NEWARK, N.J., Feb. 9, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- Anne Wasinger, 18, of Hays and Jonah Stein, 12, of Leawood today were named Kansas' top youth volunteers of 2021 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, America's largest youth recognition program based exclusively on volunteer service.

The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards logo

As State Honorees, Anne and Jonah will each receive a $2,500 scholarship, a silver medallion and an invitation to the program's virtual national recognition celebration in April, where 10 of the 102 State Honorees will be named America's top youth volunteers of the year. Those 10 National Honorees will earn an additional $5,000 scholarship, a gold medallion, a crystal trophy for their nominating organization and a $5,000 grant for a nonprofit charitable organization of their choice.

The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, conducted annually by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), honors students in grades 5-12 for making meaningful contributions to their communities through volunteer service.

"We created the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards 26 years ago to highlight and support the work of young people taking on the challenges of a changing world – a mission that rings truer than ever given the events of last year," said Charles Lowrey, Prudential's chairman and CEO. "We are proud to celebrate the vision and determination of Spirit of Community's Class of 2021, and all the ways they're making their communities safer, healthier and more equitable places to live."

These are Kansas' top youth volunteers of 2021:

High School State Honoree: Anne Wasinger
Nominated by Thomas More Prep-Marian Jr/Sr High School

Anne, a senior at Thomas More Prep Marian High School, founded and directs an annual theatre camp for adults with developmental disabilities, an intensive five-day experience that culminates in a performance for the community. When Anne has 3 years old, she began performing in her local community theatre along with family members. But one member of her family wasn't able to participate. "My big brother, Joel, has cerebral palsy and due to inaccessibility, he could never perform with me," Anne said. However, the theatre moved to a new facility in the summer of 2018 and built wheelchair-accessible ramps and bathrooms. That spurred Anne, who believes that the "limitless" benefits of theatre should be available to all, to start "Center Stage Theatre Camp" to give people with disabilities a chance to learn theatre techniques, gain confidence, express themselves and showcase their talents.

After several proposals and meetings, Anne partnered with the local theatre to cover costs and provide rehearsal space. She then persuaded a large local church to host the group's post-camp performance; selected skits, songs, and dances to teach the performers; purchased scripts; spread the word among agencies that work with people with disabilities; and recruited volunteers to help. Despite some funding setbacks early on and now the challenges presented by COVID-19, Anne has persevered and thus far has conducted two camps involving a total of 50 "campers" and 40 volunteers. She estimates that over 200 members of her community have turned out to watch their shows.

Middle Level State Honoree: Jonah Stein
Nominated by Leawood Middle School

Jonah, a seventh-grader at Leawood Middle School, has raised more than $18,000 to provide bags of food for people in need in his community by making and selling beaded necklaces for COVID-19 face masks. A few years ago, Jonah and his family attended his great-grandmother's funeral in Minnesota. "When we were leaving the synagogue, there were bags with food and essentials for people to take and keep in their cars to give to needy people on the streets," Jonah said. He thought this was an "incredible" idea and shared it with the local Jewish Family Services agency where he has volunteered. "They were excited by the idea," Jonah said, and soon the organization was providing its own "care bags" containing food, other essential items and a list of helpful resources.

In order to raise money to support this program, Jonah came up with the idea of selling a face mask accessory. "I saw that people had no place to put their masks when they weren't wearing them, especially while eating," said Jonah. With help from his family, Jonah researched and developed a necklace that attaches to face masks so they can be pulled down conveniently when not in use. He got beads, equipment and advice from a local bead-seller, built up an inventory of different necklace styles, created a website to market his "MASKerAIDs," and conducted media interviews. "I was amazed at how quickly things took off," he said. He surpassed his initial fundraising goal in one weekend, and continues to donate 100 percent of his sales to the food pantry.

State Honorees in The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards Class of 2021 – the top middle level and high school volunteer from all 50 states and the District of Columbia – were selected for service initiatives completed, at least in part, between the fall of 2019 and the fall of 2020. Selection was based on criteria including impact, effort, initiative and the personal growth demonstrated over the course of the project. Several Distinguished Finalists and runners-up were also selected in each state, and all qualifying applicants received President's Volunteer Service Awards. 

"It speaks volumes about the character of today's secondary school students that the Spirit of Community program heard from more than 21,000 applicants this fall – most of them stories of young volunteers overcoming the hardships of a global pandemic to support those in need," said Ronn Nozoe, Chief Executive Officer, NASSP. "While we're especially proud to celebrate this year's 102 State Honorees, NASSP applauds every student who's found a way to volunteer this past year. You inspire your peers and adults alike to remember that, even in times of crisis, we all have something to give."

To read the names and stories of all of this year's State Honorees, visit http://spirit.prudential.com.

About Prudential Financial

Prudential Financial, Inc. (NYSE: PRU), a financial wellness leader and premier active global investment manager, has operations in the United States, Asia, Europe and Latin America. Prudential's diverse and talented employees help to make lives better by creating financial opportunity for more people. Prudential's iconic Rock symbol has stood for strength, stability, expertise and innovation for more than a century. For more information, please visit news.prudential.com. 

About NASSP

The National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) is the leading organization of and voice for principals and other school leaders across the United States. NASSP seeks to transform education through school leadership, recognizing that the fulfillment of each student's potential relies on great leaders in every school committed to the success of each student. 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. Learn more at http://nassp.org.

 

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