Vermont's top youth volunteers of 2018 selected by national program

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Wed, 02/07/2018 - 10:44am -- Denise Sortor

Samuel Grandfield, 18, of Waterbury and Ella Byers, 12, of Shelburne today were named Vermont'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, Samuel and Ella each will receive $1,000, an engraved silver medallion and an all-expense-paid trip in late April to Washington, DC, 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, now in its 23rd year, is conducted by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).

These are Vermont's top youth volunteers of 2018:

High School State Honoree: Samuel Grandfield

Nominated by Harwood Union High School in South Duxbury

Samuel, a senior at Harwood Union High School, has volunteered for the past two years to help people in his community stay safe by serving as a junior firefighter for his local fire department. He was inspired to join the department by his former middle school teacher, who volunteered to fight fires despite a rare liver disease that ended up taking her life. "Her sense of duty and desire to help others is what motivates me to this day to help others and give back to my community," said Sam.

As a junior firefighter, Sam had to learn about all of the equipment used in responding to emergencies, and now has to train constantly to stay fit and maintain required skills. He has responded to numerous fires, ranging from small stove fires to large structure blazes, as well as several car accidents. Although he is not allowed yet to enter a burning building, he assists by managing fire hoses outside, directing traffic, and cleaning and maintaining equipment after calls. He also has taught young people about fire safety at department open houses, and helped clean chimneys for community members. After hearing about Sam's experience as a firefighter, three of his friends also joined the fire department. "Being a firefighter isn't just a project," said Sam. "It's a commitment to serve your community, to sacrifice for others." 

Middle Level State Honoree: Ella Byers

Nominated by Mater Christi School in Burlington

Ella, a seventh-grader at Mater Christi School, has participated in several activities over the years to help Vermonters facing addiction, poverty and illness. Ella learned about the Lund Family Center when her aunt was helped by the nonprofit, which works to break the cycles of poverty, addiction and abuse. For the past eight years Ella has recruited friends to raise money for Lund by participating in an annual bike ride.

Two years ago, Ella heard about another event that appealed to her: a winter "sleep out" benefiting homeless youth. So she gathered close friends and family members to sleep outside with her on a winter's night to raise money for Spectrum Youth & Family Services. "I thought it would be a good experience for me to see how some people have to sleep outside in the winter every night," she explained. "It is very hard to persuade people to sleep outside on a cold winter night, but I usually can find people who will do it to support the cause." Ella also has volunteered to hand out food and entertain families at an event supporting a Ronald McDonald House, and collected toiletries with her swim team for families staying at a local homeless shelter. "Helping others is one of the most important keys to success in the world," she said.

Distinguished Finalists

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

These are Vermont's Distinguished Finalists for 2018:

Connor Durochia, 17, of Hinesburg, Vt, a senior at Champlain Valley Union High School, co-founded a ministry that collects food and supplies, then distributes them every other month to homeless people in downtown Burlington. Connor rents a park to host his "Giving Tree Ministries" food distribution events, which have provided bag lunches, supplies and friendly company to at least 50 people and mobilized church members to serve the community.

Grace Slauterbeck, 17, of Charlotte, Vt, a senior at Rice Memorial High School, traveled to Mexico last summer to volunteer at an orphanage, and used $4,000 she raised back home to buy the facility a month worth of food, treat the children to a water park trip, and host a dinner to celebrate a high school graduate headed to college. Grace raised money for the trip by creating a website and working with a local gym to plan benefit spin classes.

"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.