Plymouth and Reads Landing students earn $1,000 awards, engraved
medallions and trip to nation’s capital
Honors also bestowed on youth volunteers in St. Paul, Maple Grove,
Mendota Heights, White Bear Lake, New York Mills and Lino Lakes
ST. PAUL, Minn.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Maria Keller, 15, of Plymouth and Jasmine Kennebeck, 12, of Reads
Landing today were named Minnesota’s top two youth volunteers of 2016 by
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program honoring
young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism. Maria was nominated
by Orono High School in Long Lake, and Jasmine was nominated by Red Wing
Family YMCA in Red Wing. The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, now
in its 21st year, is conducted by Prudential Financial in partnership
with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).
Maria, a sophomore at Orono High School, founded a nonprofit called
“Read Indeed” when she was 8 years old, and has since collected more
than 1.7 million books for children in need in 48 states and 17 other
countries. An avid reader who couldn’t imagine going to sleep at night
without a bedtime story, Maria one day asked her mother why some of her
classmates didn’t read much and was told that perhaps it was because
their parents couldn’t afford to buy them books. “I became aware that
there are children throughout the country and beyond who have never
owned a book,” she said. Maria set out to change that.
With her parents’ help, she formed her nonprofit and began organizing
book drives in her community, which she publicized through the news
media and a website. Her goal was to collect one million books by the
time she turned 18, a number she exceeded five years early. Initially,
people would leave piles of books on her front steps and Maria would
store them in her garage, but it wasn’t long before the books outgrew
her house. Today, Maria has warehouse space to store her books and leads
more than 250 volunteers – mostly young people – who twice a month help
her sort, box, and distribute them to hospitals, orphanages and schools
in the U.S. and abroad. She also has recruited corporate sponsors,
applied for grants, and raised more than $80,000 in individual
contributions to purchase new books and cover shipping costs. She
estimates that her organization has touched the lives of 800,000
children. “I am determined to continue getting books to kids who need
them the most,” Maria said.
Jasmine, a seventh-grader at Wabasha-Kellogg Secondary School,
volunteered eight hours a day last summer at a YMCA 45 miles from her
home, requiring that she leave her house at 6 a.m. to fulfill her
duties. After Jasmine’s mother signed her up to participate in the Red
Wing Family YMCA’s recreation activities, Jasmine decided to volunteer
instead. “I knew volunteering would give me the opportunity to help
others and this would make me feel good,” she said.
She started and ended each day helping at the front desk, greeting
people and checking in members. During the morning, she went to the
childcare area and helped the staff play with and care for toddlers
while their parents were at the Y. At lunchtime, Jasmine helped with
laundry, delivered clean towels and cleaned equipment. For her efforts,
Jasmine was nominated for the Y’s “Volunteer of the Month.” “That was my
best summer ever,” she said. “I made new friends, learned job
responsibilities, and helped people in the community.” Jasmine also
volunteers to walk dogs at a local animal shelter.
As State Honorees, Maria and Jasmine each will receive $1,000, an
engraved silver medallion and an all-expense-paid trip in early May 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 2016.
The program judges also recognized six other Minnesota students as
Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service
activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are Minnesota’s Distinguished Finalists for 2016:
Emily Albert-Stauning, 15, of St. Paul, Minn., a sophomore at
Eagan High School, founded the “Hope For A Better Day – One Note At A
Time” benefit concert series, and has raised $2,800 and collected 600
pounds of donated food at two concerts she hosted and organized to
benefit people in need. Emily, who sponsored her first benefit concert
on her 13th birthday in 2013, has also coordinated clothing drives and
raised funds for various charities, and wrote and produced a play called
“HERO” about standing up against bullying.
Zakria Ghani, 17, of Maple Grove, Minn., a senior at Al-Amal
School, gathered friends and members of the community together to raise
$8,500 to support the victims of a devastating fire in the
Cedar-Riverside area of Minneapolis. Zakria visited the site of the fire
and talked with victims to determine their needs, made and placed
donation boxes throughout town, raised awareness of the disaster while
seeking donations, and joined forces with community organizations to
make and distribute blankets and quilts – all in less than one week.
Jane Hulse, 18, of Mendota Heights, Minn., a senior at Trinity
School at River Ridge, wrote a cookbook for teen and pre-teen girls to
encourage proper nutrition and discourage skipping meals in an attempt
to be thin. Jane, who also volunteers with the program “Renewing the
Countryside,” an organization that connects small farmers with local
schools, has made her cookbook available for free through her website
and has distributed it to coaches, troops, eating disorder clinics and
Madisyn Kephart, 17, of White Bear Lake, Minn., a senior at White
Bear Area High School, founded a Unified Volleyball team for youth with
and without special needs, and secured $8,000 in funding from local
sponsors to purchase equipment for the team. Madisyn, an avid Special
Olympics volunteer for many years, worked closely with three friends to
organize, coach and play on the team of 12 that went on to play in the
State Unified Games.
Heather Weller, 17, of New York Mills, Minn., a junior at New
York Mills High School, founded “Thank a Veteran,” a project that has
collected and distributed more than 45,000 messages of thanks to
soldiers sent through email, social media and community events. Heather,
originally inspired by a visit to her uncle in a veteran’s home, also
maintains the “Thank a Veteran” Facebook page, collects and distributes
care packages for active duty soldiers, and records interviews with
veterans for the Veterans’ History Project for the Library of Congress.
Stuart Wilkins, 18, of Lino Lakes, Minn., a senior at Mahtomedi
Senior High School, founded “Blankets for NICU Babies” with his twin
sister in 2010, and has since made 800 specially-designed blankets to
fit the top of a NICU isolette. Stuart, who along with his sister was
born premature and spent seven weeks in the NICU, makes enough blankets
so that each child can take one home with them when they are released
from the NICU.
“Prudential commends each of these young volunteers for using their
creativity and compassion to bring positive change to their
communities,” said Prudential Chairman and CEO John Strangfeld. “We hope
their stories inspire others to consider how they can make a difference,
“We are pleased to honor these students not only for their exemplary
acts of service, but for the powerful example they’ve set for their
peers,” said JoAnn Bartoletti, executive director of NASSP.
“Congratulations to each of the 2016 honorees.”
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 HandsOn Network affiliates, 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
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 May 2, 10 of the State Honorees –
five middle level and five high school students – will be named
America’s top youth volunteers of 2016. 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 115,000 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 and Brazil. 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 on behalf of President Barack Obama.
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 and 35 countries around the world. 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 Association of Student Councils.
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.
Editors: For full-color pictures of the Spirit of Community Awards
program logo and medallions, click here: http://bit.ly/Xi4oFW
Harold Banks, (973) 802-8974 or (973) 216-4833