passion for
competitive triathlon racing with her desire to help homeless children
through her Team Ariana, which has raised more than $80,000 to benefit a
local childcare center that provides free early development services for
homeless children. Ariana said her life changed the first time she saw a
homeless child when she was 8 years old. “It awakened my heart to the
reality that all kids did not have a home, a bed, or even a special
pillow to call their own,” she said. She began volunteering at the Vogel
Alcove childcare center, reading to children, supervising arts and
crafts projects, and requesting that instead of gifts, her birthday
guests bring donations to benefit homeless children. At the same time,
Ariana said, her triathlon performances were beginning to attract
attention. It occurred to her that maybe there was a way to help
homeless children through her racing.
So in 2011, she spoke with her parents about forming Team Ariana. Her
idea was to use her name recognition to attract corporate sponsorships
and bring awareness to the growing problem of homeless children. She
spent months developing strategies and meeting with companies to solicit
support. Once she had a clothing sponsor, she designed a line of Team
Ariana racewear and created an online store so that other athletes could
support her cause with their purchases. She also sold corporate logo
placements on her personal race gear and her clothing line to generate
funds for Vogel Alcove, and donated her winnings from races. In
addition, she began speaking in front of groups about the issue of child
homelessness in this country. “If I can change the course of one child’s
life, I have proven I am a real champion,” Ariana said.
Courtney, a sixth-grader at Midway Intermediate School, makes and sells
beaded bracelets to enable her mother to give away the book she wrote on
surviving cancer to other cancer patients, churches, hospitals and
schools. When Courtney was a toddler, her mother was diagnosed with
cancer. Although Courtney doesn’t remember that trying time, she has
seen how her mother’s story and book have inspired others. “Her book can
help people and I decided that I wanted to help too,” said Courtney. “I
knew that if I could raise money, we could give her books away to people
with cancer.” When a friend heard of Courtney’s plan, she sent a
bracelet and suggested that Courtney make and sell similar ones to raise
money. “Courtney’s Creations” was born in late 2013.
To make her beaded creations, Courtney buys beads and charms at local
and online stores; sometimes people who have heard about her project
even send her cases of beads they no longer need. While she makes many
of the bracelets herself, she also organizes bracelet-making parties
with her friends to increase the number she can sell. Over the past two
years, Courtney has sold more than 1,100 bracelets online and at some
local stores, raising over $10,000 and enabling her mother to give away
nearly 800 of her books. Courtney accompanies her mother on trips all
over Texas to deliver books, and often speaks in front of large crowds
at events. “There are lots of people with cancer and I am grateful I can
help some of them,” said Courtney.
As State Honorees, Ariana and Courtney 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 10 other Texas students as
Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service
activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are Texas’ Distinguished Finalists for 2016:
Taliah Block, 10, of Humble, Texas, a fifth-grader at Maplebrook
Elementary School, has raised $4,500 in cash and donations through her
organization “FoodFriendZee,” which she started in 2014 to help feed the
area’s hungry and provide hygiene kits to children who are homeless.
Taliah has supported numerous organizations including SEARCH homeless
services, the Houston Star of Hope, a women’s shelter and Food Not
Bombs, an organization for which she and her family cook meals and
distribute them to those in need in downtown Houston.
David De La Fuente, 17, of Somerset, Texas, a junior at Somerset
High School, helped apply for and receive a $2,500 grant for his
school’s FFA chapter to start a community garden in 2014, which yielded
50 pounds of food a week that was donated to the San Antonio Food Bank
or directly to the Somerset community. David, who is the president of
his FFA, also volunteers with numerous organizations including Habitat
for Humanity, Salvation Army, American Red Cross and Haven for Hope.
Kianna Hawkins, 17, of Manvel, Texas, a member of the Girl Scouts
of San Jacinto Council and a senior at Lamar High School, founded
“EyeCare4TeenVision,” an initiative to raise awareness about eye health
and to provide basic eye care services to kids in need. Kianna, who
learned that school-administered eye exams stop in seventh grade,
partnered with the nonprofit Nehemiah Center and the organization
Prevent Blindness to host an awareness event and screening exams and
provide vouchers for eyeglasses, and also collected 320 used pairs of
glasses in a drive to support New Eyes for the Needy.
Grace Knight, 18, of Tyler, Texas, a senior at Bishop Thomas K.
Gorman Catholic School, was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis when she was
18 months old, and over the years has helped her family raise $1,600,000
for cystic fibrosis research through the annual “Great Strides Walk,” a
charity gala events and a golf fundraiser that her family started in
1999. Grace, who started her own walk team and coordinates many
additional fundraising events, also speaks at events to raise awareness
and is creating a book of poems written by patients and their loved ones.
Diana Martell, 17, of El Paso, Texas, a senior at Eastwood High
School, co-founded an organization with her sister called
“SisterHoodies” that has collected more than 1,700 winter coats for
people in need. Diana, who founded the organization in 2011 after
hearing that a homeless man had died from hypothermia, also began
collecting and distributing toys, bedding, household items, clothes and
hygiene products to those in need in the El Paso area.
Genesis Smothers, 17, of Cypress, Texas, a junior at Cypress
Ranch High School, created an interactive reading workshop for
kindergarten through third grade students to make reading fun and to
improve reading comprehension. Genesis also collected more than 800
books and furniture to create a reading nook in the Krause Center for
Homeless Youth, and is an active volunteer for the Houston Food Bank,
the Police Officer’s Union and the Legend Oaks Nursing Home.
Kalpana Vaidya, 18, of Sugar Land, Texas, a member of the Girl
Scouts of San Jacinto Council and a senior at Stephen F. Austin High
School, created “The World of Science,” an interactive STEM event for
children in kindergarten through eighth grade, which has now become an
annual event sponsored by the Austin High School Science Honor Society
that attracts 400 participants each year. Kalpana, who also helped the
honor society raise $2,000 to promote computing at the local middle
school, created 24 hands-on activities and secured involvement from many
organizations including the Houston Natural Science Museum and the
Baytown Nature Center.
Mathew Walther, 17, of Cypress, Texas, a senior at Cypress Ranch
High School, raised $1,100 to purchase the materials to build two
free-standing mini libraries in two low-income housing developments to
provide 200 children with free access to books and encourage a love for
reading. Mathew, who recruited volunteers to help with fundraising and
construction, also hosted a book drive that produced 1,100 books to
stock the libraries and hosted a grand opening event to debut the
libraries to the community.
Kayce Welch, 18, of Texarkana, Texas, a senior at Texas High
School, was motivated by her Type 1 diabetes diagnosis to create the
“One of a Kind Diabetes Program” in 2013, which has raised awareness and
$23,000 to support the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) and
the K.I.D.S. Day Camp for children with the illness. Kayce, who received
support from the JDRF and a committee of her mom and other parents of
diabetic children, planned and implemented a “Black and White Soiree” to
raise the funds and continues to host awareness events to help bring
attention to the fight against diabetes.
Jake Wood, 17, of Austin, Texas, a senior at Hyde Park High
School, founded “Austin Serving Abaco” in 2011, a service organization
for which he has raised $75,000 to fund 150 backpacks filled with school
supplies, 500 pairs of shoes, 1,000 pounds of clothing and school
uniforms for 130 Hatitian refugee children living in the Bahamas. Jake,
struck by the happiness of the refugee children, has recruited a team of
volunteers to help him achieve his goals.
“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