BISMARCK, N.D., Feb. 6, 2018 /PRNewswire/ — Ashlen Wright, 18, of West Fargo and Macy Vasquez, 14, of Grand Forks today were named North Dakota’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, Ashlen and Macy 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 North Dakota’s top youth volunteers of 2018:

High School State Honoree: Ashlen Wright 
Nominated by Sheyenne High School in West Fargo

Ashlen, a senior at Sheyenne High School, advocates for teen mental health and suicide prevention by raising money and awareness in her community and by working to connect at-risk teens to people who can help them. When Ashlen was a sophomore, she made the difficult decision to change schools. It was a tough transition, she said, but her “saving grace” was a boy named Justin, a star student, athlete and musician who took her under his wing and became one of her closest friends. A few months later, two hours after speaking with Ashlen, Justin killed himself. “At first I was numb. The next wave that hit me was pure grief,” said Ashlen. “Grief not only that Justin was gone, but that I had done nothing to stop it.”

Three weeks after her friend’s death, Ashlen joined the student board of Imagine Thriving, a regional nonprofit that promotes mental health education for young adults, provides support for those struggling emotionally, and supports a full-time mental wellness facilitator in every school district in the region to help identify those at risk. After undergoing training, she began fundraising for the organization and speaking to student groups about the growing problem of depression and suicide for young people. She also founded a mental health club at school, and organized her school’s participation in an “Out of Darkness Walk” to raise money for suicide prevention. Since her friend’s death, Ashlen has spoken to hundreds of teens in schools, church groups and youth organizations, and participated in events that have raised more than $280,000 to help promote mental health and prevent suicide.  

Middle Level State Honoree: Macy Vasquez 
Nominated by Valley Middle School in Grand Forks

Macy, an eighth-grader at Valley Middle School, has volunteered in numerous activities in both her school and city, from helping out at a local daycare to cleaning up trash at local parks. Macy was inspired to volunteer when she was in the sixth grade and saw posters and heard intercom announcements about various volunteer opportunities. “I became a volunteer because I enjoy helping people and places that need help,” she said. When she attended her first volunteer meetings, “it was like a spark of something that told me I should be doing this.”

As a member of several school groups that emphasize service to others, Macy has washed cars for Special Olympics, counted money at concession stands, cleaned up trash along the Greenway, helped build a mini-library for elementary students, mentored new students at her school, and attended city council meetings with fellow students to brainstorm ways to improve their town. She also volunteered for a whole summer at a local daycare facility. “I love to be involved,” said Macy. “It is very rewarding to help others.”    

Distinguished Finalists

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

These are North Dakota’s Distinguished Finalists for 2018:

Dyuti Dawn, 17, of Fargo, N.D., a junior at Davies High School, co-founded a nonprofit that has provided retirement homes with more than 100 kid-made “fidget pillows” to comfort people with Alzheimer’s, dementia and related diseases; she’s also provided pillows for regional North Dakota Alzheimer’s Association offices to use during care consultations. Dyuti is also an active member with the student board of Distressed Children International, participating in efforts that raised more than $7,600 for children in Bangladesh.

Erica Solberg, 18, of Bismarck, N.D., a senior at Century High School, was inspired by her best friend’s death in a drunken driving accident to become an active member of Students Against Destructive Decisions, helping her school chapter earn national recognition and secure $10,000 in a seatbelt contest. Erica also helps plan a four-day SADD conference as a member of the organization’s tri-state board, and travels the country for speaking engagements as a national ambassador for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

“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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