Tuesday, May 3, 2011

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

(BUSINESS WIRE)--Two Georgia students, Andrew Mirolli, 18, of Acworth and Tiffani Alexander, 13, of Covington, were honored in the nation’s capital last night for their outstanding volunteer work during the presentation of The 2011 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 Academy Award-winning actress Susan Sarandon at the 16th annual award ceremony and gala dinner reception, held at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.

Drew and Tiffani 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 Prudential Spirit of Community honorees have seen problems in their communities and around the world and have taken action,” said Ms. Sarandon. “Their compassion to help others should give us all a lot of hope for the future.”

Drew, a senior at North Paulding High School, launched an educational and fund-raising campaign to fight poverty both locally and internationally, built around an annual “challenge week” during which teens in his community voluntarily experience poverty by living on $2 a day. Three years ago, while listening to a presentation about displaced students in Uganda, “I was personally asked, “How far would you go to help children with no voice?” said Drew. He took the question very seriously. Drew and two friends put away their cell phones and car keys, gathered firewood, and lived in the woods for five nights to see what it’s like to survive on $2 a day – the amount that 60 percent of the world lives on. “I experienced five days of headaches, an empty stomach growling, my mind not being able to concentrate, and a sore body from sleeping on the ground,” he said. Nevertheless, Drew and his friends still attended school every day, while collecting donations for a charity serving children in Uganda.

After the experience, Drew researched poverty in Georgia and, disturbed by what he found, was determined to raise money and awareness to fight poverty both at home and abroad. He formed a leadership team to help plan a second week of self-imposed poverty and fund-raising, and challenged all of the students in his school to take part. Drew and his team found homes to host “ChallengeWeek” participants, created registration and permission forms, shopped for food, and set up a nonprofit organization, Operation Poverty, and a website at www.operationpoverty.com. Forty-seven students signed up, and during the week, Drew coordinated an all-school assembly focusing on poverty in Uganda, and held class competitions for donations. Last year, 97 students from area high schools participated in the challenge and all schools throughout Paulding County collected 32,000 canned food items for a food pantry along with 750 articles of teen clothing. In addition, Drew and his team have raised $12,480, with half going to a local food pantry, and the other half helping to rebuild a girls’ dormitory in Uganda.

Tiffani, a member of the Rockdale County 4-H and a homeschooled eighth-grader, created and presided over a “bug club” for children through Prevent Child Abuse Rockdale (PCAR), a family strengthening and abuse prevention program offered at a local church. Tiffani has been volunteering with PCAR in the church’s nursery since sixth grade. “There were 197 substantiated cases of child abuse and neglect in Rockdale County in 2008,” Tiffani said. “I am appalled at the thought of children being abused. I volunteer with PCAR to help combat this vicious abuse.” While she enjoyed being a nursery helper, she wanted to do more. As a teen leader in her local 4-H club, Tiffani has always been interested in entomology. So she decided to share her knowledge and appreciation of bugs with the children at the center in a club she calls “Butterflies, Beetles, and Bees, Oh My!”

After receiving permission for her club, Tiffani had to spend about three hours a week planning and organizing lessons that were age appropriate for children from 6 to 12 years old. She also caught insects in her backyard to share with the children and brought her pet beetles, Jersey and Huron. Some of the club’s activities included designing butterflies to reflect the children’s personalities, creating pictures of insects out of seeds, and learning the process of insect metamorphosis. In addition to learning how bugs affect the world and how to stay safe around them, Tiffani also attempted to teach the children to be more sensitive to one another through their gentle handling of the insects. “It is very rewarding to give back to your community,” said Tiffani. “There is no pay or accolades, just the joy of knowing that you made a difference in someone else’s life.”

“Drew and Tiffani represent young Americans who have a strong sense of community and who are dedicated to improving our neighborhoods, our nation and our world,” said John R. Strangfeld, chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial, Inc. “With great anticipation, we look forward to their future achievements as they continue to spread the spirit of community.”

More than 29,000 young people participated in the 2011 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 16 years ago by Prudential Financial to encourage youth volunteerism and to identify and reward young role models.

“The young women and men in America’s schools are nothing short of amazing, and nowhere is this more evident than amongst this year’s award recipients,” said NASSP President Jana Frieler. “They possess a keen intellect, servant hearts, capable leadership skills, and are filled with energy and ambition. NASSP and Prudential are honored to recognize them.”

More information about The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards and this year’s honorees can be found at http://spirit.prudential.com or www.nassp.org/spirit.

NASSP is the leading organization of and national voice for middle level and high school principals, assistant principals, and all school leaders from across the United States and more than 45 countries around the world. NASSP provides research-based professional development and resources, networking, and advocacy to build the capacity of middle level and high school leaders to continually improve student performance. Reflecting its longstanding commitment to student leadership development as well, 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.

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, investment management, and real estate services. 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 http://www.news.prudential.com/

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