WASHINGTON, D.C. - South Carolina's top two youth volunteers of 2018, Alyssa Gottheiner, 15, of Manning and Gracey Chafin, 11, of Graniteville, were honored in the nation's capital recently for their outstanding volunteer service during the 23rd-annual presentation of The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. Alyssa and Gracey - along with 100 other top youth volunteers from across the country - each received $1,000 awards and personal congratulations from Olympic gold medalist and World Cup champion Lindsey Vonn at an award ceremony and gala dinner reception held at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History.
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program, sponsored by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals, named Alyssa and Gracey South Carolina's top high school and middle-level youth volunteers in February. In addition to their cash awards, they each received an engraved silver medallion and an all-expenses-paid trip with a parent to Washington, D.C., for four days of recognition events.
Alyssa, a sophomore at Laurence Manning Academy, organized a student essay contest and a "Community Day" to help improve relations between law enforcement agencies and the residents of her county. Alyssa's parents are retired police officers and often talk about the challenges of law enforcement, she said. "I wanted to make a change in my community," Alyssa said. "The goal was to provide positive interactions for the benefit of law enforcement and the community." She did that through a program she calls "Clarendon County Hometown Heroes."
After winning support from her local sheriff, Alyssa began promoting an essay contest encouraging students to nominate a first responder who deserves recognition. She announced the contest by distributing 3,000 fliers to more than 10 schools and by spreading the word through a local newspaper, social media and her church. The essay winners get to have breakfast with a police officer and ride to school in a police car, while the officer featured in the winning essay is presented with a plaque by Alyssa at a county staff meeting. For her Community Day event, Alyssa attracted more than 50 sponsors and more than 30 volunteers to help provide free food, games, bounce houses and police cars and fire trucks for kids to play in. "First responders work so hard dedicating their lives to our community. I want them to know how much we appreciate what they do and the sacrifices they make for us," said Alyssa.
Gracey, a sixth-grader at Leavelle McCampbell Middle School, collected enough donations during the past five years to provide more than 100 Radio Flyer wagons and more than 10,000 toys, books, games and other items to kids being treated at a local children's hospital. When she was 6, Gracey donated seven inches of her hair to support a school friend who had been diagnosed with leukemia. Then she happened to learn that a local children's hospital was soliciting donations and "thought I hadn't done enough." So Gracey decided to collect money and toys for pediatric patients at Children's Hospital of Georgia.
She started by selling cinnamon rolls and coffee at her neighborhood yard sale and then organized an annual two-week donation drive at her school, where classmates bring in toys and other items that could brighten the days of hospitalized children. Gracey also collects money from family members, friends, businesses and church members to purchase red Radio Flyer wagons, which are used to transport both toys and young patients in the hospital.
She delivers her toys and wagons to the hospital each year on her birthday. "The need of the hospital is so substantial, it is an overwhelming task," said Gracey. "But when an entire community comes together, the task is so much more manageable."
"These honorees exemplify something we've known for a long time - that young volunteers have the power to bring meaningful change to their communities," said John Strangfeld, chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial, Inc. "These students have shown leadership and determination well beyond their years, and it's a privilege to celebrate their service."
"Through their acts of service, these honorees drive home a powerful lesson for their peers: that one student really can make a difference," said Daniel P. Kelley, president of NASSP. "We are honored to shine a spotlight on the compassion, drive and ingenuity of each of these young volunteers."
Youth volunteers in grades 5-12 were invited to apply for 2018 Prudential Spirit of Community Awards last fall through schools, Girl Scout councils, county 4-H organizations, American Red Cross chapters, YMCAs and affiliates of Points of Light's HandsOn Network. More than 29,000 middle level and high school students nationwide participated in this year's program.
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program was created in 1995 to identify and recognize young people for outstanding volunteer service - and, in so doing, inspire others to volunteer, too. In the past 23 years, the program has honored more than 120,000 young volunteers at the local, state and national level.
For more information about The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards and this year's honorees, visit http://spirit.prudential.com or www.nassp.org/spirit.
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