Virginia's top two youth volunteers of 2019, Justin Hu, 16, of Vienna and Shayla Young, 13, of Springfield, were honored in the nation's capital last night for their outstanding volunteer service during the 24th annual presentation of The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. Justin and Shayla – along with 100 other top youth volunteers from across the country – received a $1,000 award and personal congratulations from award-winning actress Viola Davis at an award ceremony and gala dinner reception held at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History.
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program, sponsored by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), named Justin and Shayla Virginia'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.
Justin, a junior at Madison High School, teaches kung fu to children with disabilities and other challenges, and raises money to address medical and health-related needs in Africaand Asia, through "ABLE Kung Fu," the nonprofit organization he founded in 2016. When he was 6 years old, Justin became infatuated with the Chinese martial art known as kung fu, and over the next 10 years, he won three championship titles. "This sport has tapped into the best in me, engaging my discipline, grit and honor," he said. "I was convinced that the valuable lessons learned from the sport should not be available to the few, or even only to the physically fit. I understood that kung fu could be a tool for building minds, morale and accessibility."
He began conducting kung fu classes for kids with disabilities at his church, after-school programs, and summer school, and recruiting other kung fu devotees to help him. It wasn't long before children in his classes blossomed with confidence as they mastered new skills. "Watching young people begin to believe they can become champions in their own lives makes my heart sing," said Justin. As word of Justin's program spread, he was invited to teach kung fu as a featured instructor to Special Olympics athletes last year. Through Justin's website, he has raised more than $24,000 in donations for his nonprofit, some of which has been used to install an electric water pump at a school in Senegal. Additionally, ABLE Kung Fu has paid for 15 pediatric surgeries in Taiwan and China, and a group of his volunteers in California carries musical instruments to teach and perform for underserved villages in those countries. Justin estimates that he and his 25 volunteers have had an impact on more than 6,000 children.
Shayla, a seventh-grader at Irving Middle School, conducted a workshop last year to help residents at the Armed Forces Retirement Home (AFRH) in Washington, D.C., learn how to make better use of their cellphones. Shayla began volunteering at the AFRH when she was 6 years old, as her father was preparing to retire from the Army. Last year, she noticed how difficult it was for some of the veterans there to use technology. "I recognized the struggles that residents were having when using their cellphones," Shayla said. "A lot of the residents are in their 90s, with poor vision and poor hearing." Shayla knew she could help, and came up with the idea of bringing some of her tech-savvy peers to the home to teach the seniors the secrets of getting the most out of their cellphones.
After obtaining permission from officials at the retirement home, Shayla recruited a group of student instructors and created a poster to advertise her workshop. On the day of the event, 11 residents showed up to listen to the young people explain various functions of their cellphones, including how to increase font size, adjust volume and brightness, use password protection, save contacts and link their phones to their email accounts. "The residents were very appreciative of us coming out to help them," said Shayla. "Now they are able to use their phones more effectively." She said she is already planning another workshop to educate additional residents, and to show them how to use the alarm function on their cellphone calendars to remind themselves when to take their medications or when they have doctor appointments. In addition to her cellphone coaching, Shayla has used her birthday gifts, Christmas presents and other personal funds to donate more than $5,000 worth of goods to organizations including the AFRH.
"We're impressed and inspired by the way these honorees have identified problems facing their communities and stepped up to the challenge to make a difference," said Charles Lowrey, chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial, Inc. "It's a privilege to celebrate their leadership and compassion, and we look forward to seeing the great things they accomplish in the future."
"These students have not only done important work in support of people in need – they've also shown their peers that young people can, and do, create meaningful change," said Christine Handy, president of NASSP. "We commend each of these young volunteers for all they've contributed to their communities."
Youth volunteers in grades 5-12 were invited to apply for 2019 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 24 years, the program has honored more than 125,000 young volunteers at the local, state and national level.
Source: PR Newswire