About a month ago, I was contacted by Social Spot Notes about The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards.
What are these awards? Created in 1995, The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards represents the United States’ largest youth recognition program based solely on volunteer service, and is a truly remarkable program! Each year, the program’s judges select 102 State Honorees – two from each state and the District of Columbia – to receive $1,000, an engraved silver medallion, and an all-expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C. where the students will tour the capital’s landmarks, attend a gala awards ceremony, and visit congressional representatives on Capitol Hill.
While in D.C., 10 of the State Honorees will be named National Honorees on May 7th. These 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. This wonderful trip is designed not only to thank the students for all their hard work, but also to recognize their efforts and encourage others to follow in their footsteps.
Why am I telling you about these awards? Because not one, not two, but three of the State Honorees have volunteered their time and talents for the special needs community! I thought you might like to hear about each of them.
Hope Reis, 18, of Bismarck, N.D., a junior at Century High School, organized a day of downhill skiing for children with special needs. Visually impaired herself, Hope came up with the idea for “A Day on the Hill for Kids with Special Needs” when she was working with the local ski patrol to complete her Girl Scout Gold Award. “When I went skiing, I felt like I was a normal person and I did not feel like I had a disability,” said Hope. “I wanted to give people with all different kinds of disabilities a chance to do something they did not think they would be able to do.” After Hope came up with her idea, she began raising money to buy helmets, safety vests, hand and toe warmers and other equipment the participants would need. She applied for several grants and received one for $2,000. She also sent a letter to local businesses that netted another $1,000 in donations. Then Hope visited college classes to ask for volunteers and enlisted the help of the ski patrol. Last winter, on a cold, brisk day that began with a temperature of 20 degrees below zero, seven children with disabilities ranging from cerebral palsy to blindness arrived at the mountain for a day of fun on the ski slopes. Afterward, Hope donated the safety equipment to the ski patrol. “I would like to see this event happen every year, and hope that it will grow to include more participants each time,” she said.
Taytum Jones, 13, of Minot, N.D., an eighth-grader at Erik Ramstad Middle School, has been volunteering with students with disabilities since she was in third grade, both in school and beyond. After Taytum discovered that there was a special classroom for students with autism in her elementary school, “I kept thinking how cool it would be if I could go down into their room and interact with them, but I always said to myself, ‘No, I’m only in third grade!’” she said. Finally, she asked her teacher, and was given permission to miss an hour of class every other day to work in the autistic room. “I thought that was the greatest thing,” she said. Soon Taytum was spending time with the students before and after school, and during recesses and lunch periods. She helped them with sensory activities, worked on physical coordination skills including stair-climbing and exercise ball balancing and assisted with homework. Taytum also volunteered with an organization called “Dream Catchers” that teaches children with disabilities to play baseball. She continues to work with disabled students at her middle school by playing games and assisting with learning activities. “I think I have made a great impact on children,” said Taytum, who wants to be a special education teacher when she grows up. “I can tell just by the smiles on their faces that they enjoy seeing me. Putting a smile on someone else’s face can bring me up even on the worst day.”
Calista Pierce, 12, of Guys Mills, Pa., a sixth-grader at Maplewood Elementary School in Townville, has raised nearly $12,000 so that local Special Olympics athletes can continue to take part in regional and state competitions, and more than $8,000 to grant wishes to two gravely ill children through the Make-A-Wish Foundation. One day when Calista was 7 years old, she overheard Special Olympics officials lament that they could no longer afford to take athletes to regional and state events. Having a brother who loves to play sports in his wheelchair, “I know how important Special Olympics is for the athletes,” she said. She also realized the power of the Make-A-Wish Foundation when her brother qualified for one of its wishes. So, Calista decided to raise money for both of these causes. She makes and sells crafts, hosts bake sales and organizes raffles and other fundraisers. She recruits family, friends and even Special Olympics athletes to help with her endeavors. In addition, Calista works as a Special Olympics volunteer by training and serving as a teammate with disabled athletes. Thanks in part to her efforts, athletes from her county continue to participate in distant competitions and two children with life-threatening medical conditions have had wishes granted by the Make-A-Wish Foundation. “I feel really good about volunteering every time I see athletes excited when they find out they are selected for competition,” said Calista. “They usually scream and cheer and some of them even cry because they are so excited. It is such an amazing moment to watch.”
Each of these three remarkable young ladies has a chance to be one of the ten National Honorees that will be named today, May 7th, in Washington D.C.
If you would like to watch the awards live today at 12:45 PM Eastern, click here for the link. If you can't watch but would still like to get updates on the winners, follow www.twitter.com/#!/PruSpirit or use the hashtag #PruSpirit2012.
In the midst of all the news about bullying, isn't it nice to read about some young people who are speaking up for our kiddos? On behalf of special needs parents all over the US, I want to say thank you to these three young women for making a difference for our children. You girls are true heroes, leading with compassion.
Well done, ladies. Well done.