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New York's Top Two Youth Volunteers Selected in 13th Annual National Awards Program.

Brookville and Webster students earn $1,000 awards, engraved medallions and trip to nation's capital

Honors also bestowed on other top youth volunteers in New York

U.S. Senators John Kerry and Chuck Hagel to co-chair judging panel that will pick 10 National Honorees in May

ALBANY, N.Y. -- Jennifer Zwilling, 17, of Brookville and Kara Houppert, 12, of Webster today were named New York's top two youth volunteers for 2008 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism. The awards program, now in its 13th year, is conducted by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).

Jennifer was nominated by Jericho High School in Jericho, and Kara was nominated by Willink Middle School in Webster. As State Honorees, 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 - one middle level and one high school youth - from each of the other states and the District of Columbia for several days of national recognition events. Ten of them will be named America's top youth volunteers for 2008 at that time.

Jennifer, a senior at Jericho High School, founded and implemented the Youth Ambassador Training Program of the National Tourette Syndrome Association, a nationwide program that trains teens to educate other young people about Tourette Syndrome. Jennifer was diagnosed with the neurological disorder at the age of 7. "Although my mom and I attempted to educate my school, I found that people were not as tolerant, understanding or knowledgeable regarding TS as one would hope," she said. She soon discovered that other kids with TS had the same experience, and decided something had to be done.

She began helping local families of children with TS advocate for themselves, and started speaking in schools. When requests for her presentations grew too numerous to handle, Jennifer contacted the National Tourette Syndrome Association to see about launching a program that could train other young people to replicate her activities. Jennifer developed a training manual, presentation handouts and a PowerPoint presentation on a DVD, and began recruiting teens to be trained as youth ambassadors. So far, she has trained more than 100 teenagers from all over the U.S., spoken at 56 schools, and testified four times before Congress. She estimates that more than 3,000 students, teachers and academic advisers have received accurate information about TS through her program. "I have learned from experience that knowledge is power," she said. "Knowledge about TS gives classmates the power to accept, understand and be supportive."

Kara, a seventh-grader at Willink Middle School, has collected more than 64,000 returnable bottles and cans over the past two years and redeemed them for more than $3,200 to purchase items for two children's hospitals, a local Special Olympics team, and other organizations. Kara was a Special Olympics volunteer until her coach discovered that she was under the minimum age requirement. "I was very upset and wanted to do something that could still help them," Kara said. At first, Kara pulled her little red wagon around her block, collecting redeemable bottles and cans from neighbors. Then she wrote an article about her project for her school newspaper, and asked local businesses to save their containers for her. Her campaign really took off after she was featured in an article in her city newspaper, and people began to drop off their cans and bottles at her house.

Once she collects her items, Kara sorts and delivers them to a recycling company with the help of her parents. She set up a "Kara's Kans" account with the company, so that anyone who drops off cans and bottles can contribute their proceeds to her project. So far, Kara has used her money to buy several items for Golisano Children's Hospital and the pediatric unit of Rochester General Hospital, as well as books about special-needs kids for her former elementary school, sweatshirts for her community's Special Olympics team, and necessities for families in need. Now she is working to help a local woman pay for breast cancer treatments. "I hope and plan to continue doing this and would like to expand to other fund-raising ideas," Kara said. "There are always people who need help."

In addition, the program judges recognized eight other New York students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion:

Devang Bhoiwala, 17, of Slingerlands, a senior at Guilderland High School in Guilderland Center, founded a student volunteer club dedicated to informing teens about the U.S. health care system and supporting free local clinics through volunteerism and fund-raising events. The club, "Students for Improving Health Care," hosts speakers on health care topics, participates in health-related community events such as health walks and expos, organizes fund-raising activities, and sends volunteers to help out at local clinics and nursing homes.

Meredith Burcyk, 17, of East Northport, a senior at Northport High School, helped raise more than $100,000 to fund projects for disadvantaged people in Nicaragua, and then traveled to that country to work on those projects. While there, she helped build houses for poor families, expand a kindergarten, create a park and basketball court, and teach English and poetry to needy children.

Laura Mantell, 18, of Chappaqua, a senior at Horace Greeley High School, co-founded a volunteer group of students along the East Coast dedicated to helping young victims of Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana and Mississippi. The group has raised more than $10,000 for the American Red Cross and Habitat for Humanity on the Gulf Coast, developed a self-esteem and goal-setting program for young students in Mississippi, and started a pen-pal program connecting third-graders in Mississippi to counterparts in New York state.

Jason Mogen, 17, of Dix Hills, a senior at Half Hollow Hills High School West, has collected more than 3,000 pairs of used eyeglasses over the past year and a half for impoverished adults and children around the world. As a volunteer for the Give the Gift of Sight Foundation, Jason organized collection campaigns in schools and local organizations, encouraged other groups to start their own drives, and helped volunteer optometrists and opticians with eye tests and eyeglass distributions at a camp for disadvantaged kids in Fishkill, New York.

Ann Price, 17, of Jamestown, a senior at Jamestown High School, participated in a number of fund-raising events sponsored by the City of Jamestown Project YES (Youth Engaged in Service), evaluated and awarded mini-grants to other youth volunteers as president of the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation "Community Conscious Youth," served as student ambassador for the Robert H. Jackson Center for Legal Studies, and helped her school's Key Club collect books for disadvantaged young children.

