DES MOINES, Iowa, Feb. 6, 2018 /PRNewswire/ — Kaleb Cook, 18, of Robins and Arika Hammond, 13, of Cherokee today were named Iowa’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, Kaleb and Arika 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 Iowa’s top youth volunteers of 2018:

High School State Honoree: Kaleb Cook

Nominated by Linn-Mar High School in Marion

Kaleb, a senior at Linn-Mar High School, created an organization that facilitates inclusive dance therapy for people with special needs, and has raised thousands of dollars for a year-round camp for people with disabilities. After a girl with Down syndrome became Kaleb’s best friend in kindergarten, he began to notice that “people were treating her differently because of her disability,” he said. But “our friendship allowed me to learn that we were more alike than different. This opened my eyes to a whole world full of social issues surrounding the population that has special needs.”

Kaleb started volunteering for organizations that promote inclusion and equality for special needs individuals, such as Special Olympics, Best Buddies and Camp Courageous. While volunteering at the camp, he attended a dance party and was struck by how easy it was for everyone to participate, regardless of disability. Afterward, he researched dance therapy, recruited a team of fellow high school students, and began teaching dance classes in special education classrooms in several school districts. Then, he and his team organized their own dance party, which raised $3,000 for Camp Courageous. Most recently, Kaleb has been working with professional dance teachers to develop a 10-lesson online dance therapy curriculum that could be used by students with special needs across the country. “I have seen firsthand that individuals’ disabilities need not hold them back,” he said. “A majority simply are not given the opportunities they deserve.”  

Middle Level State Honoree: Arika Hammond

Nominated by Cherokee Middle School in Cherokee

Arika, an eighth-grader at Cherokee Middle School, promotes awareness of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) suffered by military veterans and helps raise money to purchase and train PTSD service dogs as a youth board member and ambassador for the Puppy Jake Foundation (PJF). For a project at her school, students were each given $5 to use to make someone’s life better. Arika chose to donate her money to PJF in memory of a veteran friend who had committed suicide after struggling with PTSD. Afterward, Arika met with the foundation’s CEO and was asked to join the organization’s board.

Since then, Arika has traveled around Northwest Iowa giving speeches about PJF. In addition, she has helped raise money for the foundation by bathing dogs at a local dog grooming salon, hosting a bake sale, and collecting donations at a charity golf tournament, running a concession stand at a youth volleyball tournament, and staffing a PJF booth at the Iowa State Fair. “Each day, 22 veterans commit suicide,” said Arika. “I feel that because of my involvement with Puppy Jake Foundation and what they do for veterans, someday that number will decrease.”           

Distinguished Finalists

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

These are Iowa’s Distinguished Finalists for 2018:

Jacob Bartley, 18, of Harlan, Iowa, a senior at Harlan Community High School, has worked with a classmate to host four charity color runs since eighth grade – events that have attracted more than 1,000 runners and raised more than $15,000 for the American Cancer Society. Jacob also serves as his local Relay for Life committee’s online and social communications co-chair.

Delaney Ettleman, 18, of Missouri Valley, Iowa, a senior at Logan-Magnolia Junior-Senior High, coordinated a series of fundraisers that raised $7,400 for an anti-human trafficking organization, and has spoken at a number of events to raise awareness about the program and how to avoid and prevent human trafficking. Delaney raised money for the organization by hosting a garage sale, designing and selling T-shirts, holding a babysitting night and more.

Grace Johanns, 18, of Burlington, Iowa, a senior at Burlington High School, has volunteered for several years as a student mentor and counselor with the Camp Abilities sports camp at Iowa Braille School, inspired to give back by her own experience there as a camper. Grace has spent a week out of each summer providing friendship and support to campers who are blind or visually impaired, from giving advice on handling bullies to teaching independent living skills.

Andee Joos, 17, of Mingo, Iowa, a junior at Baxter High School, founded the Baxter Crop Walk, a local fundraising walk that has raised more than $3,400 to feed the hungry — $850 going directly to her local food pantry. After learning that her county crop walk generated only a small amount of money for the local food pantry, Andee secured the support of local churches and businesses, the city council and Church World Service to organize a local walk that would help the hungry in her community and abroad.

“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.