State`s Benjamin McMullen of Chesterland Also Honored During Four-Day
Celebration, With Tribute from Former First Lady Laura Bush
Beatrice Thaman, 12, of Toledo, Ohio, was named one of America`s top ten youth
volunteers for 2009 in a ceremony today at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, winning
a national Prudential Spirit of Community Award for her outstanding volunteer
service. Selected from a field of close to 20,000 applicants across the country,
she received a personal award of $5,000, an engraved gold medallion, a crystal
trophy, and a $5,000 grant from The Prudential Foundation for the nonprofit
charitable organization of her choice.
Also honored in Washington was Benjamin McMullen, 14, of Chesterland. He and
Beatrice were named Ohio`s top youth volunteers in February, and were officially
recognized last night at the Smithsonian`s National Museum of Natural History,
along with the top two youth volunteers of every other state and the District of
Columbia. At that event, all of the Prudential Spirit of Community State
Honorees for 2009 were presented with $1,000 awards, and congratulated by former
First Lady Laura Bush. The honorees also received engraved silver medallions and
an all-expense-paid trip with their parents to Washington, D.C., for this week`s
"The young people receiving these awards genuinely care about making a
difference in the lives of others and have accomplished so much - in their own
communities and around the world," said Mrs. Bush, who delivered the keynote
address at last night`s ceremony. "I thank and congratulate them for their
outstanding volunteer work. Students with this kind of commitment and leadership
ability are essential to the future of our nation."
Beatrice, a home-schooled sixth-grader, started a donation and fund-raising
drive that has enabled her to provide 175,000 vitamin tablets for malnourished
children in Guatemala, a year`s supply for more than 500 children. When her
family adopted Beatrice`s younger sister from Guatemala, Beatrice learned about
the country and its poverty, but she didn`t act until a family friend, Dr. Anne
Ruch, returned from a medical mission and described the desperation there. "I
felt compelled to help," Beatrice said.
After doing some research on malnutrition, Beatrice decided that providing
vitamins would be the best thing she could do. She immediately began writing to
drug manufacturers to ask for free tablets, and soliciting local retailers for
donations. Then she gave speeches at schools in her area, raised funds at public
events such as football games and Christmas parties, and even used some of her
own gift money to buy vitamins. Beatrice has sent more than 175,000 vitamins to
Guatemala with Dr. Ruch for distribution through schools in the villages of the
Peten region. "There are so many needy children in Guatemala," Beatrice said. "I
can`t just stop, because I am literally providing life for these poor children."
Benjamin, a freshman at West Geauga High School, has raised money and recruited
volunteers in an ambitious effort to preserve wetlands in Ohio and protect their
animal inhabitants. "Ever since I was a little kid, I have been watching bubbles
made by insects on the surface of ponds, and turning over rocks to explore the
hidden world underneath," said Benjamin. One day, he joined a bird walk at a
local preserve and learned about wetlands. "Ohio has lost 90 percent of its
wetlands to development and farming, so I knew something had to be done soon to
stop their further destruction," he said.
After researching wetlands, Benjamin applied for grants and solicited donations
from local businesses, clubs and big corporations. Then, with help from friends,
he created "outdoor classrooms" at three schools and purchased science supplies
to educate students about wetlands. He and his Wetlands Education Team (WET)
also have given presentations at many schools, exposing more than 6,000 kids to
the importance of preserving wetlands. In addition, they built and erected four
nesting platforms for the threatened osprey species in Geauga County, planted
native trees in wetland areas, distributed birdhouses to students, and organized
a postcard-writing campaign urging legislators to designate the spotted
salamander as Ohio`s state amphibian. "I hope one day that everyone will know
why wetlands are so important," said Benjamin. "When they do, everyone will be
working as hard as I am to protect this valuable resource."
"Beatrice and Benjamin are inspiring examples of young Americans who care deeply
about the needs of others and who have taken the initiative to help meet those
needs," said John R. Strangfeld, Chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial, Inc.
"By honoring them, we hope not only to give them the recognition they so richly
deserve, but also to inspire others to follow their example."
Nearly 20,000 young people submitted applications for the 2009 awards program
last fall through schools, Girl Scout councils, county 4-H organizations,
American Red Cross chapters, YMCAs and affiliates of the Points of Light
Institute`s HandsOn Network. The top middle level and high school applicants in
each state were selected as State Honorees in February, and were flown to
Washington this week with their parents for four days of special recognition
Ten of the 102 State Honorees were named America`s top ten youth volunteers for
2009 at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce headquarters today. These National Honorees
received additional $5,000 awards, gold medallions, crystal trophies for the
schools or organizations that nominated them, and $5,000 grants from The
Prudential Foundation for charities of their choice. [The ceremony can be viewed
In addition to Beatrice, the other National Honorees are:
Brittany Bergquist, 18, of Norwell, Mass., who co-founded a nonprofit
organization that has purchased nearly 700,000 prepaid phone cards worth $2.5
million for American servicemen and women throughout the world - by recycling
used cell phones. Working with her younger brother, Brittany developed a website
to solicit donated phones, recruited volunteers in all 50 states and Canada to
set up collection sites, and secured a large donation and other assistance from
a phone company.
Jeremy Bui, 18, of Enfield, Conn., who founded the Viet-Sun Foundation with his
two brothers to help educate poor Vietnamese children. Their activities so far
have raised enough money to fund elementary-school scholarships for six children
and buy a year`s worth of textbooks and school supplies for four other students
in Vietnam, where Jeremy`s parents grew up.
