FRANKFORT, Ky., Feb. 6, 2018 /PRNewswire/ — Anjali Chadha, 15, of Louisville and Rachel Ritchie, 14, of Vine Grove today were named Kentucky’s top two youth volunteers of 2018 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism. As State Honorees, Anjali and Rachel each will receive $1,000, an engraved silver medallion and an all-expense-paid trip in late April 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 2018.

The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards logo

The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, now in its 23rd year, is conducted by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).

These are Kentucky’s top youth volunteers of 2018:

High School State Honoree: Anjali Chadha
Nominated by duPont Manual High School in Louisville

Anjali, a junior at duPont Manual High School, founded a nonprofit organization to educate and empower minority high school girls in the world of technology, and began her mission last summer by offering 10 girls a seven-week program of classroom training and real-world experience. While participating in a math/science/technology magnet program in middle school, Anjali came to realize that most non-magnet students from the school’s inner-city neighborhood, especially the girls, wanted nothing to do with math or science fields. “They were simply too fearful to even give STEM or technology fields a chance,” she said. Anjali, who was programming computers and building websites by the time she was 9 years old, worried that they were missing out on potentially exciting and rewarding educational and career opportunities.

After forming her nonprofit, called “Empowered,” Anjali applied for and received more than $30,000 in grants to develop her program. She recruited her pre-calculus teacher as program manager, spent many hours researching and planning a teaching curriculum, and identified a group of girls who could benefit most from the training. During Anjali’s seven-week program, the girls learned computer coding skills for designing and building websites, and heard a series of presentations from 10 successful minority women, including Kentucky’s lieutenant governor. They also worked on real technology projects for eight local businesses and the Jefferson County Public Education Foundation. Anjali has received more than 40 requests to sign up for her next program, which she is now working to expand into a year-round endeavor.          

Middle Level State Honoree: Rachel Ritchie
Nominated by James T. Alton Middle School in Vinegrove

Rachel, an eighth-grader at James T. Alton Middle School, spearheaded a five-year campaign that raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to build a playground where all children – including those with disabilities – can play and have fun. When she was 9, Rachel would play at a local playground with her friends, but “saw disabled children not being able to play, and I thought it wasn’t fair,” she said. She realized that no one was focused on addressing this problem, so “I just knew I had to do my part in making sure everyone, no matter his or her ability, got to participate in play.”

Rachel proposed the idea of a “playground for everyone” to her parents, and then to her town’s city council, which agreed to help her. With additional support from her family, friends, community organizations and local and national businesses, Rachel began promoting a series of fundraisers, including car and bike shows, 5K runs, motorcycle rides, golf scrambles, benefit dinners and picnics, and T-shirt and bracelet sales. By last summer, enough money had been raised through events and donations to begin building Rachel’s playground in a city park. The playground, which officially opened on August 26, 2017, features a curved balance beam, a curved rock wall, swings, two zip lines, sensory panels, a stationery cycler, a roller slide, a cozy dome, “talk tubes,” and a rubberized base for easy movement of wheelchairs and walkers. “My life,” she said, “is impacted everyday by the smiles on the kids’ faces whenever I visit the playground.”     

Distinguished Finalists

The program judges also recognized four other Kentucky students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.

These are Kentucky’s Distinguished Finalists for 2018:

Hannah Huffaker, 17, of Glasgow, Ky., a member of Barren County 4-H and a senior at Barren County High School, leads an initiative that’s donated more than 3,300 eggs from her family’s farm for the hungry in her community, providing a source of fresh protein to supplement the dry and canned goods they receive from a local food bank. Hannah raises and cares for her chickens, then cleans, sorts and packages their eggs; she’s also supported her mission by recruiting volunteers and earning a grant to buy more chickens.

Colton Morrow, 17, of Monticello, Ky., a junior at Wayne County High School, led projects to restore two local cemeteries that had fallen into disrepair, efforts that ranged from removing debris and repairing stones to mapping names and dates so that they could be included on a grave-finding website. Colton recruited fellow Boy Scouts and adults to assist with the cleanups, which ended up uncovering six gravestones that had previously been buried.

Lydia O’Nan, 17, of Ashland, Ky., a senior at Paul G. Blazer High School, is the founder of “Hunger Knows No Holiday,” a program that works with local churches to provide bagged lunches to the hungry on days when the community kitchen is closed. Lydia’s program, which feeds about 150 people on each of several holidays and school snow days, has also been adopted by Rotary clubs to feed the hungry in other Kentucky communities.

Christina Elizabeth Relich, 18, of Richmond, Ky., a member of Girl Scouts of Kentucky’s Wilderness Road and a senior at The Relich Homeschool, conducted a renovation and painted an ocean-themed mural to brighten the childcare area of a local church, then wrote and published an accompanying ocean-themed book to raise money for children in need in Appalachia and overseas. Christina hopes that her mural and her book that features a little fish in vast waters will encourage and inspire those seeking a sense of purpose in a hectic world.

“Prudential is proud to recognize these remarkable young people for using their energy, creativity and compassion to bring meaningful change to their communities,” said Prudential Chairman and CEO John Strangfeld. “We hope their stories inspire others to consider how they can do the same.”

“These middle level and high school students have not only improved the lives of the people and communities they’ve served – they also set an important example for their peers,” said JoAnn Bartoletti, executive director of NASSP. “These honorees prove that you’re never too young to make a difference.”

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 affiliates of Points of Light’s HandsOn Network, 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 growth. 

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 April 30, 10 of the State Honorees – five middle level and five high school students – will be named America’s top youth volunteers of 2018. 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 120,000 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, Brazil and Poland. 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.

For information on all of this year’s Prudential Spirit of Community State Honorees and Distinguished Finalists, visit http://spirit.prudential.com or www.nassp.org/spirit.

About NASSP

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. 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 Student Council. 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.

For Spirit of Community Awards program logo and medallion graphics, please visit https://spirit.prudential.com/resources/media

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SOURCE Prudential Financial, Inc.