Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Two Georgia Youth Honored for Volunteerism at National Award Ceremony in Washington, D.C.

(BUSINESS WIRE)--Two Georgia students, Alizeh Ahmad, 16, of Dalton and Zachary Eller, 14, of Milton, were honored in the nation’s capital last night for their outstanding volunteer work during the presentation of The 2009 Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. The two young people – along with 100 other top youth volunteers from across the country – received $1,000 awards as well as personal congratulations from former First Lady Laura Bush at the 14th annual award ceremony and gala dinner reception, held at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.

Alizeh and Zachary were named the top high school and middle level youth volunteers in Georgia last February. In addition to their cash awards, they received engraved silver medallions and an all-expense-paid trip with their parents to Washington, D.C., for this week’s recognition events.

“The young people receiving these awards genuinely care about making a difference in the lives of others and have accomplished so much – in their own communities and around the world,” said Mrs. Bush, who delivered the keynote address at last night’s ceremony. “I thank and congratulate them for their outstanding volunteer work. Students with this kind of commitment and leadership ability are essential to the future of our nation.”

Alizeh, a junior at Girls Preparatory School in Chattanooga, Tenn., helped persuade her school to raise money to build girls’ schools in Pakistan, and has become a vocal advocate for the rights and education of Pakistani women. “Because my family is originally from Pakistan, I have always felt a significant bond and love for the country,” said Alizeh. After reading “Three Cups of Tea” by Greg Mortenson, an American who builds girls’ schools in Pakistan, Alizeh felt she had to join that effort.

She encouraged others to read the book, and soon it became a popular topic of conversation in her school and community. A fund-raising committee at the school picked up on the excitement and decided to devote its annual festival to raising money for Mortensen’s organization. Alizeh brought her perspective as a Pakistani-American to the planning of the festival, and ensured that Pakistani culture was represented, recruiting Pakistani women to donate ethnic food and offer henna tattoos. The festival ended up collecting $62,000, enough to build a school and supply it with furniture, textbooks, and five years’ worth of supplies. Afterward, Alizeh asked her classmates to write letters to schoolgirls in Pakistan, and then traveled with her family to see firsthand the schools Mortenson has built. While there, she purchased more school supplies for students there, and made a movie to present to audiences back home.

Zachary, an eighth-grader at Northwestern Middle School, has earned close to $8,000 for a local pet rescue organization by baking and selling dog biscuits. “I have always loved animals,” said Zack. “My first word was ‘dog’.” When he was 6, Zack began asking for pet food in lieu of birthday presents. His younger brother followed suit, and over the years they have donated more than 1,000 pounds to local animal shelters.

But Zack wanted to do more, so he began volunteering at a pet rescue operation, where he socialized abandoned dogs awaiting adoption. “I decided to make biscuits for the dogs I saw there,” he explained. “Everybody loved them, so I made more and began selling them at functions in my community.” Zachary, with help from his brother, now bakes his doggy treats on the weekends and in his free time during the week. He also sells biscuits through a website at www.woofemdowndogbiscuits.com. “There is a huge homeless pet problem in America,” said Zack. “It is good to know that I have helped save many homeless animals.”

“Alizeh and Zachary are inspiring examples of young Americans who care deeply about the needs of others and who have taken the initiative to help meet those needs,” said John R. Strangfeld, Chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial, Inc. “By honoring them, we hope not only to give them the recognition they so richly deserve, but also to inspire others to follow their example.”

Nearly 20,000 young people submitted applications for the 2009 awards program last fall through schools, Girl Scout councils, county 4-H organizations, American Red Cross chapters, YMCAs and affiliates of the Points of Light Institute’s HandsOn Network. The top middle level and high school applicants in each state were selected in February, and were flown to Washington this week with their parents for four days of special recognition events.

Conducted in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards were created 14 years ago by Prudential Financial, Inc. to encourage youth volunteerism and to identify and reward young role models. Since then, the program has honored nearly 90,000 young volunteers at the local, state and national level.

“The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program is a fabulous partnership between NASSP and Prudential, allowing us to recognize the outstanding young people in our schools and communities,” said NASSP President Larry Bradley. “This year’s honorees exemplify the true spirit of helping others and by doing so they give America and the world a promising future, a future filled with compassion and hope.”

The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards are supported by the American Association of School Administrators, the National Middle School Association, the National School Boards Association, the Council of the Great City Schools, Girl Scouts of the USA, National 4-H Council, the American Red Cross, YMCA of the USA, the Points of Light Institute, and other national education and service organizations.

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