Raphael Spiro, 17, of Forest Hills, a senior at The Bronx High School of Science in the Bronx, co-founded a book-collecting program that has grown to encompass more than 200 student volunteers in 16 states over the past four years. The group has collected donations of more than 44,000 new and gently used books for distribution to Hurricane Katrina victims, wounded soldiers in Iraq, students living in bomb shelters in Israel, seniors in nursing homes, and disadvantaged inner-city students.

Sheel Tyle, 16, of Pittsford, a senior at Pittsford Mendon High School and a member of the United Way of Greater Rochester in Rochester, has spent most of his spare time over the past four years conducting medical research to help find cures for macular degeneration, atherosclerosis and epilepsy. Working under mentors at several medical facilities, Sheel studies existing scientific literature, conducts laboratory experiments, writes papers on the results, and presents his findings.

Samantha Williams, 18, of Huntington, a senior at Walt Whitman High School in Huntington Station, helped raise $70,000 for cancer research by selling bracelets made by cancer survivors and volunteers. As the New York distributors of bracelets for the Circle of Hope Foundation, Samantha and her family sell bracelets at craft fairs, festivals, fund-raisers, private bracelet parties, at their temple's gift shop, and individually to friends and family.

"Over the past 13 years, we've seen an incredible number of young Americans who have selflessly devoted their time and energy to helping others in their communities," said Arthur F. Ryan, chairman of Prudential Financial. "The volunteer work of this year's honorees is as inspiring as any we've seen, and we are honored to recognize the amazing contributions they've made to their neighborhoods, cities and nation."

"Congratulations to this year's state winners in The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards," stated Gerald N. Tirozzi, executive director of the National Association of Secondary School Principals. "The hard work and determination that these students have exhibited in trying to make a difference in the lives of others is remarkable."

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 Volunteer Centers, were eligible to select a student or member for a local Prudential Spirit of Community Award this past November. Nearly 4,500 Local Honorees were then reviewed by state-level judges, who selected State Honorees and Distinguished Finalists based on criteria such as personal initiative, creativity, effort, impact and personal growth.

While in Washington, D.C., the 102 State Honorees will tour the capital's landmarks, attend a gala awards ceremony at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, and visit their congressional representatives on Capitol Hill. In addition, 10 of them - five middle level and five high school students - will be named National Honorees on May 5 by a prestigious national selection committee. These 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.

Co-chairing the national selection committee will be U.S. Senators John Kerry of Massachusetts and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, and Arthur Ryan of Prudential. Also serving on the committee will be actor Richard Dreyfuss; Alma Powell, chair of America's Promise - The Alliance for Youth; Michelle Nunn, president and CEO of the Points of Light & Hands On Network; Amy B. Cohen, director of Learn and Serve America at the Corporation for National and Community Service; Kathy Cloninger, CEO of Girl Scouts of the USA; Donald T. Floyd Jr., president and CEO of National 4-H Council; Kathryn Forbes, national chair of volunteers, American Red Cross; Neil Nicoll, CEO of YMCA of the USA; Michael Cohen, president and CEO of Achieve, Inc.; Barry Stark, president of NASSP; and two 2007 Prudential Spirit of Community National Honorees: Kelly Davis of West Bath, Maine, and Kelydra Welcker of Parkersburg, W.Va.

In addition to granting its own awards, The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program will be distributing President's Volunteer Service Awards to nearly 2,800 of its Local Honorees this year on behalf of the President's Council on Service and Civic Participation. The President's Volunteer Service Award recognizes Americans of all ages who have volunteered significant amounts of their time to serve their communities and their country.

The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards represent the United States' largest youth recognition program based solely on volunteer service. The program is part of a broad youth-service initiative by Prudential that includes a youth leadership training program administered by the Points of Light & Hands On Network; a free booklet of volunteer ideas for young people offered through the Federal Citizen Information Center; and a Web site featuring profiles of outstanding youth volunteers, volunteer tips and project ideas for students, an electronic newspaper on youth volunteerism, and more ( The Spirit of Community Awards program also is conducted by Prudential subsidiaries in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Ireland.

For information on all of this year's Prudential Spirit of Community State Honorees and Distinguished Finalists, visit, or

NASSP is the preeminent organization and the national voice for middle level and high school principals, assistant principals and aspiring school leaders. NASSP provides its members the professional resources to serve as visionary leaders. NASSP promotes the intellectual growth, academic achievement, character development, leadership development, and physical well-being of youth through its programs and student leadership services. NASSP administers the National Honor Society[TM], the National Junior Honor Society[TM] and the National Association of Student Councils[TM].

Prudential Financial, Inc. (NYSE: PRU), a financial services leader, has operations in the United States, Asia, Europe, and Latin America. Leveraging its heritage of life insurance and asset management expertise, Prudential is focused on helping individual and institutional customers grow and protect their wealth. The company's well-known Rock symbol is an icon of strength, stability, expertise and innovation that has stood the test of time. Prudential's businesses offer a variety of products and services, including life insurance, annuities, retirement-related services, mutual funds, investment management and real estate services. For more information, visit

Editors: Graphics depicting the award program's logo and medallions may be downloaded from
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Date:Feb 12, 2008
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