WASHINGTON, April 30, 2018 /PRNewswire/ — Alaska’s top two youth volunteers of 2018, Vanessa Duhrsen, 17, of Anchorage and Jessica Perry, 12, of Kenai, were honored in the nation’s capital last night for their outstanding volunteer service during the 23rd annual presentation of The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. Jessica – along with 100 other top youth volunteers from across the country – received a $1,000 award 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. Vanessa, who was unable to attend last night’s events, was honored in absentia for her outstanding volunteer service.

Olympic gold medalist and World Cup champion Lindsey Vonn congratulates Jessica Perry, 12, of Kenai (right) on being named one of Alaska's top two youth volunteers for 2018 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. Jessica was honored at a ceremony on Sunday, April 29 at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, where she received a $1,000 award. Alaska’s other top youth volunteer of 2018, Vanessa Duhrsen, 17, of Anchorage, was unable to attend Sunday’s event and was honored in absentia for her outstanding volunteer service.

The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program, sponsored by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), named Vanessa and Jessica Alaska’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-expense-paid trip with a parent to Washington, D.C., for four days of recognition events.

Vanessa, a senior at West High School, developed a sustainable after-school program to promote healthier lifestyles among students in rural Native Alaskan villages by teaching and encouraging them to cross-country ski. “I have grown up cross-country skiing,” said Vanessa, “and I want to share with others the joy and positivity that skiing has given me.” So, over the past two years, she has volunteered as a ski instructor for a nonprofit that conducts weeklong Nordic skiing clinics for kids in rural communities. But after joining the nonprofit’s board, “I began to realize that one-week volunteer visits were not enough to engrain skiing into village life,” she said. To address this concern, Vanessa created a program called “Skiku Schoolmates” to help communities maintain skiing activities throughout the year.

With backing from the nonprofit, she crafted a plan to move to the town of Kotzebue on Alaska’s west coast for four months to begin implementing her program. She secured housing from a state agency, applied for grants, solicited support from school principals, and gathered hundreds of donated skis, boots and poles. She’ll start with after-school instruction and coaching at the town’s elementary school, then give middle and high school students the opportunity to ski every day after school. She also plans to provide community leaders with the training and resources necessary to continue her program after she leaves. Vanessa strongly believes that an outdoor activity like skiing is not only fun and useful, but can help alleviate some of the problems prevalent in rural Alaska, such as obesity, substance abuse and violence.

Jessica, a seventh-grader at Nikiski Middle/High School, has been a dedicated volunteer since the summer of 2016 with her local Boys & Girls Club, providing hands-on support on activities ranging from housekeeping to helping with art projects. Jessica was inspired to help the club by several of its staff members. “They showed me how to help and act, which inspired me to help the children at B&G,” Jessica said. So she talked to staffers to learn how she might be able to help. “I felt like it was important because now the simple things that the staff had to take time out of their busy life to do, I now could do for the staff,” Jessica said. 

After learning where she might be able to make a difference, Jessica got to work. She has helped with teaching choir, healthy habits instruction and art projects. She’s also provided cleanup and housekeeping support, and helped staff members with their planning. Jessica made a special effort to learn perseverance, patience and how to talk to kids. She recruited her best friend to volunteer, too. Over the course of her time volunteering with the Boys & Girls Club, Jessica has supported nearly 100 kids and the entire staff – and has even received an award for her efforts. “The main thing I have gotten out of my volunteer work is a newfound appreciation for kids,” Jessica said.

“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.

About NASSP

The National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) is the leading organization of and voice for principals and other school leaders across the United States. NASSP seeks to transform education through school leadership, recognizing that the fulfillment of each student’s potential relies on great leaders in every school committed to the success of each student. 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. Learn more at 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 pictures of the Spirit of Community Awards program logo and medallions, visit  https://spirit.prudential.com/resources/media.

For B-roll of Alaska’s honorees at the 2018 national recognition events, contact Prudential’s Harold Banks at (973) 216-4833 or harold.banks@prudential.com.

The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards logo

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