Shardy Camargo, 18, of Orlando, Fla., who led 40 high school students in writing
and publishing a book about homeless people, after experiencing homelessness
herself a few years earlier. The students interviewed 30 adults at a local
homeless shelter and drafted chapters to tell their stories. Then Shardy spent
months editing the manuscript, and after it was published, she arranged book
signings at local libraries and spoke at service-learning conferences.
Amanda LaMunyon, 14, of Enid, Okla., who uses her artistic, singing and speaking
talents to support a variety of charities, and draws upon her experience with
autism to educate others about the disorder. She performs and shows her
paintings at charitable events, raises money for sick children by selling prints
and cards of her artwork, and frequently addresses audiences about overcoming
the challenges of autism.
Colin Leslie, 17, of Rye, N.Y., who organized an annual walkathon in his
community that has raised more than $150,000 over the past three years to
benefit people who suffer from celiac disease, a genetic disorder triggered by
the gluten in wheat, barley and rye products. About 1,000 people have come to
Colin`s event each year, not only to walk and contribute, but also to learn
about celiac disease and enjoy a gluten-free food fair.
Morgan Mariner, 13, of Douglas, Wyo., who has conducted a vigorous campaign over
the past three years against the problem of bullying in schools. Since she began
speaking frequently on the subject at schools and community meetings, Morgan has
influenced many of her friends to join her cause and has seen her school
district take a more serious stance against bullying.
Melissa Monette, 16, of Mililani, Hawaii, who founded a nonprofit organization
that has provided more than 13,000 pounds of fresh produce and canned goods to
low-income senior citizens and homeless people over the past two years. She also
arranged for nutritionists to speak to senior citizens about healthy eating, and
developed a monthly aerobic exercise program to help the seniors stay in shape.
Sean Nathan, 14, of Shreveport, La., who throws birthday parties every month for
children staying at a local homeless shelter. At each "Providence House Birthday
Bash," he and his brother serve pizza and cake, organize games, play music, and
give out presents that they pay for by giving musical performances at functions
Shelby Romero, 12, of Hutto, Tex., who organized a charity bicycle ride and
other events that have raised nearly $400,000 over the past three years for a
horseback-riding therapy center for disabled children. The money has enabled the
riding center to build a covered arena and to provide scholarships to children
who cannot afford therapy.
The national selection committee that chose the ten National Honorees was
chaired by John Strangfeld of Prudential. Also serving on the committee were
Larry Bradley, president of NASSP; Michelle Nunn, president and CEO of the
Points of Light & HandsOn Network; Marguerite Kondracke, president and CEO of
the America`s Promise Alliance; Kathy Cloninger, CEO of Girl Scouts of the USA;
Donald T. Floyd Jr., president and CEO of National 4-H Council; Pamela Farr, the
American Red Cross` national chair of volunteers; Elson Nash, associate director
for project management at the Corporation for National and Community Service;
Michael Cohen, president and CEO of Achieve, Inc.; and two 2008 Prudential
Spirit of Community National Honorees: Kristen Allcorn of Sedalia, Mo., and
Shanna Decker of Plainview, Minn.
Conducted in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School
Principals (NASSP), The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards were created 14
years ago by Prudential Financial, Inc. to encourage youth volunteerism and to
identify and reward young role models. Since then, the program has honored
nearly 90,000 young volunteers at the local, state and national level.
"The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program is a fabulous partnership
between NASSP and Prudential, allowing us to recognize the outstanding young
people in our schools and communities," said NASSP President Larry Bradley.
"This year`s honorees exemplify the true spirit of helping others and by doing
so they give America and the world a promising future, a future filled with
compassion and hope."
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards are supported by the American
Association of School Administrators, the National Middle School Association,
the National School Boards Association, the Council of the Great City Schools,
Girl Scouts of the USA, National 4-H Council, the American Red Cross, YMCA of
the USA, the Points of Light Institute, and other national education and service
More information about The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards and this year`s
honorees can be found at http://spirit.prudential.com or
In existence since 1916, the National Association of Secondary School Principals
(NASSP) is the preeminent organization of and national voice for middle level
and high school principals, assistant principals, and aspiring school leaders
from across the United States and more than 45 countries around the world.
NASSP`s mission is to promote excellence in school leadership. The National
Honor Society, National Junior Honor Society, National Elementary Honor Society,
and National Association of Student Councils are all NASSP programs. For more
information about NASSP, located in Reston, Va., visit www.principals.org or
Prudential Financial, Inc. (NYSE: PRU) is a financial services leader with
operations in the United States, Asia, Europe, and Latin America. Leveraging its
heritage of life insurance and asset management expertise, Prudential is focused
on helping approximately 50 million individual and institutional customers grow
and protect their wealth. The company`s well-known Rock symbol is an icon of
strength, stability, expertise and innovation that has stood the test of time.
Prudential's businesses offer a variety of products and services, including life
insurance, annuities, retirement-related services, mutual funds, investment
management, and real estate services. For more information, visit
[Editors: full-color pictures of the Spirit of Community Awards program logo and
medallions are available at http://spirit.prudential.com.]
Photos/Multimedia Gallery Available:
Harold Banks, 973-802-8974 or 973-216-4833
On May 4, 8:30 am - 4 pm EDT: 202-955-1155 or -1166
Copyright Business Wire 2009