Massachusetts’s top two youth volunteers of the year, Rebecca Ackerman, 16, of Westborough and Grace Kirrane, 12, of Fitchburg, were honored in the nation’s capital last night for their outstanding volunteer service during the presentation of The 2012 Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. The two young people – along with 100 other top youth volunteers from across the country – received $1,000 awards as well as personal congratulations from New York Giants quarterback and Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning at the 17th annual award ceremony and gala dinner reception, held at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.
New York Giants quarterback and 2012 Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning congratulates Rebecca Ackerman, 16, of Westborough (center) and Grace Kirrane, 12, of Fitchburg (right) on being named Massachusetts' top two youth volunteers for 2012 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. Rebecca and Grace were honored at a ceremony on Sunday, May 6 at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, where they each received a $1,000 award.
Rebecca and Grace were named the top high school and middle level youth volunteers in Massachusetts in February. In addition to their cash awards, they received engraved silver medallions and an all-expense-paid trip with their parents to Washington, D.C., for this week’s recognition events.
Rebecca, a junior at Westborough High School, leads a fundraising team that has generated more than $85,000 for autism research over the past six years, and works in a variety of other capacities to raise awareness of autism. “My twin brother has never spoken to me, or given me a hug,” said Rebecca. “Even when he stands right beside me, he’s in a different world. David has autism.” When she was 11, Rebecca realized that, even though one in every 110 children has this disorder, most people were not familiar with autism and not much money was being spent on research. “I was determined to change that reality,” she said.
Rebecca organized a team of friends and family members to participate in an annual fund-raising walk for Autism Speaks, a national organization, and to work on autism funding and awareness projects throughout the year. As captain of the “Doing It For Dave” team, she writes letters asking for donations, conducts bake sales and yard sales, operates lemonade stands and coordinates car washes. Rebecca, who also serves on the Boston Autism Speaks Committee, helps coordinate the organization’s annual city-wide walk, gives inspirational speeches, leads webinars and mentors new walk teams. She has recently been named Youth Committee Chair at Autism Speaks where she is working to expand youth involvement in the cause. She also raised awareness at her school by getting students to participate in the national "Light It Up Blue" campaign. In addition, she started a charitable organization, “Cake Cause,” that provides baked goods in exchange for donations. “I wish that my brother had his own voice,” said Rebecca. “Since he cannot talk, I will do my best to honor him using mine.”
Grace, a sixth-grader at Memorial Middle School, made 57 fleece blankets for the Fitchburg Fire and Police departments to give to children rescued in emergency situations. When Grace was younger, her grandmother made special blankets for Grace and her siblings. “I remembered how much I enjoyed wrapping myself in my blanket,” she said. “I began to think about how I could help give other children that same feeling of warmth and comfort.” She especially thought of children rescued from fires, since her uncle is a firefighter, and other kids who have to be removed from troubled homes.
Grace first had to learn how to sew and knit, and then she raised money for materials by holding a candy sale at her school, and selling candy and baked goods at softball games. After purchasing 150 yards of bright, colorful fabric, she measured, cut and hand-knotted the material into 57 double-layered fleece blankets that she calls “Warm Hugs.” She packed the blankets into Ziploc bags and large storage containers and delivered them to the fire and police departments. “When a child is taken out of a home because of a fire or abuse, they don’t have anything of their own to comfort them,” said Grace. “My hope is that my blankets will help them to feel safe.”
“Through their extraordinary acts of volunteerism, these students are powerful examples of the way one young person can make a big impact,” said John R. Strangfeld, chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial, Inc. “We are proud to honor them for their achievements, and hope their stories inspire others to consider how they, too, can make a difference.”
More than 26,000 young people participated in the 2012 awards program last fall through schools, Girl Scout councils, county 4-H organizations, American Red Cross chapters, YMCAs and affiliates of the HandsOn Network. The top middle level and high school applicants in each state were selected in February, and flown to Washington this week with their parents for four days of special recognition events.
Conducted in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards were created 17 years ago by Prudential Financial to encourage youth volunteerism and to identify and reward young role models. Since then, the program has honored more than 100,000 young volunteers at the local, state and national level.
“These young people have demonstrated remarkable leadership, selflessness and compassion, and they set a fine example for thousands of other students across the U.S. who want to make a difference,” said Ken Griffith, president of NASSP. “The actions of these young volunteers exemplify the best of what America’s youth have to offer.”
NASSP (National Association of Secondary School Principals) is the leading organization of and national voice for middle level and high school principals, assistant principals, and all school leaders from across the United States and more than 45 countries around the world. The association provides research-based professional development and resources, networking, and advocacy to build the capacity of middle level and high school leaders to continually improve student performance. Reflecting its longstanding commitment to student leadership development as well, 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.
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 http://www.news.prudential.com/
[Editors: Full-color pictures of the Spirit of Community Awards program logo and medallions are available at http://spirit.prudential.com.]
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